Here at Dash Robotics, we're starting to move from development to manufacturing. What that basically means is that instead of trying to get one great prototype built, we're trying to build that prototype 1000 times. Development involves getting the features, look, and feel of the product correct. Now we have to do that 1000 times in a row.
The first part of this is ordering our parts in "bulk." To us, ordering 1000+ pieces of something feels like a lot, but for many suppliers, 10,000 is where the magic happens. This means we're using a mix of bulk pricing from distributors and manufacturers. A distributor is nice to work with because lead times are generally short. They have parts in a warehouse, and they ship them to you. Of course, this also means prices are higher. They have to pay to warehouse those parts, and they have their own margins. Manufacturers on the other hand, are the cheapest game in town, but that doesn't always make them the best option. When buying from a manufacturer, you have to wait for them to actually build the pieces, and you generally can't order under a certain quantity, commonly known as the MOQ (or Minumum Order Quantity).
With all these factors in mind, Dash's parts come from a mix of manufacturers, contract manufacturers (explained below), distributors, and our own mini-factory. Let's find out where in the world all this stuff comes from.
Our posterboard and fabric are all sourced from within the USA, and the chassis is put together by us in the Bay Area. This is about as local as you can get. The materials are very affordable, and available in quantity here, so there's no reason to go overseas.
Our transmission housings and a few other small pieces are all 3D printed in Berkeley, another highly domestic choice. Since we have access to a University-level printer, and our parts are small and our volumes are relatively low, this is actually a great solution.
The gears come from a Swiss distributor. Those guys know a thing or two about small gears.
The batteries come from a distributor as well. We looked at a lot of Chinese factories for this, but the distributors prices are close, and we feel the risk is lower going through them.
The motors will come from a manufacturer in China, though we're in the midst of selecting one right now. This will be a good experience for us. A lot of startups build their whole product in China, and it seems like a difficult task, involving a lot of communication issues and travel. We puropsely limited our first production run to about 1000 robots to avoid this, but sourcing the motors overseas will help us get our feet wet.
I'd also like to note that for a lot of these components, there is no "Made in America" option. No one in the States is building 6-7 mm DC coreless motors, it just doesn't exist. We like to build and source in North America when we can, but that's not always an option, even if cost weren't an issue.
These are contract manufactured in San Jose, CA. This means we work with a "board house" who sources the PCB and components, and then does the PCB assembly (PCBA) to put all the boards together and make them work. The PCBs and components could come from anywhere, but all the assembly is done in the Bay Area. For our volume, we think staying in North America is definitely a good way to go. For making more than 50, we definitely want a contract manufacturer, with sophisticated automation. These can be built by hand, but it isn't pretty.
Designed and programmed in Silicon Valley, naturally.
Over the next few weeks as parts start to come in we'll keep you updated on our progress. If you want to get a sneak peek and play with Dash in person, come check us out at Open MAKE in Berkeley this Saturday! You also may get to build a robot as well. Thanks for reading!