Various fun things

Ok, time to kick off the 2015 planning session….

Item 1. I need to do more youtube videos. In all honesty, the main reason I haven’t done any is because my SLR camera is a pain in the butt. It does a great job on still photos, and I love it for that, but the video mode is pretty kludgy and I didn’t have the right lenses. No auto-focus during video was the biggest pain. So I took advantage of a deal on a factory refurbished GoPro Hero 3+ Black. It should make video work a lot easier for me.

Item 2. MGC is a go for 2015. I was on the fence about it for a while, but I will be setting up a table again at the Midwest Gaming Classic this year. I’m going to be out in the tent, instead of in a side room, so I should get much better foot traffic and sales this time around.

Item 3. More printed plastics. I got my issues worked out with the bad prints I had been seeing on the lamp surrounds, so I’ve put them up for sale again. I’ll be bringing a bunch out to MGC to judge how well they sell. I don’t have to worry about inventory levels on these, so as long as my printer is in good shape I can leave these in the website pretty much forever.

Item 4. 3D printer upgrades. I’ve purchased an updated hot end for the printer, which should further improve the product quality. I’m printing out the mounts for it now. Should be ready in a week or so.

Item 5. Firepower EPROM adapters. A lot of customer inquiries about these lately, so I’ll be moving them up in the schedule for a re-run. I hope I can swing them in the first quarter of this year. E-mail me if you’re interested in getting on the list for these.

2.4ghz Upgrade for JR XP652 Radio

Here’s a fun one for you guys, more complex than expected, and worthy of a blog post. I’ve been getting back into R/C flying lately with a couple little micro helicopters and quads, and decided to resurrect my old equipment. Way back when I did some flying with a then-excellent, but now archaic, JR XP652 transmitter. After more than a decade away, I’d like to get back into flying and am looking to use my existing gear to get back into the swing of things. Time has marched on, and everybody now uses 2.4ghz in place of my old 72mhz rig. So I have an OrangeRX brand 2.4ghz conversion module on the way to allow me to fly with DSM2/DSMX.

While it’s still en-route from China, I decided to get the transmitter ready for the install. I have some ideas on how I want to proceed, and wanted to get it all ready to drop in the new module and parts.

I started with the basics, pulling off the back cover to expose the RF board which will be replaced with the 2.4mhz module. In theory, I just remove that amber colored board in the middle, connect the new module into the wire harness that’s plugging into the old RF board, and add a couple extra bits.

It was supposed to be an easy conversion….

IMGP4612

On closer inspection, I started to notice things weren’t quite as they should be. Now, keep in mind this is a radio that hadn’t been opened since it left the factory. I bought it brand-new from their main US distributor at Horizon Hobbies. So it caught be a bit by surprise to see a jumper wire soldered to the back-side of the RF board connector. It leads to the main processor board, with an additional jumper across the processor. Since I need to tap into that connection on the RF board, and I need to remove the RF board, this poses a problem.

IMGP4618

Now, electrically this connection goes a few different places. They both get connected at the RF board pin, so in theory I should be able to move that add-on jumper wire from the RF board to the others side of the harness that plugs into the connector. With me so far? This is where things really started getting tricky. The connectors JR chose for the vast majority of this radio design end up being soldered down, can’t just pull out plugs. There are a lot of small sub-boards in the radio. Instead of de-soldering everything, I opted to basically dismount all the switches and controls in the upper half of the radio. This allowed me to pull the main processor board forward. That’s where I found out the solder joint I needed was on a completely different PCB….

IMGP4619

My guess is this rework was done after the radio was assembled, and this was the easiest method to run a ground to where they needed electrically. However it does look like the modification doesn’t affect the RF board at all, it affects the ground between the processor board and the power board. The solder joint on the RF board was just the easiest spot to make the connection. So a quick snip, strip, tin, and solder gets me this connection…

IMGP4625

Now I’m ready to add the new 2.4ghz module, right? Wrong! Guess what also appeared under the bottom side of that main processor board…

IMGP4622

Oh, goodie, a solder mounted 2032 lithium battery. This is good and bad. The good news is the radio has a backup for memory settings in case you have to remove the main operating battery. The bad news is this sucker is a PCB pin style that’s soldered in place. Even better is that it’s on a 15mm spacing, where everything from my normal suppliers is on a 20mm spacing. So I’m also waiting now on a new battery from E-bay. The old one wasn’t too hard to remove with a tiny dot of flux and my semi-trustworthy Xytronic de-soldering station. Ironically this battery is probably 15 years old and still has a full 3.2vdc on it! Then again, they did use a brand-name Sony battery. Makes sense really, everything in this radio is done with good components and is well assembled. I may have made a few different design choices, but construction and component choice is excellent. I also don’t know what the design constraints were at the time it was originally conceived, so I won’t fault JR too much.

IMGP4623

Removing the old battery was pretty easy, though I do always get nervous de-soldering batteries like this as you can possibly get some voltage shot around in places it shouldn’t be. 3.2v would be hard pressed to hurt anything, but you never know.

IMGP4628

Now to wait a week or two for all the new parts to arrive, and I can start re-assembling things. So stay tuned for part 2 on this one.

