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Show HN: 1-click orders for open source electronics (kitspace.org)
121 points by kasbah 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Hey HN, I created Kitspace in an effort to help open source electronics be a bit more like open source software. The aim is to make it as easy as possible to replicate designs without the creator having to bag components to make kits.

I have been working on this for a number of years already (started with the browser extension) and have a few things in the pipeline such as integrating a GitLab back-end for easier file-uploads and adding a bill of materials editor.

The source code is available at https://github.com/monostable/kitspace (give it a star if you like it - it really helps a lot with grant applications). There is an alpha version of a BOM builder tool at: https://bom-builder.kitspace.org. Feel free to ask for more details of course :)

Thanks for sharing Kitspace on HN, your site looks promising. At first I thought it may be hard to gain traction over the established players (such as Tindie), but after looking into how the site works it looks like it has the potential to lower the cost for acquiring the hardware, as well as reduce the customer support burden for open hardware creators. Nice work!

Any short term plans to expand the site further?

I had thought that selling solder stencils perhaps might be a good optional extra for larger boards, but I guess they could prove a little expensive. Cheapest I've found with a quick search was this site:


Cheers! I don't think it's in competition with Tindie either. I want the site to serve a niche of creators that can't be bothered with the rest (i.e. packing and selling). I think this opens up a world of designs that don't have commercial viability. My special areas of interest are music gear and scientific instrumentation (but of course that doesn't dictate what types of designs people decide to put up).

The cost for a one-off order is always more than something that is made multiple times so I it's not a question of competing on price. Kitspace currently optimizes for one-off orders (batching orders of a single design for multiple people would be interesting too though).

I am curious, how do you think it lowers the support burden? Do you mean they can just say: "you soldered it, I don't know, works for me" or is it something more? :D

I think the stencils are best left to the batching services and Aisler and PCBway, which are linked from Kitspace, offer them too (and they should pick out the relevant solder-paste Gerber files).

EDIT: Oh, and regarding planned features check: https://github.com/monostable/kitspace#planned and the work-in-progess (WIP) pull-requests: https://github.com/monostable/kitspace/pulls

> "I am curious, how do you think it lowers the support burden? Do you mean they can just say: "you soldered it, I don't know, works for me" or is it something more? :D"

Yeah, pretty much the former. Selling a product directly, even in kit form, implies that you're stating that the parts you supply will be fit for purpose, whereas with a site like Kitspace I'd suggest it's up to the person assembling the boards to get things working (though that won't stop some people asking for help). What Kitspace seems to do is to reduce the friction between seeing a board an individual is interested in and the ordering of the suggested parts, which is a step forward for the user experience of open source hardware.

From the fabs I usually use (PCBWay, JLCPCB) I've found it's usually cheapest to order them along with the PCBs themselves. On PCBWay they're about $10. JLCPCB they're $9.

This is so great.

Do you mind reporting how many sales you've had so far (to-date, per-month, etc.)? Have you thought about trying to do some visual diffing to get it closer to the source version control analogy? Do you do a lot of hand curation of the repositories on there?

Hey Abe (I follow you on GitHub!). We don't actually sell anything on Kitspace. Since about a month we have affiliate links to Aisler.net and PCBWay. So far I have earned about 7 Euros through links to Aisler.net and waiting on the numbers from PCBWay. I have spent about 4000 Euros on the site and a lot of my time so definitely running at a net loss still :)

Yes, I totally can't wait to take more advantage of the Git back-end! I like the idea of visual diffs though they can have problems (if you move the entire design by 1mm say). Just having tagged versions will be the first step and we can experiment after that.

I have been pushing people to better document the projects and helping with getting the required files into place (and sometime helping them use Git/GitHub). I have been doing what I call guerrilla BOM building (never shout this at an airport!) where I sort out an OSHW project's bill of materials and send a PR. I was doing some of this today: [1][2]. I will be applying for grants to do more of this and maybe get some help with it.

[1]: https://github.com/prometheus-science/Flypi/pull/2 [2]: https://github.com/rwb27/openflexure_nano_motor_controller/p...

Awesome on the guerrilla BOMs!

I was wondering more about how many orders have gone through your system and how many people have ordered PCBs and parts through you site. Do you know what those numbers roughly are?

I see you have some kind of examples for how to organize projects in your README. Do you have some more formalized guidelines for recommended 'best practices' for organizing open hardware projects? Would you consider making one if you don't have it already?

Interesting, looking around there's some people playing around with visual diffs [1] [2]. Maybe a good first step is to just have a multi-layer view of the image with different colors.

