Good Hardware Takes Time- The Journey of the AirGradient DIY Kit Production

by Achim Haug

This week we are completing shipment of the first batch of AirGradient DIY Pro Kits (formerly called DIY v3 Kits) to early customers that ordered them around four months ago.

Originally we wanted to ship the kits within four weeks . . . but unlike pure software development where you can relatively easy fix bugs and roll the fix out, hardware is a different story.

This write-up is a summary of the hurdles we faced, how we overcame them and what improvements we made for the kits that you can soon find in our online shop.

Hurdle 1: Supply chain disruptions due to Covid lockdowns in China

After we received the pre-orders in February and March we immediately ordered the components for the kit. Since we ship the kits from China and all the components are also made in China, it normally takes just a few days for them to arrive in our Chinese office and we can ship them out a few days later.

Not in Covid times. A few of our suppliers were not able to deliver for weeks due to their offices or factories being completely closed. Since we already had paid for the components and knew the suppliers well (and thus did not want to change to parts of unproven quality) we needed to wait for the components.

This pushed the delivery time to April.

Hurdle 2: Perfectionism takes time, a slightly off CNC cut

When we received the first samples with the CNC cutout for the display enclosure, we noticed that it was a few millimeters off which caused a tiny gap between the display and the enclosure. We were internally debating if this would be acceptable to the customer or not but then decided to fix it even at the cost of a 2 to 3 week delay (getting the new drawings done, manufacturing new samples, shipping times). When we got the new samples back, the fit was perfect and we were happy we made that decision.

This pushed the delivery time to May.

Hurdle 3: A mistake that caused a long delay

So we shipped hundreds of our enclosures to the CNC factory that took 2 weeks to do them. When we finally received them, we discovered that they made the cut in the wrong position! Instead of the bottom right, the window was cut on the top left of the enclosure. Now the problem was that in parallel we were filling a large order for our main AirGradient ONE monitor that uses the same enclosure and this depleted our enclosure reserves!

So the mistake from the CNC factory triggered a new production run for the plastic injected enclosures. Add another 3-4 weeks for the production and then another 2 weeks in making the CNC cutouts again.

This pushed the delivery time to end of June.

Hurdle 4: Optimising the packaging

We were happy to finally start shipping the kits at the end of June but then as we made some final changes to the kit contents, we found improvements could be made to reduce packaging while improving protection to the contents. We designed and sourced samples, tested them to decide on the best one and then ordered the required ones in large quantities.

… another 10 days passed…

Communication with the community

I felt very sorry for the delay and communicated regularly with all our purchasers and offered refunds to anyone who couldn’t wait that long. It was great to see the support from all of you and that 99% decided it was worth waiting for it.

The AirGradient Forum proved to be a great communication platform to update the community on the timing as well as to give help once people received the kits and to sort out a small issue with the TVOC module that needs the pull-up resistors removed.

Launching the regular kit

In the last few months, many people asked about getting the kit and thus we decided to make it a regular offer. We renamed the old, smaller kit into “AirGradient DIY Basic Kit” and the newer one with the enclosure into “AirGradient DIY Pro Kit”. These are now available in our online store.

We have made a few changes to the Pro Kit:

  • The TVOC module is no longer part of the kit until we can offer a better solution than removing the pull-up resistors but you can source and add TVOC modules yourselves.
  • We added a USB C plug and cable so that you can plug in the cable from outside the enclosure.
  • To be able to use the same USB C cable for flashing, we use the newer Wemos D1 Mini v4 with USB C port.
  • It is now also possible to mount the OLED display on the top left to use the enclosures that the factory wrongly cut.
  • We also now offer a completely pre-soldered kit that can be easily assembled. For this kit we also pre-flash the D1. You can literally build this kit in 5 minutes!
  • We will continue to offer a conversion kit for people that bought the DIY Basic Kit for a few weeks. The conversion kit is also pre-soldered.

Open AirGradient

The best news is probably that we have decided to give our open-source DIY kits a lot more attention going forward. We setup Open AirGradient as a permanent organisational unit within our company with the aim to increase the awareness of air quality by providing open-source air quality monitoring hardware and by freely collaborating with other organisations to share knowledge and data with the public.

We are excited to work with the community and support air quality projects on a local and global level. Get in touch with us to learn more.