HUGE day for the business, in a good way.

Ok, one big piece of news, and one massively huge piece of news.

First big news piece,  the regular production of the new bench displays has begun.  No more prototypes, early production, or any of that.  We’re talking full-blown ready to go units in production numbers.    They’ll go live again on the site shortly.

Second news, and this is huge.   We’re talking massive shift for the company here,  biggest news I’ve ever had.   I just ordered a brand new pick and place machine.   This has been the gate preventing me from doing more complex boards,  and I’ve been working up to this moment for a couple years now with the gradual shift to surface mount testers.

This machine is going to let me make MUCH more complicated boards, with more speed and precision, than I could ever reliably build by hand.  This un-corks a lot of the dream designs that I’ve wanted to look into but couldn’t due to the cost and labor intensive build methods available to me.   An example is the gameplan LDU-1/2 replacement.    I couldn’t do that before, in a production manner, but now I’ll be able to.

2018 is going to be a good year.

Business Status Update

I know, half of you just checked out, another business status update.   But hey, it’s been a crazy two months here, and I have the feeling things are going to get even nuttier.   Short version,  I’m doing the best I can to kick orders out the door, but don’t be surprised if it takes a few days before you get a shipping notice.

So the big new is that I released the first batch of the bench displays up for sale.  I only had 10 pieces,  but the first style took probably two months to sell that many units, so I thought I was safe.   This time around it took about 18 hours to sell all 10.   Um, whoops.  The good news is that all 10 units are built, tested, and ready to package.  I’m just waiting on anti-static baggies and some connectors to get them all finished up.  Some are shipping tomorrow morning, the rest by Wednesday.

PCB’s for another hundred pieces are on order,  I’m working on a batch of OLED’s via a couple of sources to get good pricing, and the rest of the parts are all standard stuff that I can get in 3 business days.   So while I’m temporarily out of stock I can say these are a regular product now.   When they’re available for sale again all depends on when the OLED’s can get here.

I’ve also worked on my infrastructure a bit over the past two months.   Behind the scenes I added about $400 in software, and a few hundred on a new printer.  Part of that is financial software, and the other part is a new PCB design suite that so far is a big improvement on the freeware system I had been using previously.  Business keeps growing so I need to keep evolving it to keep up from an efficiency standpoint.  The printer will be nice for you guys, since the old one only printed in medium grey,  this one actually prints black.   Plus color, and double sided.  Saves me a LOT of time.

There’s a bunch of PCB’s that I’m running low on and will have to re-order soon.   Nothing critical right now, just don’t be surprised if a few testers are ‘out of stock’ here and there.   This summer caused a big hiccup in things, and with how crazy it’s been these past two months it’s getting trickier to maintain parts inventory.

 

 

Pricing announced on the new bench displays

Short version,   price on the new bench display will be the same as the old bench display,  at $45.   I HOPE to have these ready to ship by mid-November and test units are being sent out this week.

Long version….

I really wanted these done already, as I’m sure you did too, but I had a few issues to take care of with my PCB.  These delayed things a bit, but in the long term let me trim things down further and the result is going to be cleaner and easier for everybody.

The biggest issue is that I put the wrong type of programming header onto it.  I put an FTDI header, but needed an SPI header.  I’m still new to handling micro-controllers, and uploading code into a blank Atmel processor on a custom board isn’t the same as uploading to an Arduino board.   I have that sorted out now thankfully and the next board revision will be a lot easier for me to program than this one,  plus I also ordered a proper programmer to take care of this issue.  Bootloading the beta units was a wee bit convoluted.

During this process I came to the conclusion that I can remove about half the components on the PCB.  The ‘reset’ button isn’t needed, and I also don’t see a purpose for the indicator LED’s.  So all of those are going to be removed.  I’ll be increasing the size of all the remaining capacitors for my own sanity sake but keeping the surface mounted Atmel processor.

