August is upon us! With a new month is a new update. On top of our usual progress update, we’ll be giving you a deep dive into manufacturing as a whole – the steps involved, and where we’ll be in a few short months.
Before we dive in, I need your help: we need feedback on our updates. Are they too long? Too short? Are we discussing what you want to hear? Or is there something missing that you’re curious about? Do you even read them? Please let us know in the update comments by following the link at the bottom of this update!
Several of you have reached out regarding address changes. By now you should have received a link in your email from BackerKit to a survey, where you can fill in your shipping information and purchase additional units. At any point from now until we ship, you’ll be able to change your shipping information at the same link.
If you have any trouble with this, we’ve got an awesome support team at BackerKit that you can reach here!
The last month’s priority has been negotiating terms with the factories we’ve tentatively chosen. This started with nailing down specifications in June, and has been followed by design iteration V1 on the factory’s side, some high-level optimization to cut down the number of parts, and finally estimating a quote. We’ve been counseled to take our time during this process, since the terms we agree on dictate our relationship with them over the following years. That relationship, in turn, can make or break a company - choosing the right factory is a HUGE decision that we’re not taking lightly.
Meanwhile, that’s given us time to focus on some other priorities: hiring, software, and academic studies and more!
In the next few weeks we’ll be adding two new members to the Mindset team! They will be helping us with electronics and digital marketing, and bring some amazing experience to the team. It’s too early for pictures (unfortunately), so stay tuned to social to learn about our new members!
On software we’ve been making some amazing progress. Our focus since the company began has primarily been measuring concentration – building algorithms that take a chunk of EEG data, and predict the level of concentration the data represents. After so many months, we’re very happy with how far it’s come. That means it’s time for step two: scaling our algorithm from a few brains to thousands. We’re working on an architecture that will combine what it knows about “general concentration” in everyone’s brain, while at the same time adapting to each user’s unique differences. We’re not ready yet to talk about this, but stay tuned – it’s exciting.
Of course, all the best software needs good data! As we mentioned in Update 10, we’ve been working with the Montreal Neurological Institute to plan a large-scale study collecting EEG data under supervised clinical conditions. This will provide us with clean, high-quality, well-validated data to train our algorithms on. After lots of planning, we’re excited that the experiments will be starting this month!
While in Montreal we’ve been working on a lot of brand-related development. We’re going to be pushing this out, along with our brand-new website very soon. It’s looking really nice!
As a sneak peak, here’s Mindset’s new logo!
We’re really happy with how it turned out. We’ll be publicly sharing the rest of our brand work shortly, but wanted you all to be the first to see our latest progress!
Get ready – this section’s a big one.
Last update we talked about delays in manufacturing – the most common sources of problems that typically slow companies down post-Kickstarter. As a part-2, we wanted to share a deeper dive into what we’ve been thinking about behind-the-scenes to make this all happen: the manufacturing process.
Going from idea to mass manufacturing is typically broken down into 6 steps. What follows is a walkthrough of each step: what it means, how long it takes, and what we’ve done to prepare for it.
Step 1 – Proof of concept
The hardware process, like most, starts with an idea. Step 1 is turning that idea into a proof of concept.
For us that took roughly a year, and 11 iterations. Our first unit looked something like this:
And our final iteration looked like this:
The goal in this phase is not to work on aesthetics, construction, supply chain, or any of the final product stuff – it’s purely to get it to do what it’s supposed to do. For us, that meant reading brainwaves, and measuring concentration.
Iteration 1 focused on getting sensors on our head to read data. By iteration 4, we were happy with our ability to measure brainwaves from headphones. By iteration 7, we had figured out most of the problems of fitting sensors in headphones, we could detect phenomena like eye blinks, and we were starting to measure concentration accurately. By iteration 11, the sensors, chipsets, and algorithms were solid, and we were ready for the Kickstarter.
These prototypes are typically called the “works-like” versions – they do what you expect, but are ugly as sin. In parallel, we worked on the “looks-like” versions – industrial design shells that look like you want, but don’t incorporate the electronics. The end of step 1 is where the vast majority of projects are when they go on Kickstarter – a functional works-like, and a beautiful looks-like.
Step 2 – Engineering prototype
This is where the fun begins – turning the proof of concept into the engineering prototype. The goal is to combine the “works-like” and “looks-like” prototypes into a single unit.
First, you come up with the first engineering design, which includes part lists, electronics components, tolerances, and assembly plans. Then you go through Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Assembly (DFA), during which you tweak the design to make sure that your product won’t cost thousands of dollars to make. Finally, you hand-assemble a small number of units (1-5) that use the same parts, assembled the same way, as the final units will. These are called engineering prototypes.
Turning a proof of concept into an engineering prototype is where most of the problems happen. Understandably so: not all designs are manufacturable. The quality of the industrial design, and the skill of the mechanical engineers, dramatically affect the length of this process – anywhere from 1 month to 12.
We’ve been anticipating this process for a year now. In particular, there are three things we did during the proof of concept stage to mitigate the difficulty of this process.
