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A 0.80mm thin flexible wristwatch with an E Ink display housed in a single piece of stainless steel.
A 0.80mm thin flexible wristwatch with an E Ink display housed in a single piece of stainless steel.
7,658 backers pledged $1,026,292 to help bring this project to life.

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An Apology to Our Backers + Parting Ways with Flextronics.

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Hi everyone, 

We’d like to begin this update with our deepest apologies. Through all the challenges we’ve faced, the only thing that has kept us going is your belief in us. The last thing we wanted to do was to disappoint the nearly 8,000 people who generously backed our project so long ago. Unfortunately, some hard news follows. 

In our last update, we discussed a contract that Flextronics asked us to sign regarding what we were allowed to publish about this project. After reading that update, Flextronics decided they were no longer willing to negotiate the terms of that contract or the language within it. When we were informed of this decision, we were also told that they would like for us to arrange to pick up the parts and equipment we own as production has been halted. 

This is the latest chapter in what has been a challenging relationship and project to date for everyone involved. Flextronics is a renowned manufacturer who works with the world’s top brands in wearables and other consumer electronics. They’re a good choice for a lot of big, global companies. Unfortunately, in our opinion, it turns out they were not a good fit for the technical challenges of this small startup with, in mass-manufacturing terms, a relatively small number of units. Flextronics is well known for shipping millions of units for many of their customers. 

We chose Flextronics—above two other manufacturers—because of their expertise in wearables, their location in the US (which enabled us to make frequent trips to California to work on-site), and because they included us in their LAB IX incubation program. We’re sad to say that even with all the knowledge Flextronics has about wearables, little could be transferred, or was relevant to, the specific challenges of the CST-01, namely because of its sub-1mm thickness and sensitive components. 

We thought working with one of the world’s largest wearable manufacturers would set us up for success. We certainly didn’t think we would ever have to be writing an update like this. 

Hindsight is always 20/20. If we were to do this all again with the knowledge we now have, we would likely search for a partner that had specific expertise in developing new processes in ultra-thin electronics who was used to working on 10,000 unit runs. We would likely not have limited ourselves to US manufacturers, although, at the time, it was important for us to try to keep as much of the watch made in America as possible. We’ll share “lessons learned” and “mistakes made” in following updates to help anyone in the future avoid some the same challenges we faced. 

(Deep breath.) The next step is to pick up the parts, assemblies, and tooling that have been paid for that are currently at Flextronics in Milpitas. We’ll work with Flextronics so that all the paperwork is correctly completed and everything can be released into our care. Once we have all the details and paperwork dealt with, we’ll make a trip out to Milpitas to physically load everything and move it. 

Once we have everything in our own storage, we can do a proper inventory of all these items and take detailed pictures. We know some of you are eager to see this. We haven’t been able to do this as freely as we would’ve liked in the past because of guidelines from Flextronics on what we can share from within the factory walls. Understandably, we have been limited in taking pictures inside their facility because Flextronics doesn’t want competitors to know some of their processes and capabilities. 

Below is a detailed list of all the items we plan to pick up. There are some parts that Flextronics have paid for that we do not currently own. We have not put those on this list. We also do not own some of the Flextronics machinery needed to assemble the watches such as an ultrasonic welder and a hot bar machine. 

We’ve had meetings with several organizations who we hoped would be able to help continue production of the CST-01 and get you rewards. To date, however, none of these conversations have been very positive because of the production problems we face. Because of the low, 54% yield, these problems effectively double the costs of the watch, making each cost around $260 to make. 

At this point, the future looks bleak. A plan somewhere between Plan B and C is now our only option. 

Here are those plans from the previous update: 

Plan B: Find buyers for all the above IP, equipment, and parts, liquidating everything we have and redistributing money as required by law. 

Plan C: In the event that there’s no traction with the above options, we’d essentially make all development “open source” to our backers. We’d share all CAD, schematics, drawings, and design-for-manufacture documentation down to a detailed bill of materials that have all part numbers and suppliers down to the last resistor. 