Are you going to attend OHS in Boston this year?

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CZEszO9xpA

[2] http://www.viewplot.com/info_files/vpl_faq/compare.html

Ah nice, hadn't seen those two. The first one I came across was [1] and I have been fascinated with the idea ever since. I kind of agree with Dave Vandenbout [2] though in that it might not scale. I kind of shifted my fascination towards using code to do PCB designs and giving talks about that [3].

Best practices, it's a good idea, but it is hard enough to get people to do the minimal thing that I came up with for Kitspace and I think only certain kinds of people will read a best practices guide. At the Global Open Science Hardware Gathering [4] we are trying to come up with more general best practices for open source hardware though and doing a more focused one for electronics would be worthwhile anyway.

About attending OHS, not unless I can get some travel funding :(

[1]: https://www.evilmadscientist.com/2011/improving-open-source-... [2]: http://www.xess.com/blog/schematics-really/ [3]: https://fosdem.org/2018/schedule/event/cad_pcb_code/ [4]: http://openhardware.science/gosh-manifesto/

Without having placed an order, this looks really cool and I hope it takes off. One I thought of off the top of my head that I did not see there is the ErgoDox keyboard. https://github.com/bishboria/ErgoDox

A good resource for more projects to put up might be Tindie. You might find some more HW folks there that would like to contribute.

What did you use to build the site? It looks great and is responsive. I have been wanting to build a "thingiverse for x" for a specific x for a while, but have not had the time for a nice implementation like this.

Thanks for the tips. I actually have a GitHub org [1] which serves as a todo list for projects to try and get into a state to be put up.

Source code for Kitspace is on GitHub as well: https://github.com/monostable/kitspace

Tindie is a really cool platform for selling kits and assembled projects and I need to figure out how to best reach people there. Kitspace is kind of trying to serve the niche of creators that don't want to put in the effort to put together and sell assembled projects or kits. There is probably still some overlap though and some people do have projects on both sites already I believe.

Kitspace is built with React and Semantic-UI (and pcb-stackup! [2]) and is compiled into a static site hosted on Netlify. I chose to implement my own build system using Ninja because I didn't get on with the frontend build tools at the time and it needs to process a lot of assets (and I do embedded systems programming by day, so I actually like Make and Make-like build tools). This was before Webpack and I had a go at understanding Webpack a few times in the mean time but never got my head around the config language.

I am currently working on moving away from a static site and using an instance of GitLab as a back-end. I am eyeing up Parcel and Next.js as possible routes for building the new front-end.

[1]: https://github.com/kitspace-forks [2]: https://github.com/tracespace/pcb-stackup/

Thanks for the reply, I had not heard of pcb-stackup before, but it looks awesome. I hope to integrate that into a site some day.

The ergodox sounds like a good fit as per your description, I tried to put together an order to make my own but got overwhelmed between out of stocks and alternative chips, etc. Ultimately I will probably buy a kit from someone else rather than buy individual parts from mouser and digikey.

Haha, yeah, I just fixed up the tomu [1] BOM because of out of stocks and started dreaming up a self-healing BOM solution (pick the in-stock parts), I need to implement quite a bit of stuff before that though.

I forked the ergodox project and will have a go at helping the creator put it up when I get a chance.

[1]: https://kitspace.org/boards/github.com/im-tomu/tomu-hardware...

Beyond the Ergodox, this might be a good resource for the mechanical keyboard enthusiast community at large.

Yes, but assembly might still be a blocker

Seems like a great idea. Congratulations on launching.

I'm not sure I'm willing to install a Chrome extension to be able to use this, though. I try to keep my extensions down to a minimum.

Thanks! You can order from Digikey and Newark/Farnell without the extension though it's still a little bit better with it (less steps for Digikey and references are added for Newark/Farnell).

The extension source code is available at: https://github.com/monostable/1clickBOM and it's been extensively reviewed by Mozilla for getting it up on addons.mozilla.org.

(Source code for Kitspace is on https://github.com/monostable/kitspace by the way.)

You could create a new user profile, and install the extension only for that user.

Also hampered by Google's refusal to support Chrome extensions on Android and IOS. What's their motivation for this policy?

Not sure about android, but Chrome on iOS isn’t even chrome. It’s a slightly different UI on top of an iOS web view component. So integrating extensions would be a challenge.

That reminds me that I should make the extension work for mobile Firefox. I keep wondering though: do people order electronic components on their mobile?

I do, but I don't know if that means much. Certainly mobile is overtaking desktop in total overall traffic.

