Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Anatomy of Coobro Labs

The Anatomy of Coobro Labs:

Coobro Labs

The picture above is the entirety of Coobro Labs. Coobro Labs is run out of my 800 sq. ft. condo in Minneapolis, MN. This is where we kit and ship the Coobro Geo, and work on future open source hardware kits. The reason for sharing this with you is to hopefully encourage those of you out there who think you need a lot of room, and a lot of expensive equipment to start your own KitBiz. Let me break down the things that we find useful, and things we couldn’t live without.

  1. An impulse sealer – This is a must have piece of equipment that we picked up brand new off of ebay for about $50. This tool takes rolls of anti-static tubing (see item #2) and heat seals the ends to create bags on-the-fly. You can buy impulse sealers with or without a built in cutter. The cutter isn’t really necessary, as it is just as easy to cut the bags with a scissors.

  2. Rolls of anti-static tubing – These are 500 foot rolls of anti-static tubing picked up from The reason for buying the rolls of anti-static tubing versus simply buying pre-made bags is that you can adjust the size of the bag to whatever length you want, and they are cheap at $25-30 per roll.

  3. Laser printer – Below our workbench, we have a used Kyocera EP C170N laser printer that we picked up off of Craigslist for less than $50. While it isn’t mandatory, laser printers are much more cost effective, and the ink won’t be affected by moisture. We use the laser printer mainly to print out shipping labels.

  4. High quality soldering iron – Having a decent soldering iron is what I feel is the most important tool I own. The difference between a quality soldering iron and a cheap hardware store model is huge. I used to find soldering frustrating and stressful, now I find it enjoyable and relaxing. We have an Aoyue model 2900 soldering iron, but Adafruit’s Hakko FX-888 is a great choice.

  5. Fume extractor – A fume extractor is one of my most recent additions, and I can’t believe it took me so long to get one. There are a lot of toxins in solder, and breathing them in is very dangerous. I used to simply solder in a well ventilated area, and hold my breath until the smoke cleared. This is about as stupid as closing your eyes to avoid the arc flash while welding without a mask. I own the Weller WSA350 model and it works really well.

  6. Hot air reflow station – Once I started to get into soldering surface mounted components, this is the first tool I bought. Before I made my own reflow soldering oven, I used this tool to solder surface mounted components. While you certainly can use a good soldering iron to solder surface mounted components, this tool will save you a lot of headache. We have the Aoyue 852A++ model, which can be had for around $150.

  7. Reflow oven controller – We use the Rocket Scream Electronics Reflow Oven Controller ($40) Arduino shield. We have done some testing with our reflow oven by simply cranking the oven temperature up until the solder reflows, then shutting the oven off and letting the board cool in the oven with the door closed. This seems to work just as good as using a reflow oven controller that follows a specific reflow curve.

  8. Toaster oven – This is a toaster oven that we bought in a Woot-Off for about $30. It is really nice because it has a ‘Stay On’ feature, and it’s a convection oven, so there are no hot spots. If you don’t plan on working with surface mounted components, you don’t need to worry about the last three items.

  9. All-in-one printer – I have owned this HP PSC 1510 inkjet printer for a few years now and it has worked really well for me. The important thing here is that it has a built in scanner. You will need a scanner to be able to scan your signed purchase orders for component suppliers. A scanner basically replaces a fax machine.

  10. Component storage – I have a nice collection of Sparkfun shipping boxes that I have saved and used for component storage. Simply slap a label on the top or front of the box to remember what is inside. These also work great for project boxes. You can also see other items we have used for component storage such as mint tins.

  11. More component storage – When you are just starting out, this is really all you need. We store all of the components needed to build up Coobro Geo kits in this small parts organizer from our local hardware store. Through hole components, even in quantities of 1000+, take up very little room. Eventually, as we release more kits, we will need to upgrade, but this system works well for the time being.

  12. Ikea hacked workbench – My workbench is really just a bunch of components I picked up from Ikea. The shelving is just Ikea CD storage boxes stacked in between some Ikea birch shelves. The CD storage boxes work great for tool, parts, wire, and other large component storage.

As you can see, there really isn’t a whole lot to Coobro Labs. There are obviously some items missing from the picture, such as shipping supplies, but this really is the majority of the Coobro Labs kit making business. If you have a great idea for an open source electronics kit that you think others would also be interested in, there really isn’t anything standing in your way.

For more inspiration, see how we designed and developed the Coobro Geo, read Ladyada’s other kitbiz tips, or join the kitbiz conversation on the Adafruit forums.

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