We’d share everything we can on how to make the CST-01. We’ve had requests to do this and mail the parts to the backers. This is something we could do, but it’s at the bottom of our list of options because without the proper machinery—hot bar machines, ultrasonic welder, CNC encapsulation machine, specialty adhesives, screen printing, die cutting, etc.—backers simply won’t be able to assemble the watches by themselves. Parts not requested by backers would be liquidated and funds redistributed. 

As far as liquidation of all assets, we’ll have all photography and inventory of all the pieces and machinery. We have even talked about selling everything on a public site like Ebay so backers can all see the exact amount we’re able to recoup. 

If there’s anyone out there who has been through anything like this, please reach out. Our friends and families have been incredibly supportive and helpful, but they can only advise us so much. 

On a personal note, we both have had to take paying jobs to continue to keep this project moving forward and pay for flights and other costs. We’re lucky enough to have employers that know about crowdfunding and the challenges of manufacturing. They are allowing us to keep working on this and give us time for meetings and trips to California. 

We’d like to end with another apology from us to all of you for letting you down. As disappointed as we are in ourselves, we’re even more sorry to have disappointed our backers. We’re trying to keep our chins up, but we feel awful and are trying to resolve everything as quickly as we can. We’ll make every effort to get to the best outcome possible. 

Sincerely, 

Dave & Jerry

Status Update

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Where We’re at Now: 

Our manufacturing partner has estimated they’ll need an additional $1.2M from us for them to fulfill our orders. This is due to the proportion of good products coming off the line and the cost issues we covered in the last update. Over the last few months, we’ve been having conversations with potential investors to try to raise enough money to both complete production and grow the business. The yield concerns, the associated cost, and looking back at the slow pace of development up to this point, however, have made it difficult to impossible to raise the amount of money we need to both scale the business and fulfill orders. When we communicated these things to our manufacturer, they decided to stop the line until it was clear how they would get paid for the completed units, as well as how they would recoup the advances they gave us for this project. 

There are 135 units ready for shipment at the moment and roughly 200 in process. 

We’re doing whatever we can to get as many pieces shipped as possible. But, in order to ship the in-process and completed units, our manufacturer is requesting we sign an agreement that would prohibit us from talking openly about some of the challenges we’ve faced during our manufacturing journey. We’re trying to balance our desire to communicate openly and honestly with our backers and customers with trying anything we can to get even a few units shipped. If this proposed agreement moves forward, future updates will be challenging as we’ll be prohibited from sharing many of the facts surrounding the history of the project. We’re currently in conversations with the manufacturer about this agreement and we’ll continue to explore ways to satisfy the manufacturer’s request for additional funds required to continue production while maintaining our ability to keep you as informed as possible. 

We never dreamed we’d encounter this many challenges for this long. We know we’ve let you all down and we continue to try and keep our chins up and make every effort to reward you for backing us. 

We’ve been reading your comments and will be addressing some common themes and requests in this update. This is a summary of what we’re covering in this update: 

Further Financial Information: We’ve put together a timeline from our bank account’s history. We’ve also gone through our photos to pull out images of parts. We hope this is the type of documentation some of you have requested. 

Plans for Moving Forward: The goal of moving forward is to figure out a way to get rewards to as many people as possible. We’ve outlined our approach below. 

FAQ: This is meant to cover other questions we’ve received since our last update. 

Further Financial Information 

Our bank account balance through time with call-outs during major events. 

Link for larger size

Here’s a little background info to help you interpret this graphic (so you don’t have to go back to previous updates). Our first major purchases were the batteries, the microcontroller (MCU), and the battery management IC. The batteries were long lead-time parts that needed to be ordered well in advance as they were built-to-order and the build process was a lengthy one. The battery management IC was a primary gating item, as it had to be custom processed from a silicon wafer. One wafer would only give us around 6,000 parts. We knew there’d be some yield and one wafer was not enough to build all the 7,900 rewards, so we had to get at least two. The wafers had long processing times (around 16 weeks) and were needed to make the E Ink display (another 8 weeks), so we stage released this and delivered them to E Ink to be placed on the circuits. Once we were fully engaged with our manufacturer, the manufacturer paid for the parts and we paid them in batches, which is why you see many items lumped into three major purchases. The original intent was to order more of these long lead-time parts than were necessary to satisfy Kickstarter backers, so we wouldn’t have six months of down time after fulfilling the original orders. We opened up pre-order sales to pay for the cost of the additional parts. Unfortunately, given the low yield that we’re currently experiencing, additional parts that we hoped would provide us with continued revenue would need to be used to fulfill existing orders. We’ve included images of parts we received further down in the post. 

