Author Archives: Hailey Blessing

Resources for Learning at Home

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

We know that learning from home can be a stressful transition for you and the student(s) in your home. Between our Spring Kit Sale and resources from our SparkFun.com and SparkFunEducation.com sites, we’re here to help make the transition go as smoothly as it can.

If you're in need of some materials, be sure to shop our Spring Kit Sale - available through April 17th! Designed with beginners in mind, these kits offer a springboard into electronics through circuit building, creating e-textile projects, measuring the weather, practicing soldering, and exploring the Internet of Things (IoT).

Spring Kit Sale

If you’re looking for a particular item or ecosystem, check out our Education Materials page for a more robust list of our education-focused items.

We know teaching isn’t easy, but we have some handy resources that will hopefully help. With lessons on the basics of electronics to more advanced learning with coding, you will be able to help kids continue to learn from home.

Resources:

Between our current sale and our ever-growing list of resources, hopefully we can help make learning at home a little easier.

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SparkFun’s Deal of the Week

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Hi everyone! We’re pretty excited to do more of a “grand opening,” if you will, of our new Sales page. All current and ongoing sales and promotions will get to live in one fancy new hub.

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This is great for a few reasons:

  1. Weekly deals! If you haven’t subscribed to our newsletter, go do that and stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest. It’s where we will announce each week what the Weekly Deal will be. So like, go now. Sign up below.
  2. You will be able to easily see what special sales or promotions are running.
  3. Who doesn’t want an all-in-one hub for stuff on sale?

Now, some of you may be wondering, but what about the sale category listed on the navigation bar? Good question. You can still go there, but anything and everything that is on sale will live under that category. The new sales page allows you to quickly see what the short-term specials are without having to sort through the pages of sale items. Basically the sale page is any special, short-term sale or promotion.

Happy saving!

Never miss a new product!

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A Tale of Two Badges

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Due to official recommendations over coronavirus concerns in NYC, this week's Open Hardware Summit (OHS2020) has evolved into an all-digital summit. As event sponsors, it's a disappointment to miss out on seeing everyone and hearing some incredible talks in person, but we definitely understand, and either way we’re extremely proud of the electronic badges we helped create and assemble for this year's summit. For those who won't be able to see them in person, we thought we'd give you an inside look at how the two badges we helped create - a lanyard name badge and an open source, hackable wristwatch badge - came to be from start to finish.

Designing the Lanyard Badge

First up is the cool electronic name badge Nathan Seidle and Nick Poole designed. Nick describes the process:

After deciding that we wanted to design a name badge for the conference, Nate and I took to the whiteboard to brainstorm. We wanted the badge to be more interesting than a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve, but also not to compete with the wrist badge in terms of hackable features. The badge needed to perform the basic function of an event badge — to put your name in a place that people can see it — in a unique way. We considered various display technologies and design styles ranging from possibly underwhelming to prohibitively complex and expensive.

What we landed on was an elegant layout that resembles a conventional conference badge but also incorporates some fun PCB art techniques and gives us a chance to flex our automated design muscles. The final design would be a stack of three PCBs: A front layer that features the attendee's name as well as a blank space for writing a Twitter handle or URL, a middle layer to space the top away from the LEDs, and a rear layer with a number of battery powered LEDs to backlight the name on the top board.

Front layer PCB

This design would, of course, require us to customize each and every badge PCB to include the attendees' names: all 200+ of them. The rear two layers can be uniform across all badges but the front PCB needs to be unique to each person. Doing that layout by hand was entirely impractical, so we set out to automate the process as much as we could. I started by creating a prototype layout using my own name and those were ordered immediately to test the mechanical fit. Once the prototype design was verified, I removed my name from the prototype layout file to create a template. That template was saved as a 'design block" in EAGLE, allowing us to easily import the bulk of the layout to a new file as a single object.

Then we started in on software automation: I wrote a javascript tool that would ingest a list of names and return an EAGLE library containing each name as a footprint with the name cut out of the top mask and bottom copper layers. Each footprint also contained the proper rectangular mask-stop on the bottom layer and a central origin. At this point, I passed the baton to Nate, who wrote a series of EAGLE User Language Programs. The first one iterates through the library of name footprints and creates a new board file for each. It places the template design block into the layout and then adds the name block from the library and saves it before moving on to the next. Once all of the files are generated, a second script iterates through each board file and generates gerber files which are bundled into .zip archives ready to send off to the board house. The only part of the process we couldn't automate was ordering, so each gerber file was submitted by hand to JLCPCB. Next time, we'll build a browser extension to automate that too!

Example of LEDs

As we started to get boards in, I started to experiment with different configurations of LEDs. The original rear PCB design had 8 evenly spaced 0603 LED footprints, each with its own current limiting resistor. The 0603 LEDs seemed to have too narrow a projection angle which caused harsh bright spots in the backlighting. Increasing the current-limiting enough to soften these hotspots ended up making the light too dim to be noticeable in a well-lit room. At this point, we were already approaching the project deadline (because of manufacturing delays due to Lunar New Year and then the Covid-19 outbreak) so Nate ordered a few options for LEDs while I designed a final rear PCB that incorporated a greater number and variety of LED footprints that would accommodate whichever arrangement of LEDs tested the best.

In the end, we found that the CREE warm white J-Series LEDs were cheap, bright and well diffused. The warm color-temperature also made the light more efficient because the yellowish color of the PCB substrate rejected a lot of the light from cool-colored white LEDs. In the end, some hotspotting was unavoidable without the use of expensive, side-firing LEDs or diffuser materials, but we were able to reduce it to a manageable level that leaves the name legible at a distance.

