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Board Assembly Headaches


This is what 100 unsaleable Floppy Emus look like. After six weeks of waiting, today I received the new batch of assembled boards, and eagerly opened the box. Excitement gave way to dismay when I discovered that every one of them was assembled incorrectly. Arghh, noooooo! I’ve been unable to fill any orders since mid-December, so I’d been counting down the days until the new hardware was expected to arrive. Now it looks as if there will be a further delay of about a week. Manufacturing is hard.

For whatever it’s worth, my instructions were correct and the error was the fault of the assembly shop. That means I won’t have to pay to fix the mistake, but it doesn’t help me get corrected boards any faster.

The assemblers transposed a part from the extension cable’s IDC20 to DB-19 adapter onto the main Floppy Emu board itself, and also omitted one component. The resulting boards still work, but won’t fit the Floppy Emu cases, and I’m left without any usable extension cables. After some discussion on how to make things right, I agreed to return the whole batch to the assembler, and they’re going to rework the boards to the correct design. I’m not certain how long that will take, but I expect it should be finished by next week.

I could demand that they replace the entire batch with new parts, or give me the batch for free, but I don’t think that would go well. Like me, they’re a small business, and I don’t want to stiff them for thousands of dollars in losses if they can make good on their mistake through rework. And quite frankly I’m lucky they accept my business at all, since my order sizes are so small compared to their typical jobs. If I stomp my foot and demand a pound of flesh, I may get it, but I may also be asked to bring my future business elsewhere. I like working with this shop – they’re reasonably priced and local – and I’d hate to start over from scratch building a relationship with a new assembler in some far-off location. So for now I’ll wait, impatiently.

Read 16 comments and join the conversation 

16 Comments so far

  1. Alex - January 23rd, 2015 8:05 am

    Glad you chose to inform us and to be easy on the assemblers, like you said they are a small business. In the end it will work out. Patience is the cornerstone of a good relationship. Thanks for letting us know.

  2. Josh - January 23rd, 2015 12:57 pm

    Could you post a picture of one of the boards so we can get a better idea of the defect?

  3. Steve Chamberlin - January 23rd, 2015 2:02 pm

    They’re out of my hands now, so no photos, but the main problem was that they put the DB-19 connector on the main board instead of on the adapter board that’s part of the extension cable. There’s a footprint for it there (the Emu version with built-in connector uses it), but it’s not what I ordered, and it left me with 100 half-built adapter boards with a missing DB-19. There was also a resistor missing from all the boards – something new since my previous order that they somehow overlooked.

  4. Charles - January 23rd, 2015 7:05 pm

    So they were sent with the External db19 Connector installed.
    They were sent W/O 220 ohm resistor for the LCD backlight.

    looks like they send them to you with the LCD screen on there too.

    do they test them… ? Flash the AVR and CLPD as well?

    if you can’t say i understand.

  5. Steve Chamberlin - January 24th, 2015 7:49 am

    Right, I’ve been gradually pushing more of the setup work to them. They install the LCD and program the AVR and CPLD, and verify that the self-test passes. Then I do longer functional testing with 400K, 800K, and 1.4MB images on two different Macs, calibrate the LCD contrast, give the board a serial number, and add it to the inventory DB so it can be sold.

    It’s too bad the DB-19 was messed up, because those are so hard to find. DB-9, -15, and -25 are everywhere, but DB-19s are super rare. I even wrote directly to some d-sub manufacturers in China, but they didn’t know of a source either.

  6. Charles Phillips - January 24th, 2015 7:45 pm

    well if worse comes to worse i can get those db19’s off no problem.
    I use my hot air torch, and the edge of the wood table i have here… and i can, with a little time slide them right off.

    so i guess the question is, the place you have been ordering them from…. how many db-19’s do they have left in stock?

  7. Merlin - January 26th, 2015 6:17 pm

    I don’t know where you’re getting your DB19 connectors (DA, DB, DAB, who knows) (and, yep they’re very hard to find), but I did a little searching and located:

    I’ve never purchased these, so I don’t have any experience with them, but I was curious to see what I could find, and this is just about all I could locate.

  8. cb88 - January 27th, 2015 12:32 pm
  9. Steve Chamberlin - January 28th, 2015 8:21 am

    I think the supply will be OK for this batch of boards, but what I’d really like to do is find an Asian manufacturer and work with them directly. Even if it means them setting up new tooling to build DB-19s, and buying a huge batch from them. Anyone ever do something like this before, and have advice how to go about it? I used Alibaba to find one large Chinese manufacturer of D-SUBs, and asked about DB-19s, but they said they couldn’t supply them. Maybe I wasn’t specific enough with my inquiry.

  10. Steve Chamberlin - January 28th, 2015 8:37 am

    I think ConnectWorld is the parent company of IEC, or is an IEC reseller or something. Half their web links just redirect to IEC, and they show different skins on the exact same information, with the same photo, description, part number, etc. but with different prices. So really there’s only one distributor of DB19 connectors there, not two.

  11. Steve Chamberlin - January 28th, 2015 8:52 am
  12. Darron - January 29th, 2015 7:44 am

    It really helps to send one populated set of boards/cables as an example when possible. It also makes it easier to argue about mistakes.

    Demanding the batch be free would be counterproductive. When you’re small, you pretty much have to ask nicely that they correct their mistakes. 100 units is not much at all… cause trouble (even if just demanding they fix crap that was their own fault) and the cost benefit quickly goes negative for them. The rework for this order has probably done that already.

    Also, it’s not at all clear how good your instructions were. Email bullet points are -really- bad ways to convey information to these people. They’re used to fabrication drawings, BOM files in CSV form listing all part numbers for each board, stuff/no stuff diagrams/pictures, etc.

    If the instructions were not in a normal format, then the fault is actually shared here. You might not have known, but then they usually don’t think it their job to train you how to produce the right documentation. The sales guy may think it’s -probably- good enough, but the floor is a different matter.

    Unfortunately, I had to learn through a long series of problems myself… always ASK THEM what they think went wrong, and if there was a better way for you to get the requirements across. Just saying “it was in the email!” is not the solution.

  13. PulkoMandy - January 30th, 2015 12:11 am may be willing to do custom D-Sub connectors with 19 pins. I have no idea what would be the minimum order requirement and price, but they have a web form where you can ask, at least.
    Also, they are not Asian.

  14. Steve Chamberlin - January 30th, 2015 8:32 am

    Great lead on Sullins, thanks! I sent them a request, and hopefully they’ll respond. I’ve tried contacting a few other manufacturers directly, but I’m having a hard time getting them to take me seriously or even return my messages. I also submitted an RFQ at, but so far haven’t received any responses.

  15. Steve Chamberlin - January 30th, 2015 9:01 am

    Sullins replied quickly, but said they’re phasing out their whole D-SUB line. Doh!

  16. Tom - January 31st, 2015 12:03 pm

    You could try contacting . They don’t currently offer a DB19 (only the housing), but might be able to produce/source them for you.

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