Plans for Moving Forward 

Below are three different options for moving forward in order of preferable outcomes. 

Plan A:

Exchange our intellectual property, techniques, and custom tooling / machinery with a buyer who would complete the rest of the production and fulfillment with our help. 

The offer would include: 

Ownership and ability to continue production of the CST-01 under the buyer's own brand. We’d be available to help the new owner transition into producing units. 

Two patents: A design patent that specifically covers the design of the CST-01 and a utility patent that covers a thin, flexible wristwatch that’s flexible throughout its entire length. 

Utility Patent 14/590,695: Flexible wristwatch with segmented E-Paper display (still in process). 

Design Patent D722,894: Flexible wristwatch with segmented E-Paper display. 

We’ve also developed an encapsulation technology/method for low-temperature and low-pressure molding of flexible elastomeric urethane over sensitive electronics. We needed to develop this process since an E Ink display and a battery wouldn’t be able to withstand the temperatures or pressures involved with a conventional, liquid-silicone rubber, injection-molding technique. 

This process would be extremely useful for any type of ultra-thin, flexible electronics (wearables, smart cards, etc.). We had a custom CNC machine built to automate this process, which could be repurposed and iterated upon for a range of different devices. 

We’ll also be available to consult with the buyer to integrate the encapsulation technology we developed into products of their own choosing. The buyer would have the option of patenting this technology and we’d assign the patent to the buyer or keep the process a trade secret. 

Plan B: 

Find buyers for all the above IP, equipment, and parts, liquidating everything we have and redistributing money as required by law. 

Plan C: 

In the event that there’s no traction with the above options, we’d essentially make all development “open source” to our backers. We’d share all CAD, schematics, drawings, and design-for-manufacture documentation down to a detailed bill of materials that have all part numbers and suppliers down to the last resistor. 

We’d share everything we can on how to make the CST-01. We’ve had requests to do this and mail the parts to the backers. This is something we could do, but it’s at the bottom of our list of options because without the proper machinery—hot bar machines, ultrasonic welder, CNC encapsulation machine, specialty adhesives, screen printing, die cutting, etc.—backers simply won’t be able to assemble the watches by themselves. Parts not requested by backers would be liquidated and funds redistributed. 

FAQ: 

Why is all of this information coming now? Why didn’t you communicate these issues sooner? 

While we were in the process of trying to get manufacturing going, we didn’t think it would be wise to communicate each and every frustration we encountered. We were concerned that this might negatively affect our working relationship with our manufacturer and our suppliers, leading to more difficulties down the line. What became apparent to us, however, is that designing around bleeding-edge components that are sourced from a single supplier is very risky, especially for a small company. One example is the issue we had with our E Ink displays. We were shipped an estimated 20% broken units that appeared to have been broken due to too much force applied to a component during assembly. This ended up being very costly for us, but what could we do? No one else makes the kind of quality E-Paper displays we needed aside from E Ink. Anything we pursued legally could damage our relationship and destroy our ability to continue production. We aren’t big enough that a supplier would care about cutting us off. 

Why weren’t the issues you’ve encountered communicated at the onset of the project? 

The short answer is that, in our opinion, we overestimated the capability of a manufacturing partner to transition a product we were able to make in our workshop to something that could be mass manufactured. 

We had built working prototypes that were very close to the final form factor we needed. The primary parts that needed refinement were the lamination process, adding color (printing), and the metal band fabrication. 

The manufacturing partner we chose has a history of making many of the popular wearable technology devices on the market today. We believed they could apply this industry knowledge to take our device that extra step and make it ready for manufacturing. What we learned, however, was that many of the questions we had about how to move forward with production were also echoed by the manufacturing team. CST and the manufacturing team worked on ways to refine the necessary areas, but these efforts ended up needing way more R&D and experimentation than we had anticipated at the start. 

