Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The SeeedStudio ESP8266 Contest and resulting product on Tindie

A few weeks back I participated in the SeeedStudio ESP8266 project design contest with my NodeMCU based Energy Monitor. As in all popularity contests I had to ask my friends to help me out and vote for me as often as possible. I had the most views, but not the most votes. Still I ended up in the second place which I am quite happy with.
Fully assembled NodeMCU Energy Monitor - Sensors plug in at the bottom
With such encouragement I decided to get a PCB fabricated for my Energy Monitor project and put it up for sale on Tindie. This is my first electronics project for sale and apart from some local interest, I have made an export sale to the UK. Deciding how to put the project together for sale is quite new to me. I have a certain skill-set but other electronics enthusiasts may not share them. Should I just offer blank PCB's, which other's might as well get from OSHPark or DirtyPCB ? Should I offer a through-hole kit along with the PCB and take the interested party through the soldering order ? Should I put everything together as SMD in my oven and offer the kaboodle including NodeMCU and the rather expensive ADS1115 ? What about the current and voltage sensors ?
NodeMCU Energy Monitor "mostly" Through-hole Kit

There are also component and PCB sourcing issues as outlined in a previous post. Tindie offers some flexibility in this regard letting me set-up various tiers and options. My single product listing becomes effectively a stratified listing catering for buyers with multiple electronics proficiency levels. I might start offering the 100A clamp of current sensor and 12V transformers from YHDC as part of my kit, to make gathering of all the components easier. With bulk manufacture in SMD, cheap mass produced NodeMCU modules and knock-off ADS1115's I might be able to get the total cost down to USD20 unshipped. Which will put the design at par with these non-web connected versions of the same. The design will also be far cheaper than the custom web-connected offerings from Efergy and Wattcost, mainly because these consumer grade products also provide a data hosting service complete with apps and websites. The NodeMCU Energy Monitor leaves the user in charge of their own data and requires certain knowledge of IoT platforms to take full advantage of it. The number of players (AWS, Thingspeak, Bluemix etc.) in the IoT data hosting arena is increasing daily and I am sure people automating and sensorising their homes will appreciate the choice, rather than be locked in with the server hosted by the hardware vendor.

The remaining hurdle is of course shipping, it cost me about USD14 to ship 2 units to UK from Australia as small parcels. Where as China post shipping costs are minimal. Logistics - another hurdle holding back small scale production in Australia. The only long term sensible thing to do will be to manufacture in China and exploit the logistics there. All said and done I am pretty happy with my $50 sale, at least it has paid for the electrician who installed the energy monitor.
Fully installed NodeMCU Energy Monitor - Black YHDC transformer, current sensor inside the enclosure

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