Realistically,  the per-unit cost of parts, material, and labor is significantly less on this version than the old discreet logic version.  So you’d think I can drop the price a lot, but it doesn’t really work that way unfortuantely.   Here’s how that all pans out….

I was barely breaking even on the old ones, due to all that labor time.  Lots of soldering, a lot of time at the crimping press.  Originally they had been priced at $60 but the market didn’t support that price point.   So I marked them down to $45 to get them to sell.   All the ones I sent to Marco Specialties I probably LOST money on.

The new units are a LOT less parts, a LOT less labor, a LOT less wire.  So what’s different?  Code.   I didn’t write it myself, I hired somebody to write it.  I also need to buy a programmer to streamline loading the bootloader and code.  This is all non-recurring expenses but still expenses to get things ready for production.   Then there’s the planned code upgrades to add Bally/Stern and other generations of machines to the tester.   These are additional expenses to pay somebody to write the code.    It’ll probably add up to about $1,000 or so when all the revisions are done and everything.   If I sell 100 pieces, that’s $10 per unit just for the code.   So I have to factor that in.

But the good news is I’ve got a great product here, nearly ready to ship, which is going to make a lot of people happy with the additional capabilities and future upgrades.  It’s a LOT better unit than the old one,  and it won’t come with a cost increase.    I’m extremely happy with how this product is moving along, and what it portends for my product line in the future.

Good times, friends, good times.

Teaser on the new bench displays

A bit of a teaser photo here of the new bench displays.  Actual PCB’s will be here Monday and I can start testing the dedicated PCB version.   Notice what’s missing?  7-segment displays, and a lot of circuitry.

Yep, I’m moving to a micro-controller based version, and the code developer I worked with really came up with a slick method to do it.  This will an OLED display, giving you the full set of score displays, in a very easy to read package.

Initial support will be for Williams 6 and 7 digit displays.   Easy to select, no more dip-switches and moving wire headers, just a single pushbutton to select between modes.  Code updates are planned for other manufacturers too,  and I’ll roll out an upgrade plan too so you don’t miss anything by buying early.

In fact, I think I’ll start up a page now for the shopping cart as a ‘coming soon’

 

Further ‘Return To Business’ updates.

At this point, I can solidly say that business is returning to normal. Customer orders, both direct and re-seller, are processing through. Still a bit slower than I’d like though but I don’t have any more long-sitting orders. So on that note, I’ve just updated quantities to show ALMOST everything available for order right now. With two exceptions.

1. Gottlieb System 1 EPROM adapters. Technically these are in-house and I can sell at any time. However Astill Entertainment (pinballrom.com) was the driving force behind the re-release, and it’s only fair they get their shipment first. Once they have their order I’ll release for general sale.

2. Bench Score Displays. I finally sold out of the original version on these, and customers have been begging for more ever since. As I mentioned before, I had lost the original design files on these so a re-design was needed. I think you’ll like the changes both current and future planned. I’ll be announcing more on this next week once pre-production boards arrive. This release will be a complete game changer for me.

Now, some exciting in-development news too. I’ve long wanted to handle an LED adapter set for Gameplan pinball machines too, but the connector layout just didn’t make it feasible. So I am working on a full replacement LDU-2 board that is LED compatible. If this is successful I am considering an entire lineup of Gameplan stuff to go with it. Next on the potential list would be the SDU-1 solenoid board. Again, more details to come in the next couple weeks.

Back in business and re-run coming of an old favorite

Ok, time is short, so I’ll make this brief.

I’m back in business after the big move. Buried, again, under orders and struggling to get caught up again. Plenty of parts are enroute to start getting me back on track and I’m doing the best I can to get the backordered stuff shipped out.

That being said, due to the requests of a good customer, an old favorite will be returning. I’ve got a fresh batch of PCB’s on the way for the Gottlieb System 1 EPROM adapters. These are a revised version, with more robust traces, and a better offset to the sockets to improve assembly. Pricing and availability will be announced as soon as I have the revised numbers. It’s been a few years since I did a pricing evaluation on these so who knows where it’ll end up, particularly with the new clamshell packaging that I’ve been using.