We also had issues with our suppliers. In addition to the E Ink issue mentioned above, another big issue was that our original battery manufacturer went out of business. One week, things seemed great, then the next, we heard we wouldn’t able to purchase the quantity of batteries we needed. We were able to find a replacement battery that had a similar chemistry and form factor, but, unfortunately, the mechanical properties and the production quality of these replacement batteries wasn’t as good as the original supplier. This, too, led to an unexpected R&D effort around bend testing. We had to come up with a cocktail of adhesives to hold the battery in place where it needed to stay put and let it move where it needed to move. 

In summary, we were counting on the last pieces of the development process to go smoothly—and the process was anything but. 

Can we contribute more money and keep manufacturing going? 

At this point, we’ve concluded this isn’t a good option. If we continue to manufacture at the current yield, it would not only require additional funds that would be in the neighborhood of the original amount backers contributed, but we also don’t have confidence that the manufacturing issues will be ironed out even with additional investment. The last thing we want is to take more money from backers only to continue to run into more manufacturing difficulties going forward. 

Can you supply pictures of parts? 

Posted below are some pictures of parts we have. The bulk of the parts are in storage at the manufacturing site and are “kitted out” when a batch of watches is signed off to be assembled. This is why we mostly have photos of the kits sent out, or the boxes of parts when they arrived at the loading dock. 

Where’s the FCC certification? 

It was certified by Bay Area Compliance Laboratories Corp. A screenshot of the cover of the report and a photo of one of the tests is below. For further information, the associated update is update #15.

Pictures:

Trays of tested and untested E Ink displays
Trays of tested and untested E Ink displays
Completed base stations
Completed base stations
Populated flex circuits for base stations
Populated flex circuits for base stations
The tester we use to test the strength of the battery leads
The tester we use to test the strength of the battery leads
Tray of batteries
Tray of batteries
Batteries that failed inspection
Batteries that failed inspection
Opening up the first box of base station plastics
Opening up the first box of base station plastics
Base Station Circuit Boards
Base Station Circuit Boards
E Ink display programming fixture
E Ink display programming fixture
Additional module we built to identify broken E Ink Displays
Additional module we built to identify broken E Ink Displays
microscopy to identify broken IC on E Ink modules
microscopy to identify broken IC on E Ink modules
Springs for our base stations
Springs for our base stations
Custom CNC encapsulation machine
Custom CNC encapsulation machine
Units currently waiting to be shipped
Units currently waiting to be shipped
Performing ESD testing for CE certification
Performing ESD testing for CE certification
Cover of our testing report (BACL requires confidentiality and prohibits duplication)
Cover of our testing report (BACL requires confidentiality and prohibits duplication)

Finances Update & Where We Go From Here

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Hi again, we wanted to add this Financial Summary into last update, but it took about six hours to distill all the technical details into something that could be digestible, and it took the better part of today to get all these things we’re about to share organized in a way that’s easy to follow. 

This update will show where our money has been spent to date, over the last two years. As many of you are asking about refunds, we wanted to open the books so you can see where the money you’ve contributed has been applied. 

The money has mostly gone into development, tooling, and purchasing the parts that go into making the watch and charger. We have included detailed pie charts below showing money in and money out. 

We are also publishing this information to show where we have not spent money. We realized immediately after the Kickstarter campaign ended that we had to run a tight ship and put every penny toward parts, development, and tooling, so we went to extreme lengths to keep our other expenses as low as possible.

Finances | The Details 

Money raised: 

The chart below shows all the money we raised. There’s a large chunk of money from all the Kickstarter backers and some additional funding post-campaign via pre-orders. You’ll also see $100k of additional outside funding we raised.

Money Used:

The money spent was separated into into two groups. The first group, money from Kickstarter and pre-orders, was used exclusively for tooling, parts, and development costs of the CST-01. The second group is the additional investment, which we used for our operational expenses. We split our expenses up this way to ensure that your contribution was unequivocally used on the specific manufacturing costs of the CST-01. 

The first chunk of money went to Kickstarter and Amazon fees. This was for hosting the campaign and processing payments. This was roughly $100k. The money we received from the campaign was $923,634. 

The Validation, R&D, Shipping & Start Up Costs bucket covers things like creating programming and test fixtures, experimentation of adhesives and materials, test tools for proving out the encapsulation process, sample batteries for evaluation, sample metal bands, and evaluation circuit boards. 