1. Work with a great industrial design team
A bad industrial designer draws pretty pictures of products that can never exist. A good industrial designer thinks about the product at every stage: the look, the feel, the use, and importantly the manufacturing.
Our industrial design team was phenomenal. With experience in designing and building real products, and deep engineering knowledge, they thought about the manufacturing of the design while creating it. That difference meant that from step 1, we knew our looks-like could be manufactured without too many major design changes.
2. Test the manufacturing early
By hardware iteration 8, we started focusing our attention on the design of the headphones, in addition to the braintech. Even though at the time they weren’t comfortable, didn’t look pretty, and were more difficult to make, it was important that we experiment with this process early, to screen for major flaws.
These iterations helped us discover a lot of the unanticipated design bugs early on. The flexible top band, the fabric ear sensors, and many other critical changes were a result of these tests. We also consulted manufacturing experts on each part of the headphone, verifying that at scale the components could be made and assembled within budget. In this way, despite having not gone through the formal DFM and DFA process, we were confident that our design would translate to the factory smoothly.
3. Work with a Tier-1 ODM, not a CM
Most factories follow the Contract Manufacturer (CM) model. Basically, you provide a design, and they make the part. The burden of designing your parts well, and the whole DFM/DFA process, falls on you. Instead, we went with an Original Design Manufacturer (ODM). They take responsibility for the DFM/DFA process, for creating the tooling, for most of the testing, and much more. In this way, we leverage the expertise the ODM has in building great headphones, instead of redesigning the wheel ourselves. In essence: we focus on brain tech, they focus on headphones.
But there’s a problem: not all ODMs are good ODMs, and the good ODMs are selective. In order to get to the tier-1 factories, you need to convince them that your product is worth it – selling the vision, explaining the design, and projecting an expected number of sales. And therein lies the magic of Kickstarter: your pre-orders became the leverage we used to convince the tier-1 factories to work with us.
The result of this process is that our ODM will be helping us with the engineering prototype. Once the quote is complete (as described above), this will be the next step. We’re projecting to get our first engineering prototypes by the end of September.
Step 3 – Engineering Validation Testing (EVT)
The EVT process focuses on validating that the engineering prototypes achieve the design requirements.
For us, these requirements include everything we promised on kickstarter, focusing on the high level requirements (headphone comfort, audio quality, electrode contact, signal quality, Bluetooth connection).
This process takes 1-2 months, depending on the complexity of the changes we need to make. We expect to test roughly 50 units across this span. During this time we’ll also be looking at problems like flashing the firmware, battery certification, RF levels, and other global standards to which we need to conform.
After all is said and done, we’ll be comfortable creating the final tooling (which is a very expensive, very irreversible process!), and moving on to the next stage.
Step 4 – Design Validation Testing (DVT)
DVT focuses on validating the tooling that you produced during EVT, to ensure that the tolerances, materials, assembly, and production-grade tooling adhere to the requirements.
In addition to the high level requirements above, we will be testing low level requirements: aux plug rigidity, corrosion wear, waterproofness, mechanical fatigue life, etc. In total we have over 100 tests we’ll be performing to ensure that the production quality of the final headphones is rocksolid.
This process requires testing roughly 100-200 units. And by testing, we mean ruining. We’ll be throwing them off ladders, breaking them in half, plugging in the USB-C until it cracks, and tons of other fun jobs. This should take roughly 1 month, assuming no major design rewrites surface.
The end goal of this is to make the final tweaks to the tooling such that at scale (1000+ units), the process maintains the same quality standard on every unit. That leads us to the final step.
Step 5 – Production Validation Testing (PVT)
PVT validates the production process, in order to ensure that when we make thousands of units, no major problems surface. By this point, there should be no more changes to the design.
We’ll be producing roughly 500 units, which are considered final, usable versions. Indeed, unless something goes wrong, we’ll be shipping all of these to our first backers.
PVT helps set in place the Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) standards that become the benchmark during the rest of the production process. We’ll be deciding how the parts will be bench-tested, what batch sizing we’ll be using, and optimizing our production process in the factory’s assembly pipeline. In essence, PVT is the final checklist before we push the button to ship the units. If EVT and DVT went well, PVT should not take more than 1 month.
In parallel, we’ll be ensuring that the distribution network we have set up is ready for the increase in volume. All of this leads up to the moment of truth.
Step 6 – Mass Production
Mass production is when we give the green light, product our 5000+ units, and ship them to our backers. Congrats!
Different people give different answers regarding how long the fulfilment process takes – our best estimate is 1-2 months. This is mostly due to the logistical complexity of getting 5000 units shipped internationally to dozens of countries, a process we’ll be recruiting help for.
All in all, there are a lot of steps between now and delivering Mindset to your door. We’re really excited about the process, and confident that the steps we’ve taken until now put us in a good position to deliver a high-quality product that you’ll all love.
As always, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to get all the latest updates and productivity tricks we’ve dug up. And as always, please share any thoughts, questions, comments, or ideas you have on social or on Kickstarter in the comments!
Until next month,
- The Mindset Team