> It could be described as a "Thingiverse for electronics".

I'm getting old. I would have described it as "on-demand Heathkits"!

It's a great idea. I'd love to see more types of designs. My parents still use their Heathkit receiver, while I make do with a pathetic store-bought one.

I like it, I might add that to the description. But what sets a Heathkit apart from a regular kit? Sometimes I describe it as "a place for virtual kits". (Also, didn't Heathkit make a little bit of a comeback? http://heathkit.com)

It would indeed be great to have more types of designs. We've had an influx of animal shaped PCBs recently (partly my own fault [1]) so I am on the search for some rectangular green, serious ones to offset that. I feel like it's slowly getting to a point where it's worthwhile adding categories.

[1]: https://blog.monostable.co.uk/posts/etching-oscillators-in-z...

> But what sets a Heathkit apart from a regular kit?

I guess I've never seen any other solder-it-yourself kits. Do they exist? I'd love to make some. Or give them as gifts.

> (Also, didn't Heathkit make a little bit of a comeback? http://heathkit.com)

Great, if true. Right now I only see 2 kits on their website, and both are just newer versions of ones I built years ago (clock, AM radio).

> We've had an influx of animal shaped PCBs recently (partly my own fault)

Heh, I was wondering about those.

Do you take requests? Home audio is the DIY classic. Maybe power supplies or battery chargers -- I always seem to need more of those. And of course, anything related to home automation. Maybe you could start small (like an IR remote control), and move up. A fully open-source alternative to the IOT junk that's on the market today would be most welcome!

I do take requests but mostly for documenting other people's projects and getting them in a state to be put up. I was going to have a go at HackRF [1] next but if you know any good projects you would like to see put up, let me know.


P.S. I should really have a go at this power supply too: https://github.com/eez-open/psu-hw

I was thinking more along the lines of "the power brick for my old monitor died again", but that dual-channel programmable PSU looks amazing. I wish I had a use for it so I had an excuse to build it! Thanks for the link.

Oooh, nice site! I like it :)

Some ideas: 1. You could add the objective O2 headphones amp (very nice build) 2. I have a stash of common parts I bought in bulk (mostly SMD R/C), if those were automatically "supplied" via my personal inventory list (maybe even updating it), that might be really neat.

Thanks for the tips. I checked out the O2 amp and it's extensively documented!

For 2. it might be worth integrating with some of the part managements systems. https://github.com/monostable/awesome-electronics#inventory-...

Cool project! This reminds me of an idea that you're awfully close to: optimized small-volume part kitting. I can order boards from OSHPark and stencils from OSHStencils, but figuring out which distributor has parts in stock for the lowest price and in the preferred packaging still takes an inordinate amount of time. The Octopart BOM tool is the closest thing I know of, but it will only let you fill a cart at a single distributor. Going in one step from BOM to ordered parts from multiple optimal distributors would save a lot of time.

Yes! I had this idea too (or maybe I stole it off you, who knows :). Though I changed my mind at some point and thought I would first do it according to preferred retailer (since I normally want to order at Farnell and then RS, if Farnell doesn't have it, because both will deliver next-day in the UK for free). Check 1.6 and 2.0 on the 1-click BOM roadmap [1]. Though it may be better to integrate this with Kitspace.org rather than build it into the extension.


Looks nice, but I hope the documentation for the individual projects improves (it seems to be at the bare minimum at this moment). For example, I'd like to know what to look for when a freshly soldered project doesn't work. Or when it breaks. Also, I'd like to have a minimum explanation of how a circuit works. The circuit schematics should always be included.

Further, it would be nice if the website immediately showed the price for the components (or a range, for different resellers).

All great feature requests and will be implemented one day (if I don't get hit by a bus). Linking up the board preview with the parts list, to help soldering and debugging, has been on the roadmap for Kitspace for quite a while. Here is a badly collaged concept drawing of that idea: https://github.com/monostable/kitspace/blob/bf017e245ed92066...

If you click on the "repo" link for most (not all) projects you will be able to download schematics (the majority are done in KiCad).

Do you have links for one-click assembly too like Macrofab and PCB.ng? Taking a day to place parts with tweezers and hot air is a major pain point.

Not yet, one day I want to add links to these new type of assemblers.

honest question... how can we test that you actually implemented 1-click ordering without having to install an extension?

You can try with Digikey, Newark or Farnell. Once I find time I'll do a shared-cart trick with Mouser as well so the extension will be needed less, though the extension can also be easier expanded to more retailers that don't offer cart-sharing links.

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