New priorities for 2015

Ok, I just finished up the 2014 financial statements, and it turns out I didn’t end the year as well as I had expected. Yes, the last few months went quite well, but the overall numbers for the year were in the red. Not by much, but still in the red. The biggest issue right now is I am just carrying too much debt, and interest payments on that debt are what put me negative for the year. So I need an aggressive plan to get that debt reduced as rapidly as possible. My goal is a 1/3 reduction in overall debt during calender year 2015, and 2/3 by the end of calender 2016. I think it’s going to be very possible to do that. At that point I should be in position to grow my operating fund enough to not need any credit card use during normal operation. I’m already very close to that point and have turned the corner in that I am reducing debt instead of increasing. But I need to re-plan in order to drastically accelerate that debt reduction.

Step 1: Re-financing of debt. Balance transfers are going to pay big results for this, as I do have a 0% for 24 month interest offer that I can take advantage of. Not paying interest is going to be a huge advantage, as every penny will go toward reducing the principal. That’s one disadvantage of automated bill payments, without a paper statement it’s easy to miss how much your interest rates have gone up. Mine had reached a pretty high amount and I am also still carrying some debt from the move two years ago.

Step 2: Transfer some debt out of the business, and to where it belongs. Some of the debt mixed into my business debt is personal in nature. Not a small amount either. Again, this means I have been paying interest from my business into non-business debt. Yes I will be taking away those interest payments, but I still need to put the debt where it really belongs. I won’t be able to do this for a while but it will be a big contributor.

Step 3: Evaluation of the product lineup. Some items are just slow sellers, such as the 2532 EPROM adapters. If I were to do a new run it would take a couple years before I would reach a break-even point on these. If I had excess capital it would be a no-brainer to run them again, but when I’m in a debt reduction cycle for the business it means they’re not such a good idea. So until I am out of the debt hole, only good selling products are going to be re-run. The nice thing is that most of my good sellers are also well stocked with bare PCB’s, which is the single biggest expense. Parts for a dozen boards at a time is no problem, it’s when I need to buy 500 boards that it becomes a big expense. Since I did fresh runs of boards on my biggest sellers in 2014 it means 2015 is going to be relaxed in that regard.

Step 4: Hitting profitability on some existing products. The Flipper Opto Tester and Bench Displays have actually only recently broken even from a profitability standpoint. Since I have plenty of boards for these, and little ongoing expenses, these are going to finally be profit makers for me in 2015. I know it’s not necessarily a change in operations, but it will play a part.

Step 5: Clearance Sale! With getting out of the board repair business, I have a lot of parts stock to clear out. It’s not a huge amount but is still going to be a source of profit instead of an expense.

Step 6: Limiting capital expenses. There’s a lot of things I’d like to buy to improve thru-put, but right now I have time to do it all manually. I’d also love a fancy new Metcal soldering station, but with mainly doing assembly now it suddenly means I’m not fighting my Xytronic as much, so I can afford to keep it. I’ll also be holding off on the wire cutting machine for a year or so. At the moment, I’ve pretty much cancelled my planned capital purchases for 2015 unless I can find a great deal and have a genuine need for a purchase.

So this is my two year debt reduction plan. It may not be perfect, but it gives me some guidelines to go with that I believe are fully workable as long as I can stick with it. I’ve already put a lot of these into action and the rest will be in place by mid February at the latest. I want this business to work and grow, not become another drain on my expenses. I’m also going to be expanding some additional business plans as well when it comes to product growth, operating efficiency and other areas. So expect additional posts of this nature in the near future.

Misc updates, oh and a Happy New Year!

Well, 2014 ended very strong here at Siegecraft Electronics. The past few months in particular were some of the best I’ve ever seen, mostly due to the success of the new Bally / Stern LED adapter sets. A lot of legacy products also saw a decent uptick in sales and I’ve actually been struggling to keep up with assembly in general. Either way, my financial situation here is better than it has been in a long time.

Anyway, on to some more 2015 updates to the business.

1. As I warned in my last post, I was worried that moving everything to more substantial packaging would affect shipping costs. Well, it’s proven to be true and a lot more packages have gone over that magic 13oz weight limit. This means more items are going out as priority mail instead of first class. I am very probably going to have to raise shipping costs for domestic orders, I just don’t know by how much yet. I’d like to only make the change once for 2015. I’ll see what else I can do to mitigate the increased cost without passing it on to customers.

2. Another price change coming on a product, which is the DB-07 Flipper Opto Board Tester. The first assembly batch of these is just about sold, and I made a couple changes. I switched from stainless to nylon hardware, and also added an ABS plastic spacer between the PCB and the battery holder. This makes the whole battery mount much cleaner and the battery fits better as well. But those spacers aren’t the fastest thing to print and they are a new component. I also never adjusted the price when I moved from a 6″ wiring harness to a 24″ harness. So price is going up to $15.00 when the last of the original batch sells out and I start shipping the new batch.

3. I believe I am going to discontinue the 2532/2732 EPROM adapter, unless somebody wants to order at least 25 of them in one shot. They are just too slow of a seller as an assembled unit, and I had to heavily discount the PCB’s to sell them. I can always change that decision and make them at any point in time, it just won’t be right now. I need the money elsewhere.