Open Terminal Client - a bit of history

    The second blog post of our company will be devoted to the history of the development and production of the first batch of DS-110 “Computer-on-Board” boards .

    Below I will touch on some aspects of this project, namely:

    where did we start
    • analysis of the characteristics and properties of competitors
    • requirements to be met and conditions in which it was still profitable
    • search of a contractor for development and manufacturing
    • contract, features of conclusion and compliance
    • jambs in the process, courage and stupidity of such projects
    • finance

    I cannot name the exact date of the decision to release something of my own. Somewhere in the middle of 2012, the decision began to mature long before that, but were decided around mid-2012.

    The era of selling foreign terminal customers was ending - it’s unprofitable to carry it a little, you will bring a lot - the producer will lower the price, and there are still a lot of old stocks in the warehouse. I wanted to control this moment. In general, as in any other buy-sell business (this opinion is based on my experience and may have nothing to do with how it really is).

    From communication with customers, the requirements for a terminal client were formed, some of them:
    • low price
    • reliability (including the lack of active cooling)
    • more USB ports
    • connections to different dsub / hdmi / dvi monitors
    • the case allowing to fix on the monitor

    Based on these requirements, decisions were deliberately excluded:
    • based on wince and other operating systems for embedded systems with licensed royalties. For example, a license to run a client for RDP costs $ 15. for the manufacturer. BSPs are usually paid, development tools are only for money, they have a limited support period (of course, the CE operating system lasts 10 years, but they are counted from the first release, which cannot be used, since the corresponding hardware is expensive. Focusing on low-cost solutions is not allows you to use the latest version of the embedded OS and, accordingly, the support period is much less than 10 years).
    • having a fan in the cooling system is another point of failure.
    • x86-based architecture - you can only compete with motherboard manufacturers with soldered processors on their territory if you are such a manufacturer yourself.

    Then there was a search for “boards-for-development” and ready-made “computers-on-board”, which did not lead to anything. There was no board suitable for the requirements.

    But an analysis of the available development boards revealed the existence of the Allwinner A10 System-on-Chip (SoC) and Cubieboard . Having plunged deeper and superficially reading about the possibilities, the understanding came that this is it, the very one from which it can turn out! Allwinner A10 has an open specification, unlike, for example, the SoC, which forms the basis of the Raspberry Pi. This meant that you can build your own board on it. On Allwinner A10, you can build specially sharpened Linux from Android source code - Sunxi

    as well as Debian and Ubuntu. This greatly reduced the cost of developing and maintaining firmware and opened up the possibility of using the board not only as a terminal client. Support in the case of open codes can be indefinitely long - you can always get something done yourself - while the glands are produced. And these additions can be used in other projects and / or shared with the community.

    The specified requirements were formed.
    Elementary base:
    • SoC - Allwiner A10
    • 1 GB RAM, theoretically it was possible to swing two, but at that time there were not even development boards with 2 GB RAM
    • There are more than three USB ports - three from the experience of selling Chinese devices are few
    • Power from an external power supply - determined by the purpose of the device and a possible power supply
    • The “Chinese” terminal clients sold earlier prompted the case and determined the size of the board, as well as the power supply. The development of its own body and its production is justified only in very large batches, for example, the manufacture of a mold for one part of a body from 100,000 rubles. - In a body there is usually more than one part. This is the cost of manufacturing without developing a mold. There was no point in releasing a case for our board. The case didn’t fully fit; I had to replace some parts with specially made parts for our board. Prices for the manufacture of the case were obtained from a weak attempt to study the production of the case in our country, this time it did not work in our country.
    • Cardboard packaging is what you can not ship from China, it’s cheaper on our volumes

    In parallel, they were looking for who could do this. The ability to hold a soldering iron and understanding what the oscilloscope shows was clearly not enough. Diving into the development of digital technology would delay the deadline to "never."

    Therefore, plunged into the search.

