Trial Production and The Switching Situation

TL:DR

The Wooting one is almost ready for mass production but we’re facing some issues with the new switch. The stability and reliability over the keyboard are not up to our standards. Jeroen is now in Taiwan to solve these problems.

A Small Story.

Wooting is as exciting as it is scary. We’ve been through exciting ups and depressing downs. if you ask any entrepreneur, It’s one of the perks that come with running a business. I’m just thankful for my awesome partners, Jeroen and Erik. I couldn’t imagine running Wooting without them.

It all started when I saw the prototype of the first Flaretech switch. That time promoted as a hot-swappable switch. But once I understood how it worked, the only question to me was when the first analog keyboard would come. There was none. It didn’t take me long to come up with a plan to make one myself.

It was a crazy idea, considering that I’ve never embarked such a venture before. But I felt a calling. The chills went through my entire body when I shared the idea with Erik. A long-time friend, creative soul and now co-founder.

When we tried to start a project with Flaretech switches, we weren’t taken seriously. But I felt a burning fire inside of me that didn’t accept No as an answer. No matter how I had to bring analog keyboards to life.

At one point my persistence opened an opportunity for us. We could start a small-scale project and all the sudden we were in need of an engineer. Call it faith or total randomness but I remembered a video long time ago from Jeroen being “enginery”. That time an old gaming buddy, now co-founder and awesome engineer.

Fast forwarding today. We had our trial production and got a taste of the final keyboard that will arrive at your doorstep. The first ever analog mechanical keyboard on the market. But we’re not there yet, the trial production revealed new challenges.

img_6165-4-min

Trial Production

The 13th of November. On our YouTube live stream, we shared about the trial production and the results.

A trial production happens before mass production to test out the production process. This helps to find manufacturing defaults and test the final product. So you don’t end up with a multitude of blemished keyboards. This trial production was with the latest switch, one with a larger analog range.

The day we hosted the live stream, I had an early sample ( before the keyboard) and the result was… bad.

The analog signal was cut off early and inconsistent over the board. When there are 88 analog keys exposed to manufacturing variables, they’ll all be different. But this was out of proportion.

Our first analysis suggested that the new switch was causing some serious issues. But we needed more information and wait for the trial keyboards.

The Variables

14th of November, a day after the live stream. I picked up the trial keyboards (in Taiwan). To our relief, these showed much more promising results without the same issues. It wasn’t perfect yet and some keyboards had problems.

You see, the keyboard basically consists out of a

  • Plastic bottom case
  • ¬†Aluminum top plate
  • A PCBA (the plate with electrical components)
  • Switches & Keycaps

These components have a manufacturing tolerance. Meaning that it’s never exactly (for example) 25mm but 25.2mm or 24.8mm. When you accumulate those tolerances, it can give unpredictable results per keyboard.

We bridge this issue by calibrating all the switches during assembly in the firmware.

But, we learned that the inner-workings of the switch is a lot more complicated than we thought. Without going into too many details. To get more analog range, the manufacturer had to change the lenses. This allowed us to read a larger range of light but also made it more sensitive to external factors.

Decision-making

14th of November, in the night we decided that Jeroen had to go to Taiwan. To fix the problems and get things going faster. It’s one of those things that just take too long from a distance.

Working from a distance is one thing. Working from a distance with Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers is another. With Jeroen there. The pressure is on, problem solving goes faster and explaining things is easier.

Funny enough, the day Jeroen would arrive Taiwan, was a day before I would leave for the Netherlands.

switchswitch-min

The Switch situation

23rd of November, as I’m writing this. Erik, I and my wife are on our way to Dreamhack Winter in Sweden with trial keyboards. While Jeroen has had some time to assess the entire situation.

He isolated it to two issues that influence analog on the keyboard:

  • Mechanical stability
  • The switch lens

Mechanical stability

We found out that some mechanical parts were causing irregularities between keyboards. This was one of the things that ruined the first keyboard I received. Thankfully, this is something that is possible to fix.

The Switch lens

This is the most challenging. For the most part, it’s up to the manufacturer. The best we can do is give feedback and point out issues.

The challenge is the stability of the analog signal. The more sensitive switch is, the larger range we’re able to get but the worse the stability gets.

For example, we have a range from 1.7mm to 4mm analog. But when you press the switch all the way to the end and start wiggling it a lot, it will fluctuate in the values. Sometimes to an extent that the keyboard thinks it’s only pressed 3mm instead of 4mm.

When we make the sensitivity lower, it kills the total range to (for example) 1.7mm to 3.5mm.

Things are a bit more complicated, but that’s the grasp of it.

The second challenge is the differences in each manufacturing step. Put simple, there are three steps.

Prototype testing Trial production Mass production For every step, they need to make new tooling. Each time they change or make the tooling, the switch might have different results.

Yesterday, we received the switch version for mass production. Unfortunately, the results were different from the Trial production version.

In the meanwhile, they’re working on a new prototype switch based on our feedback.

Action Plan

We’re all working hard to start mass production in December. Then we can ship the keyboards over boat and make the February delivery. There’s a chance lingering that we have to push the production date and ship by air instead of boat. Everything, to get the Wooting one to you on time.

More coming in the next update.

Talk to you soon. Calder.
<3 Jeroen & Erik

Calder Limmen Written by:

Founder of Wooting. Entrepreneur, gamer and any(thing)thusiast living in Taiwan.

