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Self assembled modular electronics

Good quality, low priced electronics you assemble yourself
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Electronic appliances have devolved into a pretty standard form. You've got the black plastic box, possibly with some style or color. Inside the box are a couple of circuit boards,mostly machine soldered. Finally you have a bunch of connector cables & heat resistant parts that are hand soldered by some maquiladora worker for 2 cents a day. When something breaks, it's not economic to debug, let alone fix, and there's no way to upgrade.

IKEA has risen to international success by providing well designed modular furniture that can be assembled by anyone able to read instructions & wield an allen wrench. There's no reason that electronics from battery chargers to cd players couldn't be built in the same way. Make a range of boxes with a clever Scandinavian design. Design as many parts as possible to plug into each other on standard busses, similar to a PC. That makes upgrading easy, and cuts down on the amount of soldering required. Then have the buyer solder the jumper wires & switches in. ( Or use some even better jumpering technique)

There are numerous fringe benefits to having this system, such as recycling and waste reduction, being able to match any decorating scheme, aftermarket opportunity, etc. Upgrades such as CD -> DVD audio should be simple. Cheap audiophiles (oxymoron?) would be able to invest in high quality components within a unit (A-D converter), instead of buying stand alone units . The modular design would allow customers to make tradeoffs & get the product only they would want.

Objections I can think of:

Soldering: While there is "art" soldering on a level with fine embroidery or joinery, that's not what's required here. An IKEA could sell a temperature controlled soldering iron for $20, and write documentation for the semi-alert. The hardware is already built with big pads for unskilled soldering, and could be designed to allow the buyer to slowly improve their skill.

There are already kits out there: Yes, there are kits for learning to solder. Yes, heathkit sounds very similar. The big differentiator is that this is selling a high quality product, with a *minimal* amount of effort for the end user. Instead of building up from circuits, you're connecting a couple of boards & soldering a lead to the LCD screen. Basically what that Chinese worker would be doing, except your job has been made nicer by careful design.

Legal & safety: Most FCC parts specifically allow someone to build their own equipment, as long as they don't make more than 2 or 3 a year. If the dangerous parts such as power supplies were sealed & UL/CE listed, the rest of the box should be safe enough.

tenhand, Jun 19 2001

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       I'd buy all the parts and stick them together randomly- the microwave/dvd player/jacuzi/telephone/radio telescope is born.... or something....   

       Why would you need to solder? If it was suplied as moduals couldnt they just plug into each other? Then if you got board with your microwave TV you could turn it into a death ray....
RobertKidney, Jun 19 2001
  

       I'm not sure that you coulnd't have this be cheaper than a box of equivalent quality. The target market is going to be somene with expensive taste that can't afford the high end. And you can advertise the fact that this is cheaper in terms of externalities like environmental & social degredation.   

       Some soldering will be required, since that lets you mix & match cases or components. The alternative is probably to build everything out of lego blocks that get clicked together. A lot more things are possible given the allowance for 3 inches of sloppy jumper cables.
tenhand, Jun 19 2001
  

       This is Baked in the sense that anyone can assemble their own PC from individual boards. No soldering is necessary, as it should be -- why solder when you can use ribbon cables and edge connectors?   

       So, you're suggesting that we make audio components more like PCs? The trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction, what with "sealed case" PC designs and whatnot.
egnor, Jun 19 2001
  

       Commercial circuit boards are machine-stuffed and wave-soldered. More recently, surface mounted parts are automatically attached with solder paste and baked to reflow the solder. This is far more efficient than any number of monkeys with soldering irons; if you've ever built anything substantial you know why.
rmutt, Jun 20 2001
  

       Re-read the idea, [rmutt]; [tenhand] mentions right at the beginning that the boards are populated and soldered by machine, and is not proposing to change that.
egnor, Jun 21 2001
  

       [egnor] The idea was not just audio components, but also for battery chargers, toasters, radio alarm clocks, etc. Most of these have circuit boards, and then 2-5 little jumper wires soldered on.   

       Since one of the design goals is to be able to put the same good electronics in any currently available case, jumper wires are going to become even more desirable.   

       To be honest, I hadn't given enough thought to other ways to attach these jumpers & small components. Soldering works pretty well, but there's no reason not to use wire nuts, trained cockroaches or edge connectors. For edge connectors to work, everyone would have to stick to a standard. That's worked for consumer PCs, but pc/104 & laptops tend to have all sorts of strange ribbon cables .   

       My favorite idea at the moment is to have all of the wiring harnesses connected to little color coded screw-in terminal clamps, possibly using those fashionable allen wrenches. That lets you change switch or battery design next year & still be backwards compatible.
tenhand, Jun 22 2001
  

       I think these will require edge connectors, plugs and the like, soldering is too much for the average person. For example, i consider myself reasonably technically minded, i can assemble and upgrade a computer, but i cannot put a mod chip in a playstation, 17 wires is too many for me.Ishould probibly write something else here, but i just had pea & ham soup, so im a little distracted.
andrew1, Sep 27 2005
  
      
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