The largest slice was spent on parts for the watch and the associated tooling. Big-ticket items are the E-Ink display, batteries, battery-management ICs, microcontrollers and clock crystals. Tooling includes injection mold tools for the plastics, dies to form metal bands, diecut tools for trimming circuits, ultrasonic weld tools, and a custom machine for applying adhesives and encapsulants. Here is a break-down of all parts, tooling, programming and certification paid for to-date:

Running Lean, Keeping Operating Expenses to a Minimum: 

Our operating expenses came out of the additional 100k investment. We’ve broken this out below. 

Certain numbers stand out, for instance, you’ll see that “Compensation” is roughly around $18,000 for two years. This number reflects the net salaries paid to both of us over the two years we’ve been working on CST. This number is low because we not only invested a lot of our own savings into the company, but we paid ourselves the minimum we needed to scrape by month-to-month once the remainder of our personal savings was exhausted. 

Some things to note are what we’re NOT spending money on. When we could do things ourselves, we did.  This includes all of the CAD & specification drawings for the watch, the electrical engineering, a large chunk of the programming, the electrical testing and calculations, making our own programming and testing fixtures, procurement of parts, and identification of outside vendors (for steps that our manufacturer didn't have the capability for). We do not have an office (we worked from home or on-site at our manufacturer). We did not buy computers or software. We did not hire a staff. That has certainly helped as paying for even a small office seems like an unnecessary expense.

We both live in Chicago. When we have to travel to San Jose for CST, we organize our schedules so that we can find the cheapest airfare and lodging possible. We found that hotels are too expensive to stay at when we have to be in San Jose for weeks at a time (even the cheapest hotels can be over $100 a night per room). So, AirBnB always comes out as the cheapest option. We sort options by price and select the cheapest possible accommodations. 

Most recently, Dave has been spending almost every other week on-site. Because money is tight, Dave took the cheapest possible option for accommodations to the extreme. He rented a van from AirBNB with a futon in the back that he parks in the manufacturer’s parking lot. It’s $35 a day, so he gets transportation and somewhere to sleep. Again, since we’re mostly working when we’re on-site, these sparse accommodations don’t really matter too much, and it has allowed us to be at the manufacturer’s site more often in recent months.

What This Means for Delivery of Watches 

As you can see from the numbers here and in the last update, continuing production at this time is a challenge. We have the majority of the parts needed, but are struggling with the yield and the costs involved to assemble them into final units.  At the moment, we don’t have the reserve funds to make up for the yield and labor costs. We are currently investigating options that may allow us to get units out to the backers and continue to produce, but the details of these conversations are still in the early stages. We will be shipping as many watches as possible and are working with the manufacturer to see how many watches can be shipped.  

We hope that this update helps to communicate that we have been doing everything in our power to get through these issues and get these products out to you folks. We’re deeply sorry for what looks like may be a negative outcome and it pains us to write this post. We assure you that we will continue to look for ways we can get watches out to you and we will ship every last watch we are able to. 

-Dave & Jerry

Production Update

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Production numbers and speed of production are much lower than estimated, initial production was initially estimated at 1,000 - 2,000 units per week from our manufacturer. The production line is far from running at full efficiency as we encounter issues and have to install additional steps for testing. That estimate is currently at 200 units per week. As we work on the line training operators, actual production including yield was only 130 over the past 2 weeks. 

We kept the first batch small in order to see how the watches did in the field. Unfortunately, we had a higher percentage of failures and returns than we were comfortable with. In order to prevent shipping more unreliable products, we went back through the steps of the production process to find where those errors were and added more testing to ensure that we ship robust units. This process added more delays to our goal of getting units out the door. We continue to work on our process in order to get our yield and costs into a range that will enable us to ship to our backers with the amount of parts we have on hand. 

This is very disappointing to us and we know incredibly frustrating for all of you. Below is an explanation of what’s happening to date as we continue to make all efforts to get these numbers into a more respectable range. A brief summary shows where we are getting an incredibly low percentage of shippable product. We are getting failures of parts and then additional failures as we go through assembly steps. This all adds up to 44% of all the products not being ‘shippable’ as they fail functional or cosmetic tests at various points in the assembly. 

The details on production and yield challenges. 