Buried under orders right now, working on it best I can

Well, this is bad timing, but I’m just plain swamped with orders again lately. Bad timing because I was JUST starting to get ramped up for the Midwest Gaming Classic too! I’m struggling just to keep boxes heading out the door right now much less increase inventory ahead of the show. However I am catching up and hope to have all my CURRENT retail orders shipped by the end of the weekend, and wholesale within a week.

This brings me up another problem, I’m running short on PCB’s right now for a number of products. While I’m doing my best to keep ahead of it there’s a chance a few products may have some short availability issues in the next month or so. This is mostly because as I re-order PCB’s I’m doing a comprehensive update to all the designs to convert over into surface mount formats when possible. The goal is to reduce assembly time and cost, to get profit margins up, so I can start paying down some of this business debt. I don’t see any price increases with these changes, since it’ll be a labor and cost savings, but finances are so tight right now I won’t be able to include any price reductions either unfortunately.

So, here’s a list of what’s running short and upcoming changes….

Williams 6/7 digit bench displays – 10 PCB’s left: These will be getting a major SMT parts conversion for all IC’s, will be a HUGE labor saver. Also adding the much-requested mounting holes in the corners.

Solenoid / Special solenoid testers = 67 PCB’s left: Minor redesign to make the test points SMT parts, possibly the resistors too. Decent labor savings there. Adding fiducials for placement machines.

Drop Target Sliders – 24 PCB’s left: Minor change to a silkscreen error, adding fidicuals for placement machines.

Switch matrix tester 11 PCB’s left: Changing the buttons and diodes to surface mount, and the WPC24 jumper to a DIP switch, all SMT. HUGE labor saver. May add some mounting holes too on these. So glad I am DONE assembling the first run on these, the tactile buttons were such as major pain in the ass.

The Part Numbers Are Out Of Control!!!!!

I knew this day was coming, and it’s not too terrible yet, but I’ve kinda lost control of my part numbering sequence for products. Between computer failures, changes in how I keep track of documents, and various other self-inflicted issues, I really need to get my part numbers back into some version of order.

For most products you won’t see any changes, and most of you don’t go by part numbers anyway, but a couple part numbers may need to be changed in order to get the system back under control. I’ve been building up BOM’s for each product, or at least the vast majority of them, and also am working on a master sheet to control all the part numbers. It won’t be overnight that I get things back under control but it’ll be happening sooner rather than later.

End of 2016 Sales Updates – “A Great Year”

Folks, I am humbled, very humbled. After a great 2015 it turns out 2016 was even better. I blew right past my goal for the year, sometime around August or September. We’re talking 44% net sales increase from 2015 to 2016. From a business standpoint this is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. Heck I even technically turned a profit after factoring in debt on interest. I’m not looking to shoot for the moon, my year to year goal is still 10%-20% improvement, which makes a year like 2016 so much more special.

So, I can share more good news!

I’ve been working hard to make my production more efficient and moving heavily into surface mount technology. This allows me to reduce component cost, reduce labor, and improve production speed. For this reason I don’t see ANY price increases ahead for the first half of 2017, and possibly not even for the 2nd half. The better profit margins are going to be invested into debt reduction and starting to save up for some significant capital projects. I’m eyeballing some basic benchtop surface mount machines that are so tantalizingly within my grasp. Cross your fingers and let’s see if I can pull it off. I don’t want to go further into debt to do it so it’s time to start saving up a larger operating fund.

The simple fact is that I’m mainly assembling everything by hand, and that limits how complex I can make my designs. If I can swing a couple critical machines I’ll be able to automate quite a lot of my processes, which will open up a lot of doors to newer and fancier products and improve my production rate on existing products. So if I can save some cash for new machines, make my production more efficient from a labor standpoint, and reduce costs …. then I can release more new products and keep prices low.

So 2015 was good, 2016 was great, what’s 2017 got coming? So far it’s shaping up to be another great one.