11 Comments

  1. Alexander
    November 24, 2016
    Reply

    That kind of brutal honesty and open discussion is what sets you folks apart from the rest. Don’t ever lose that!

    I have faith that you’ll overcome these challenges and release a gamechanger.

    In your opinion, what effect on usability does the analog range of 1.7mm to 3.5mm have? Too short to be useful, or just not as long as you would wish?

    • November 30, 2016
      Reply

      Thanks Alexander. Appreciate it. Honestly, I’m not sure what I think of it yet. I don’t feel it’s too short to be useful but I’ve gotten use to it. Last I had a newb using it and he just couldn’t control it well enough.

      So, with some getting use to it, it gets usefull but using it straight away isn’t. Right now we’re focussed on getting the most stable range. More development and time will make it better, but without a first version there’ll be nothing to go on.

  2. Dawg
    November 25, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you for being honest. I would much rather see this post with details on the issues than some basic “everything is fine” post.
    And personally, I don’t mind getting my keyboard at a later date if it means it will be made better.

    The best case scenario obviously is that you solve the problem and give a larger actuation range.
    But if a compromise must be reached, I feel that I would rather have the actuation range come earlier, i.e. from 0mm to 2mm, and the rest from 2mm to 4mm would just register as bottoming out.
    That would be more intuitive compared to 2mm to 4mm, and it would also address the issue mentioned in the post about wiggling the switch at the end.
    Also, it gives more power to the user, as bottoming distance can be controlled with o-rings, but ranges towards the top cannot be controlled by the user without going into the switch to mod it.

    Of course, if starting from 0mm presents problems in itself, you can always lower it a bit, e.g. 1mm to 3mm, or 1.5mm to 3.5mm.
    The point is to keep it as high as possible, so it feels more intuitive.

    That’s my opinion anyway, which I think would increase the usability and intuitiveness of the controls.
    But you obviously know about the switches better than I do, and I understand if my suggestion does not seem realistic.

    Overall, I wish you all the best in working out this issue, and that you take my opinion into consideration should the situation comes down to it.

    • November 30, 2016
      Reply

      Dawg, I read this during Dreamhack and I have to say you did bring some new perspective. I can’t say it’s easy to change and try out an earlier range but from our testing, we also notice that there is, with a limited range, a balance between early activation and early ending.

      As in, right now, a cut-off range at the end and an earlier activation already feels better than the other way around. In either case, your idea has been shared and taken into consideration as we (and especially jeroen) is testing it out.

      Thanks!

  3. December 4, 2016
    Reply

    I just discovered your project. I love it.
    One question tho :
    I got that the sensor is not responding well, but is the range it is getting linear ?
    If yes, then you could add a calibration process in your keyboard.
    Everytime you change the sensor, you enter in a calibration mode, in which you would have 2 values per button : unpressed and fully pressed. That would give you a range of use for each of them. Then if that is linear you could mathematically transform these values in 0 and 255 (or 127 or 1023, I don’t know fine is your reading).
    I know that would be annoying, and to keep the lag low you may have to deal with a more complicated firmware and maybe a faster electronics.
    But that is the only way I see to prevent these issues.
    Cheers.

    • December 6, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Guillaume,

      Thanks for sharing your suggestion. Really appreciate these type of things, helps us look at things from different angles.

      Your proposed solution is exactly what we had done before these issues. The new switch is as linear as possible. We transformed it into 255 steps, use considerable fast electronics and have an awesome software solution as far as I understand from Jeroen. haha. The original idea was to calibrate all the switches during assembly.

      We’re a little further now with problem finding and concluded that remaining issue is really in the switch design. When you press the switch to its end position and force/wiggle it into a certain direction, it will significantly change the value. The fluctuation is so big that it’s impossible to remove it software-wise.

      These fluctuations were there with previous versions but entirely insignificant. But with their new switch design coupled with the increased sensitivity these fluctuations became exponential.

      The switch manufacturer is making adjustments and we keep receiving new version to try out. We’ve decided to send Jeroen to the source of the switches development in China, add some extra pressure. We talked about it in the last stream https://youtu.be/ddzWwR4vMw8?t=223

  4. December 5, 2016
    Reply

    Hey, just want to say this is an awesome project. I’ve just found out this project via Google, and man oh man, your keyboard kicks ass. Just want to ask if I pre-order now, when do I expect to have this keyboard on my desk?

    • December 6, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Hob,

      Thanks for the love (and google :D). If you pre-order now, you can expect to receive it in February.

      With the current developments, it is getting into jeopardy but we’re dedicated to make it happen by flying it over instead of by boat, saving a month in time.

  5. Ben
    December 10, 2016
    Reply

    I or dare I say we, appreciate the open development. I’m sure it comes with drawbacks but the upside must be considerable as well. A lot of companies, projects and businesses are adopting this open development lately and I must say I love it.

    • Ben
      December 10, 2016
      Reply

      forgot to add, I very much look forward to purchasing a keyboard, analogue keys should have been here years ago but alas it is finally coming and it only took some new minds and non corporation people to do it!

    • December 11, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Ben,

      Thank you. I agree with you. I want people to understand what they are investing in and what they can expect. We’re here for the long run and in the long run I believe the cooperation between the users and the makers will reap the best results. May that be by simple sharing what’s going on or letting an end-user contribute as a maker. In the end, the users are the largest shareholders a company.

      If anything, it’s also a comfortable feeling to just be open and honest about things. We’re doing the best we can do and if we have the option to do it better, we go for it.

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