Soldering PCB layers together

Assembly day was all-hands-on-deck in SparkX. The process looked like this: First, the rear-PCBs were solder-stenciled and all of the LEDs and resistors were populated using our desktop pick-and-place machine. While those boards were in reflow, the panels of middle-PCBs were broken apart and the mousebites were sanded smooth. When the rear-PCBs returned from reflow soldering, they were each tested and reworked as needed. We were required to order a minimum of 5 front-PCBs for each name, so each attendee's 5 PCBs were bagged together and alphabetized for final assembly. The least blemished of these 5 boards was chosen for each name and then stacked with the two other PCBs. The stack was secured with binder clips while the four castellated holes were soldered together to finish off the badge. The binder clips come off and the finished badge goes back into the bag with the other 4 copies of the name PCB. Finally, each badge got a CR2032 coin cell with a pull-tab to prevent the battery from dying in shipping, as well as a custom lanyard.

Finished badge with lanyard

Wristwatch badge

We also helped get another set of badges together for OHS2020 - the awesome wristwatch form factor "badge". The badge was developed by Michael Welling, Alex Camilo and Drew Fustini. The badges represent a great partnership with various companies pulling together to help get them built. Digikey provided parts, OSH Park the PCBs, and SparkFun did the assembly. You can read more about the tech inside here.

Check out the photos below for a behind the scenes look at the assembly process!

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Dumpster Dive is Today

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

It’s time to dive… Dumpster Dive that is. Product is available starting at 12 p.m. MT and will be available until we run out of boxes (210 of them, to be exact). At 12 p.m. MT, click the image below to go to the the Dumpster Dive product page (it will not be clickable until the product is live). If there are units still available, you will be able to add one to your cart and then proceed to check out. You can also find links to the product on the New Product carousel on the SparkFun homepage, as well as the New Product Page starting at 12 p.m. MT.

The Dumpster Dive - 1 lb.

The Dumpster Dive - 1 lb.

DD-16348

What's a Dumpster Dive? Between samples, customer returns, demo items, and old stuff that’s been sitting on the shelves for way too long, we’ve amassed quite a few bins worth of various electronic stuff. It ranges from one-off items, to items that are a little broken or ugly, to items that aren’t worth individually listing and selling. We didn’t like the idea of recycling them, since it could still be useful and worth getting into people’s hands. And so behold: the Dumpster Dive.

Rules for the Dive:

  • Product will be live until we run out. No backorders available.
  • February 26, 2020, live at 12 p.m. MT
  • Limit one $20 box per customer
  • One-pound boxes only
  • U.S. customers only
  • No combining of orders
  • No on-site sales
  • No support or returns

Unfortunately, we were unable to extend the Dumpster Dive outside of the United States this year. This decision is still based on shipping restrictions becoming stricter, compliance complications, and material handling safety concerns.

As a reminder: The Dumpster Dive is a gamble and the contents are not guaranteed. We will not provide tech support or returns on any of the goods since many are not products we ever supported, or they might be returns with unknown defects. We will be getting orders out as quickly as possible, but cannot promise same-day shipping.

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Dumpster Dive Returns

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Dumpster Dive: back and better than ever!

It’s been a while since we had a dive, so mark your calendars for Wednesday, February 26th - and maybe set an alarm or two, just to be safe.

We recently cleaned out a neglected closet jam-packed full of product and parts and then some, and you know what they say about one person's neglected closet jam-packed full of product and parts and then some. This year we will have one-pound boxes for $20; you’ll find boards, LEDs, kits and more inside!

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What's a Dumpster Dive? Between samples, customer returns, demo items and old stuff that’s been sitting on the shelves for way too long, we’ve amassed quite a few bins worth of various electronics. It ranges from one-off items, to items that are a little broken or ugly, to items that aren’t worth individually listing and selling. We didn’t like the idea of recycling them, since it could still be useful and worth getting into people’s hands. And so behold: the Dumpster Dive.

The 2020 Dive is live at 12 p.m. MT - please be sure to adjust for your US time zone.

Rules for the Dive:

Product will be live until we run out, a slight change from the made-to-order format of the past few dives. No backorders will be available.

  • February 26, 2020, at 12 p.m. MT
  • Limit one $20 box per customer
  • One-pound boxes only
  • US customers only
  • Economy shipping only
  • No combining orders
  • No on-site sales
  • No support or returns

Unfortunately, we were unable to extend the Dumpster Dive outside of the United States this year. This decision is still based on shipping restrictions becoming stricter, compliance complications, and material handling safety concerns.

As a reminder: The Dumpster Dive is a gamble and the contents are not guaranteed. We will not provide tech support or returns on any of the goods since many are not products we ever supported, or they might be returns with unknown defects. We will be getting orders out as quickly as possible, but cannot promise same-day shipping. Happy diving!

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SparkFun’s Week of Deals

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Our week of deals is here! Whether you need to stock up for upcoming projects or shop for some last-minute gifts, we've got you covered. Each day this week has a new set of discounted products, and don’t forget to check out week-long sales on the Electronics Pantry category to stock up your workshop for 2020.

Week of Deals Schedule

As a reminder: Sale categories will be live from their release day all the way through Friday, so no need to worry if you need parts from multiple days (just be sure to keep an eye on stock levels, as we will not be allowing backorders). For example, discounts on machine learning products will launch on Tuesday, and they will be on sale all the way through Friday at 11:59 p.m. MT.

Rules & Information: The sale will run from 12:01 a.m. MT on December 9, 2019, to 11:59 p.m. MT on December 13, 2019. New products will be released each day and will be available at that sale price from their respective release days through Friday, December 13, 2019, at 11:59 p.m. MT. No rainchecks or backorders will be allowed. Distributor accounts will not be eligible for sale prices. We will not be allowing the combining of orders during this sale.

Please note: We will be working hard to get as many orders out as quickly as possible, but we cannot guarantee same-day shipping during the sale days.

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