MF Case Study #015:

And!xor’s Bender Badges

And!xor (and-not-x-or) is a group of five engineers, mathematicians, and coders who like to design and build hackable conference badges in their spare time. They are the group behind the popular DEF CON Bender Badges.
Quality and quantity needed to expand as popularity for the Bender Badges grew.

Get to know the work:

And!xor’s Bender Badges have become highly sought-after pieces at DEF CON, an annual security conference held in Las Vegas. These IoT badges have SMT and through-hole components that operate color screens, LEDs, games, puzzles and easter eggs. The badges can also be hacked to find additional games. 

bender-badge-dc25

Assessment

After hand assembling 175 badges in their first year (DEF CON 24), and experiencing a 60% fail rate, the And!xor team quickly realized if they wanted to increase quantity and quality of the boards, they needed to find a reliable manufacturer for their next run.

Challenge

After conceptualizing and designing, the badges for DEF CON 25, the team wanted to find a manufacturing partner to both make their prototypes and seamlessly move to assembly and programming the units. 

Process

Their lead designer loved how easy PCB management was with MacroFab. By logging in, he could upload design files, view instant prices and pay online, all without having to speak to a sales rep or wait weeks for a quote. Within a few days, his prototype was ready and the team could get to work putting the finishing touches on the badges to get them ready for production.

The self-service aspect of MacroFab really drew me in. I love being able to upload my design files and see right away if the files are good and what the costs are and how it scaled. I never liked the idea of emailing design files and hoping a random person in a foreign country would come back to me with a quote. — Zapp, Designer and Programmer

Our Solution

And!xor knew they had to find a reliable manufacturer to help out for their second go of both prototyping and moving to production. They found MacroFab through a Wired article and immediately loved the self-service aspect of the online platform – it was exactly what they were looking for. MacroFab’s instant quoting screen helped the And!xor team determine a budget and schedule, months in advance. As they were receiving prototypes from MacroFab, they were also planning their production timelines and costs for the production run.

Once they began to manufacture 500 badges, And!xor appreciated the high level of communication and support. MacroFab performs panel reviews of every board before it goes into production and we notify customers if we notice anything amiss. This early and proactive communication alerted And!xor to a misplaced LED in the design, which was corrected before manufacturing began. Having an in-house designer to consult on design solutions was a huge benefit as well. This proactive assistance saved hours of rework on their end.

I prefer the self-service aspect and I don't like to reach out or speak on the phone if I can help it. With that said, the communication at MacroFab is great. Once production started, if there was a manufacturing issue, the Customer Success team would call me to notify me so that we could work on solutions together. It's nice having the instant feedback and someone in my time zone. — Zapp, Designer and Programmer

Summary

DEF CON is an annual security conference with official electronic badges for attendees. But there is a group of about 100 teams of hackers that design and build their own, unique, unofficial DEF CON badges. And!xor is one of those teams and in their first year, they hand-assembled 175 badges and experienced a 60% fail rate. Making these badges proved to be extremely time intensive and didn’t yield the quality they hoped for. However, the response they received, selling out in ten minutes, incredibly overwhelmed and humbled the team, which fueled their passion to go bigger and better the following year for DC25.

They loved the self-service aspect of MacroFab’s platform and quickly realized the benefits of having found a manufacturing company to manage the assembly. This relationship provided huge time savings and reduced the amount of rework, post-manufacturing, because they received quality boards from the start. The MacroFab team was able to take a fresh look at their designs and provide feedback or ask questions if something didn’t look quite right. Catching potential issues and fixing them before they go to production was an invaluable benefit.

And!xor has some advice to companies that may be experiencing smilar challenges: Plan for a couple of rounds of prototypes and don’t do it yourself. Prototypes should be made using the same manufacturing process that your larger quantities will undergo. Doing this provides a consistent feedback loop, so you are confident knowing the way your prototype was built and how it performs will be the exact same way your final products will behave for your customers. Use manufacturing services available to you – it’s definitely worth the cost to have a company give you the extra support.

Ready for better manufacturing?