    Reading various forums of the Russian-language part of the Internet on the subject of "do it yourself", "do it yourself", do it yourself, etc. Several times I tried to fit in with the authors of the messages, only a few answered, maybe because the forums did not send the PM to the mail, and the author of the message did not go to the forum. Maybe the author is not interested in this topic. Maybe the letters got into spam. May be something else. But only a few answered, several correspondence continued, just a few called the price and terms.

    According to the search results, the impression was that it would really be impossible to develop a fee for money at which this venture would still not be unprofitable. Domestic developers asked for payment in advance, without a guarantee that it would work without making prototypes, this development did not include software development (completion), i.e. I needed a separate developer for the software.

    I began to search by companies - the impressions are very similar, only much (at times) more expensive. But in this case, you can get a prototype in hardware and some kind of contract is possible on our territory, and therefore compensation for damage in case of default. It is possible to manufacture prototypes, although this increased the time to a year ... Probably because it is possible to make a 6-layer board only in China, then bring it back, assemble it and start testing, and this is the time.

    He drew attention to the foreign language internet. All sorts of translators and means of communication for communication helped in this. I haven’t seen the contractor’s representative live, by skype or by phone ... And I haven’t heard ... The

    features of the search and correspondence are:

    • Funny English and features of translators. It so happened that in all educational institutions I studied German. By virtue of a hobby, he also studied written English. Then it came in handy at work. This knowledge, google translate, and vision of the goal were enough to search and conclude contracts for the development, production and delivery. “The courage of the city takes”, sometimes the truth is not courage, but recklessness and naivety. But if you think and decide too much (for a long time) - there may be someone who thought less and decided faster.
    • About customs - do not be afraid of it, unless of course you are ready to comply with the laws and pay duties. They will not take more than necessary by law from you, only documents must be correctly drawn up. There are no special problems in this either, finding out which FEA code corresponds to your product and taking into account the customs duty in a business plan in advance. Do not forget about the customs value and the cost of customs broker services. We managed to do without the services of a customs broker - I prepared the documents myself.
    • Image sharing is an integral part of my searches and negotiations. During negotiations, it is very important that you and your potential partner talk about the same thing. Pictures (photos) and paint for notes (photo exaggerating of course, of course) greatly help in this.
    • There can be no trifles that could be entrusted to the performer - everything must be controlled, otherwise you can rely on the performer, and the performer will make this trifle based on his interests. This is usually a decrease in the quality and cost of production.
    • "Great Chinese firewall" - no, not heard. But seriously, during the search and communication I never came across any restrictions or manifestations of this phenomenon, there were also no obstacles when transferring money and delivering cargo (customs is not considered on our side)

    It turned out that in the country that produces everything - China - there are firms involved in the development of complex devices. According to the results of communication, one company seemed more adequate than others.

    • the manager asked questions that I expected to hear (I also asked other questions, some questions turned out to be useful)
    • the manager traded very poorly, the price practically did not decrease, but the price included the development of documentation for the production of the board, software development, prototyping and delivery of prototypes to us
    • the company agreed to sign the contract only with 100% prepayment. It was scary to send funds to the village of grandfather Liao, but this greatly reduced the price of the development project

    The contract was drawn up by ourselves - the experience of importing “Chinese” devices affected.

    And at the end of December 2012, we paid the full amount of the contract through the bank. Practically saying goodbye to a rather large amount - they didn’t see the contractor in the eye ... Suing in China, taking into account the length of the legal proceedings, will certainly come out more expensive than they already paid.

    It was interesting to contact directly with the developer of the printed circuit board - we agreed on the daily receipt of the board file. Elements of the board were gradually placed on the board at the same time as clarifying the location and answering questions. More than a month passed before the documentation was ready. At this point, all questions were settled with the final dimensions and connectors. Datasheet for all components were received.
    - in the contract
    - at the end of the development of the board

    Then prototype manufacturing and delivery. It was not possible to influence these stages, except to pull the manager with his monotonous questions.