E-Ink circuits:

We are getting 80% yield on these parts out of the box. We have tried many approaches to rework the failed circuits. None of the rework approaches have yet managed to get the failed circuits to work. 

The reason that 20% of circuits are failing is that too much pressure was applied to the battery management chip during assembly, This effectively crushed and destroyed the chip. The units were not tested to our electrical specification, and as a result, we were shipped boards with 20% failed parts, which not only adds 25% to the per-part-cost, but also adds cost in testing to weed out the failed units. 

As these parts are one of the most expensive parts of the watch, we have been investigating ways to avoid eating this 25% cost increase. We have successfully tested and documented a process for removing this part but have been unsuccessful in finding a vendor willing and capable of removing the parts and attaching replacement parts. The battery management chip is a custom bare die part cut from a thinned silicon wafer (In short...It’s tiny and a real challenge to place and attach) We are working on other ways to regain that 20% loss, but we may have to realistically live with the loss. 

The Batteries - Attaching and Encapsulation. 

The battery supplier has been incredibly proactive in attempting to fix issues and sent an expert from France to San Jose to thoroughly test and document the challenges with these batteries. Tests covered thermal, mechanical and visual inspection guidelines. 

Visual inspection show that some batteries have visual defects (bubbles) that indicate that they may not be electrically sound in the long term. Pull and stress tests were conducted on the battery tabs to see where these tabs would fail or fall off. The results of this in depth investigation mean we now know we have an 80% yield (20% of the batteries fail after we put them through tests and inspection) This yield issue effectively makes the cost of the battery per product also 25% higher. 

Compounding this issue is that even when the batteries get past the inspection, these ‘good’ batteries go through the production and assembly are attached to the E-ink circuits, These circuits are then encapsulated in a flexible resin. Additional bending and stress tests are conducted after this step. 10% of these assemblies fail those tests. The result is that those entire failed assemblies become scrap.  This points either refinement needed on battery protection or a more stringent battery tab pull test required.

We found that failures in the shipped units may have been due to a battery attachment problem. We tracked down that there were a batch of units where the incorrect solder was used on the line causing unconnected cold solder joints on the battery. (The solder had the wrong melting temperature and could not "wet" fully to attach the batteries). We have added confirmation steps to ensure the correct solder is used moving forward. 

Assembling to bands 

The final few steps are to attach the encapsulated circuits to the bands and then bend test the final product. We get an additional 77% yield here (23% of the final products fail at final testing.) The primary point of failure at this point is delamination of either the battery tabs from the battery or the battery tabs from the circuit board. Once this happens, the only salvageable part of the assembly is the metal band.

What does all the above mean? 

We get a cumulative yield of 55%-56%. with all the testing that is necessary this is very time consuming and requires real human attention at every step of the process. In cold cash terms it balloons the parts and labor cost to around $300. The low yield effectively doubles the production costs. This is obviously something we need to improve in order to be able to deliver rewards to everyone.  If we kept the line running with the yield we are seeing, we would not be have enough parts to send to all the backers.

We understand your frustration and hope that by pulling back the curtain to talk about the problems we have encountered, we will be able to communicate what is keeping us from getting these watches out currently.  We will continue to be as transparent as possible in future updates.

- Dave & Jerry | CST

We are shipping

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Hello Backers,

Last week, we worked with our manufacturer to finish building, testing, and shipping our first batch of products!

We'd like to share a few photos of this final process:

Final Testing:

Ready for packing:

 Scanning base station serial numbers:

Boxing up:

 Ready for delivery:

We are delighted with how the product has turned out and are excited to be getting them onto your hands.

At this stage we are being careful to start slow to make sure our process has all of the kinks worked out of it.  For those of you who are curious how we are going about the shipping queue, we are shipping by both order number and the SKU that we are currently producing.  We have started with the black, raw titanium, medium watches for this shipment, but will be changing the line over to cover the different color and sizes in subsequent orders.

Now would be a good time to make sure your address is correct in the Kickstarter system.  If you are unfamiliar with how to update your address, we wrote a brief tutorial here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1655017763/cst-01-the-worlds-thinnest-watch/posts/752244

Thanks again for the patience and and support.

-Jerry & Dave | CST