Jul 22, 20169325 views

A Look at the WhiteFox and Producing a Custom Board

I understand it’s easy to be upset about delays when there’s no insight into the decision making process, but it makes me sad for people like Matt3o and the team at Input Club whenever someone makes a post somewhere about how it must be greed or incompetence behind every decision or delay. With that in mind, we want to give some transparency to how custom projects work and how little things can cause pretty big delays. I highly suggest reading the following links to see the level of passion and dedication that Matt3o puts into his projects. http://matt3o.com/whitefox-the-making-of/, https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=77434.0.
For a lot of people the White Fox might have been their first custom kit keyboard and with it, the ‘waiting game’. In the age of Amazon the online shopping experience has been streamlined to as low as 2 hours in some places. It’s understandable that there would be some confusion about how a keyboard could take months to show up at their door.
Typically when you buy something online it’s a product that exists somewhere already. Sitting in a warehouse waiting for a robot to swing by and put it on a truck that then heads out to your house. It’s a mostly automated process and just involves transporting an item from point A to point B. The months or years of product development and sample testing to get to mass production is something of the past for that specific product.
For a community created product on Massdrop, one of the defining features is ‘design by community’ so that actual buyers get to have input on the development and features. This means as a buyer you get to see the process from conception to production. All the incremental steps in design, back and forth decisions, quotes from manufacturers, redesigns, requotes, lining up production with several facilities in multiple countries, sourcing materials, etc.
The following is a very truncated timeline for the WhiteFox to give you all an idea on all the steps, problems, and decisions that were made or encountered along the way.
  • 2011-2014: Matt3o designs and builds the prototypes for the Steely/Brownfox, and the Elf board
  • Early 2014: Matt3o begins interest checking for a group build of his new unnamed keyboard based on his previous designs with a blank pcb and the parts to solder yourself
  • Mid 2014 - early 2015: Matt3o and Input Club talk about how to make a programmable version of his keyboard with the Infinity firmware
  • Early/Mid 2015: Andrew Lekashman and Massdrop begin lending a hand with manufacturing and prototyping.
  • Several PCB facilities all being tested for the ability to make a white PCB within the tolerances needed
  • A lot of meh results and a lot of revisions
  • Case redesigns a plenty
  • Begin designing new keycaps
  • Mid/Late 2015: Keycap samples
  • Reached out to PBT keycap manufacturer to make a prototype dye sub set
  • Denied repeatedly until we finally were able to get a set made
  • Disappointing quality and then our contact disappeared
  • Had to find another keycap maker that could do dyesub
  • Found someone willing to buy all the tooling needed to create the White Fox set
  • The sample looked great. Thumbs up all around
  • All designs and samples complete with lead time and estimates from manufacturers/suppliers
  • December 2015: Drop launches on Massdrop
  • Hooray!
  • 3 month lead time on all the parts with some buffer.
  • Should be good for April delivery
  • Existing Keycap Vendor goes dark and an alternate is found
  • January 2016: Improving Ergonomics
  • Reworked case to be shorter, allow for rubber feet, tilt and compatibility with High Profile keycaps
  • Had to scrap all existing height specifications and redesign and prototype a majority of the case
  • +2 weeks
  • New keycap samples show up.
  • Dye sublimation is just “all right”, alignment is a little off
  • Went back and forth looking into why the dye sub was so bad only to discover the dimensions were loading incorrectly
  • +4 weeks to retool everything, send a sample from China to New Jersey to Italy, get approval, and proceed.
  • February 2016: Chinese New Years is especially long
  • Everything is shut down longer than expected
  • Just have to wait it out
  • +2 weeks
  • March 2016: Plate issues
  • Discover two issues with the plates
  • Scratches. Lots of them. Many plates need to be redone
  • +2 weeks
  • One of the layouts is completely wrong due to a file conversion error affecting stabilizer placement.