    The term for the development of documentation and the production of prototypes was 3 months. And he was ripped off. It was not only the contractor's fault, but also our rosy expectations. The contract indicated the working days. And in China, it turns out for the new year two weeks are not working (it just ended). And in the week they have 5 working days, not six, although sometimes on Saturdays it was possible to talk with the manager, and then the developer.

    About a month after the deadline, prototypes were sent to us.

    By the way, I don’t have a negative message for the Russian post - they carry it slowly but cheaply. Customs is the same as for courier companies, but broker services are not imposed. They could not even tell where to turn for help. It was difficult to confirm the cost of the prototypes and their purpose - there were no analogues. Explaining the purpose of this board was also not easy for a customs officer. But it turned out, though with 5 times, i.e. a set of documents was arranged by a customs officer for the 5th arrival at customs. When you carry the goods for the second time, it’s already easier, the customs officer has the fact of transporting this goods and, based on this fact, is more understandable.

    So in May 2013 we got the prototypes. As a result, about 5 months passed from the moment of payment to the moment of receipt of prototypes by mail. It took some time to test the software.

    Everything was fine ... ((c) -word of my son at the age of eight).

    However, the prototype did not fit into the case in height - a large number of connectors and their sizes interfered.

    There were 2 outputs - it was possible to change the connectors or the case. There was another third way - to quit everything, but the money spent was a pity and it was not considered.

    USB connectors dual horizontal or vertical did not fit. Changing the case was not an option - it is very expensive to develop a board again. It was almost a dead end - the board is developed and working, the case is there - only it’s impossible to assemble it. A lot of money has already been spent ...

    Again, diving into the search for USB connectors, what they are, how they differ, who makes them and how quickly they can buy a lot and not far from the factory where they have almost prepared the production.

    The search led to connectors that, with a small change in the board, allowed the chassis to close normally.

    They decided to produce through the developer’s company - they took over the purchase, production control, packaging and shipping to us. All options to produce in our country turned into production in China, plus greatly increased lead times. But this option had a very big plus - the goods were already obtained on the territory of the Russian Federation and the manufacturer solved the problems with customs clearance.

    There were two payments in this contract - before the start of production 50% and after the end of production 50% before shipment. And again, the deadlines were broken. This time due to a search for a supplier of new USB connectors. As a result of stormy correspondence with a very large number of suppliers of connectors, he was the only one who agreed to deliver the desired type in a short time. New connectors turned out to be much more expensive than budgeted. About 5 months took the production and delivery of the first batch.

    Having received the boards, we started to fine-tune the case - one part had to be done on purpose - one from the “Chinese” terminal clients did not fit due to the increased number of connectors.
    - missing insert
    - complete

    To make a mold for the above reasons is not our case, it is very expensive. Sawing "on the knee" is again expensive. Milling and 3D printing are also shooting expensive shells at sparrows.

    Helped, as before, the country that produces everything - China. We found a supplier who agreed to make the missing part for relatively little money.
    We concluded a contract, paid (again 100% in advance), the case was shipped - we are waiting.

    About financing.
    So far, it is possible to do without external borrowing - this allows us to more freely resolve emerging issues and problems.
    The exchange rate for the period of the project jumped a lot, this risk is beyond control and forecasting, it remains only to cross fingers and hope that there is enough money.
    In principle, I managed to stay within the business plan (as pathetic it sounds).

    Today we have a working board and a time period when we can ship the terminal client device - and this time is nearing.

    What now:
    • We sell the finished board and deliver across the Russian Federation - link .
    • Upon receipt of the cases, everyone who bought the board will be able to purchase the parts that are missing before the kit (case, mount, power supply, packaging).
    • By the end of the quarter, we hope to begin selling the finished terminal client device

    Link to the first post of our company
    Our site
    Our forum
    For our board, you can build Android , openbox system and it works.
    You can build Linux Sunxi and it also works.
    You can use ready-made images of Andoid and Linux.

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