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The Boards and the Bees

CEO Nate gives us "the talk."

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Do you lie awake at night, pondering the miracle of electronic components and wondering how they got here? Are you tired of kids asking you where LEDs come from? Have you ever been secretly confused about how PCBs and LiPo batteries are made? Well you’re in luck, because SparkFun CEO Nate is here to give us “the talk,” and while the truth about where components come from may be short on romance, it has more than enough technical finesse to blow your minds.

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LEDs in the wire-bonding machine

While in China earlier this year, Nate got to tour three different facilities run by SparkFun’s suppliers, so if you’ve ever been curious about the work that goes in to producing LEDs, how chip-on-board (COB) PCB manufacturing is done (with a stop at the multimeter floor to discuss alternative color options), or how lithium polymer batteries got here, follow the links to check out his behind-the-scenes tours!

And remember: Knowledge is power.


Comments 5 comments

  • In the last picture of “How LEDs are made” it looks as if Alicia has a soldering iron arm.

  • We were told they can align over 80 per minute or about 40,000 per day.

    That’s 8 hours and 20 minutes of sitting in one place with their eye glued to a microscope. Potty and meal breaks are in addition to that time. No matter how good the ergonomics of that workstation, those people are going to be suffering in very short order.

    It’s good to know that the electronics workers of China are willing to sacrifice their health and futures so that we can have cheap hacker toys.

    SF needs to find more humane suppliers.

    • It’s good to know that the electronics workers of China are willing to sacrifice their health and futures so that we can have cheap hacker toys.

      SF needs to find more humane suppliers.

      What is it that you want SparkFun’s suppliers to do, exactly – replace the workers, with machines? This sounds rather inhumane: the workers already have the option of not working, and starving to death. The fact that they choose to work for this particular factory, means that other jobs that are available to them, are worse.

      The reality is – these are good jobs, by Chinese standards. The workers have choices: there are many employers competing for their labor. The law of supply and demand is steadily driving the price of labor (=worker’s wages) up. The standard of living in China is rapidly rising, and as the workers get richer, they are demanding better working conditions.

      If you try to force this process (by boycotting the companies, or demanding legislative action), you will cause much harm to the very people that you care about. When Nike yielded to the pressure from activist groups to stop doing business with “sweatshops” employing children, many of them turned to prostitution. Good intentions are not enough, you must consider the unintended consequences.

      I find it mildly amusing, and rather annoying, that the folks who get on the moral high horse and demand better working conditions for people in third world countries, don’t know the first thing about what it takes to run a business. Get off your butt, start a company, and run it according to your definitions of “humane” and “socially responsible”. Nate founded SparkFun in his one-bedroom apartment. Your excuse is invalid.

  • I think we all know what color the new multi-meters will be.

  • The chip-on-board tutorial was a real eye-opener for me.

    The last I saw - back in the 70’s - this was done by hand under a microscope. And not just for COBs; IC’s were all done this way. I’m sure after seeing this that IC’s must use similar technology to mount the die to the lead frame. It would be very interesting to see how newer IC’s are assembled. I’m thinking of the leadless bump packages and QFNs and so on. Time for a video search…