  • +2 weeks to remake the entire batch
All told there were about 3 months of delays by the end of it. How do we minimize that going forward? Mostly, it comes down to having processes that are fully tested and optimized for real world mass production. That step is taken care of now. We are also going to remove the least popular layouts, Winkeyless and Jack of All Trades. The top three of the existing layouts accounted for 90% of the orders and having less configurations will help streamline the entire process. We are also going to pack the PCB a bit more securely to avoid any possible damages incurred in transit.
Also, based on feedback from the community there will be a few simple changes in the next run including square LED’s and semi-circular rubber feet.
Which brings me to the last point; thanks everyone. We know it’s been a journey and the discussion has gotten a little heated at times, but you’re all great and without you we wouldn’t be able to make the fun projects like this. A few years ago a project like this wouldn’t have even been possible, and it is only through patient and enthusiastic people like yourselves that dreams such as the WhiteFox can be made a reality.
I’m sure there’s still questions which we’ll try to answer, so ask em if you got em. Otherwise, thank you for your patience and support through it all and enjoy your WhiteFox.

leejones, dvorcol, and 38 others

Really cool to read about the entire process that goes into making a new board 😁
Huge thanks to Matt3o and Massdrop for the product they ultimately delivered.
The board is fantastic and I love the HHBK+ truefox layout .
Thinking about ordering another and assembling it myself this time.
Hey, I'm just thrilled to be typing on such a wonderful machine. The wait was worth it.
I am loving my board! Thanks for making this project work!
I just got in the second drop. I noticed the bare bones kit is $25 more than last time. Any explanation why?
@YanboWu would you expect delays with prototyping/manufacturers happening with the next batch of WhiteFoxes?
Here's what someone from Massdrop named NB said last Friday (I have yet to hear anything else, though I've replied three times). Let's be clear: I didn't have a few keys "die on me"; fact is, they never worked.
"We COMPLETELY understand how frustrating it can be to wait so long for a WhiteFox... only to have a few keys die on you. . . . I help manage the mech keys community and totally understand that replacement keycaps will not remedy your issue. You are correct, it could be the PCB or switches or anything in between causing unresponsive character printing. Any chance you can share with us a video demonstrating the lack of response? Or what you see (or don't and should?) We can try to troubleshoot here to hopefully figure out what's going on so you do not have to return it. I think we can both agree fixing it would be awesome. I know you don't want to take it apart, having ordered an assembled version- we just want to help bring it back to life. In the event something is DOA within your board beyond repair or troubleshooting, of course we can help you return it for a full refund."
So there you have it: If there is a problem with the WhiteFox, Massdrop will ask you to send nonspecific videos demonstrating what you "see (or don't and should)," after which they will expect you not to repair the keyboard, but to "help bring it back to life," since "fixing it would be awesome." In other words, they expect you to repair the keyboard yourself without calling it a repair.
If MD is not accepting returns on a fully assembled keyboard, then they should state that on the product page instead of allowing customers to think that the same customer service that was available in past drops will be available to them in this one.
Self-repair is a great option for hobbyists in the DIY community. If it's the only option for other customers, it's unacceptable.
Alternately, if MD has to stall for time to resolve issues due to the complexities of manufacturing and customization, then ***customer service should be honest and tell buyers that straight up.*** Better to know the situation than deal with evasiveness now after being as patient as first-drop customers have had to be.
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Hi there, I had similar issue as you where a switch was unresponsive and the other difference was I assembled it myself. I also had several other minor issues along the way but that's not the purpose of this response.
If I remember correctly, generic firmwares are flashed into the chips and and Its likely due to assembly person not flashing it after the putting it together. I bought mine as a kit with a true fox layout and assembled it myself; the key that didn't work for me was top row and second to last. Flashing was problematic and thought it was due to PCB issue as another person on input club forum pointed out on their post.
Under the guidance of a redditer in r/mk, I was able to verify whether the circuits pcb was fine with a multimeter. Through this, I was able to verify that there was no issues with the circuit of the pcb. It ended up being that some people with Win 10 cannot flash due to a compatibility issue/bug and had to do this via MsDOS. Hopefully IC can update the GUI so it works well with Win 10 OS. If you are in the Boston area, I'd be glad to lend a hand with checking for continuity.
