Sunday 11 December 2022

Minstrel 4D Kits are Shipping Now

The pre-ordered Minstrel 4D kits are now shipping from The Future Was 8 bit.

It has been quite a challenge to get together all of the bits required to make lots of Minstrel 4D kits, for a while it seemed like each section of the kit was missing one key part that was stopping me packing them, but finally all the bits were sourced.

First to be completed were the key switches, key caps and covers. Here looking like a massive pile of glacier mints. All ready to be counted and weighed into bags.

And then weighed again to check they are right, before finally being counted into boxes in neat rows (or at least neat-ish).

Next were the fixings kit. I like to use a sort of pick'n'mix arrangement of parts in old Ikea bows.

Diced onion? Rice? Pasta? No, M3 nylon fixings.

Those also get counted and weighed into bags.

And weighed again and counted into rows in boxes.

The next pick'n'mix was a lot more colourful.

But the process is the same.

The resistors and diodes and axial capacitors require a different approach. These are counted out in piles.

But then back to normal as these are also weighed to check and then counted into boxes.

And after all of that, the boxes go into bigger boxes.

And finally 16Kg worth of kit bags head off the TFW8b, ready to become part of the kits.

Each kit will need seven bags of parts each.

But that's not all, what about the ICs?

Well, we managed to assemble the largest collection of microcontrollers and EPROMs that anyone could expect to see in 2022.

All of which needed to be programmed, three devices per board, an EPROM and two microcontrollers.

For the AVR chips, I used the programmer I built for the purpose. I was a bit more effort that I would have liked, but none of the production programmers I had (or could get hold of) supported the AVR Dx series of chips, so I had to build my own AVR programmer.

They also needed to be labelled, and about 10 labels in, my label printer gave up. It is USB powered, but has an internal battery for the extra umph it needs for the motor. Last time I looked, the replacement batteries were about the same price as the complete printer, so luckily past me had bought a few spares, and I still had one left.

Must get around to trying to hack some sort of battery into one of the dead ones.

With all the parts programmed and labelled, onto the logic chips.

Again, with all the shortages, who would have expected to see this many logic chips in one place. Will we ever see the like again?

Those were all counted out onto foam sheets.

As with my previous kits, I have tried to arrange the chips in the same order they go into the board, to make it easier to locate the parts.

Laying parts out on the PCB in groups looks good, but makes it a lot more difficult to do these IC packs.

Once these arrive at TFW8b towers, they can be assembled into kits.

The IC packs are wrapped up with the PCB sets.

And finally they meet up with the manual and the label sheets and perspex kit (jelly may not be included).

The manual probably deserves a post of it's own. I think this is the best manual I had done (certainly the thickest).

Full details of the assembly. Lots of colour full diagrams.

Full schematics and theory of operation.

These finally get boxed up and sent off to the new owners.

And hopefully, not too long afterwards, they should look like this:

An awful lot of time and money went into developing these kits, and a lot has been invested in sourcing the parts required to assemble all these kits. This isn't kickstarter, all the bits have to be purchased in advance by TFW8b.

I don't know if I will ever be able to do anything like this again. I hope so, but it's really at the end of the day down to whether they sell. We know it's not a great time to be asking people to buy something they can't eat or heat their homes with, but this is something of a last roll of the dice for us.


Minstrel 4D

The Minstrel 4D kits are shipping now, you can order one from The Future Was 8 bit

More info in a previous post:


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