Link for pcb blueprint: https://github.com/kiibohd/pcb/blob/master/WhiteFox/WhiteFox.pdf
TLDR- try to flash the firmware first and if it doesn't work, use a multimeter to check for continuity.
It seems to be true that firmware needs to be flashed to fix your problem. I came across a youtube link via reddit.com/r/mechanical keyboards where two of the keys were nonfunctional. Again this there is a difference where the reviewer had to do the assembly himself. Give it a try and your problems should be resolved.
Wow, So much detail If only we could have got some of those detailed updates while we waiting. Instead we just got really generic replies stating " next update in 2 weeks " when in reality, the update you were posting contained exactly 0 new info.. Shame for screwing over all the batch one guys that had to wait well into JULY!!
Yes, I was one of them.
I really wish the sepcifics of these issues were more readily available during the first drop. We kept getting "there are delays" which as a customer feels very off putting. If you would tell us, "the plates were shite so there will be delays to make them better" we would have felt much better whilst waiting.
Regardless, the WhiteFox is a fantastic board, I am typing on mine right now and love this little thing.
Good post, Yanbo. This is just a glimpse into what it takes to have a new product manufactured "in bulk". Drop participants who are feeling a little salty about the delays really need to take a step back and look at this project objectively instead of seeing it only through the lense of a customer, butthurt that his order has been delayed. At its core, this is still a group buy and all the caveats and exceptions apply. Massdrop has done a better job than most about communicating status and issues as they arise. Well done!
Excellent written YanboWu,
if anyone is interested to read more background information like this, take soooome time and read through the updates of the Model 01 by Jesse Vincent and Kaia Dekker/ Keyboardio.
Start to read at the bottom of the page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keyboardio/the-model-01-an-heirloom-grade-keyboard-for-seriou
The whitefox was undoubtedly the first keyboard I became interested in four years ago when Matt3o and members of Deskthority were discussing what was then a hand wired keyboard from Matteo S. The IC eventually found its way to GeekHack and the process officially kicked off from a design in CAD to an actual start at production. The majority of the build time was burdened by Matteo himself making design changes, submitting these back to the metal shop and revising the PCB to be a fully customizable board. The entire project from end to end was the development of community members from the start and when Massdrop got involved, the entire product was polished and boxed in a beautiful presentation, a tribute to the work of several in the community. I purchased the board the minute the drop came, much like the first drop of the planck and yes it takes time, but man I kid you not, the work was amazing. The great thing about community inspired projects is that when you take the time to think it through from start to finish, the work clearly shows. I have always seen MassDrop pull through Every. Single. Time. The naysayers and "noise" that surrounds the hard work that all of these teams (many who go nameless through the entire process) will always lurk and demand a department store warehouse to cart experience. The important thing for us to all realize is to showcase the talent and the stories that go into these drops. To take the time like Yanbo, Alex, Andrew, Kunal, and countless others do to work through the logistics and marketing of these projects is so important to why MassDrop continues to be the best experience for buying into the work of the creators. The whitefox is an amazing feat and the final product that was delivered to the customer is a testimonial to how much work (and extra expense) went into the product to ensure customers really received a product developed by the community. Great job guys and keep being real. This community and the others on MassDrop will continue to provide a incredible experience for customers looking to escape the 21st century churn and burn of old products rebranded. Massdrop is an experience and if it means a 12 month or even a 48 month project, I will be there as will the community to support these products and to have one of our own that for now Massdrop has succeeded at doing drop after drop.
Thanks for this! Transparency helps! Too many times, the trouble is the intersection with 3rd parties- other than vetting them as much as possible, and building in surplus time to account for delays (and those aren't always enough), there's not really a way to mitigate this.
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Hey there, I agree this isn't the most ideal. But if you have any questions about your unit, shoot me an email and we can work on getting you more context and information.
Thanks for your reply. I responded to your email from last night.