Friday, 2 February 2018
The soul of a new machine
When launching a new product, especially when we are talking a real, electronic, product, there is a lot to do.
There are some time consuming and hard parts in designing schematic, PCBs, metalwork/case, software. There are loads of fiddly bits in terms of cosmetic decisions on colour and layout of the artwork on the front/back panels, and all sorts of things like that.
Then, when you have all of that, there are a few rather annoying things, one of which is the new safety standards we have to follow: BS EN 62368-1:2014.
This is new. Last time we did a product it was way simpler. We still have to do all of the EMC testing, which is pretty straightforward and was done some time ago, but the new safety testing is much more work.
This is, of course, all good stuff. We are good on safety. We have a good solid metal box which won't catch fire! We have a proper physically isolated double insulated power supply. In fact we redesigned the whole power supply from the last model and it allows some addition DC options we will have shortly (at this rate, at the same time as mains versions).
But the last step of safety testing needs a final production sample. Sensible. Sadly that means little details that are usually minor things at the end of the production like the printed fascias, and the quick start guide, are actually necessary for the safety testing! The manual includes mandatory details of power, and humidity, and temperature, and altitude, and so on. Having the manual as supplied ready, and all of the bits to make a final production sample, is needed, and then we have to wait weeks for the final sign off, probably. These people are in no rush, it seems.
So I really thought we would be shipping by now - we have hundreds on the shelf ready to go and customers eagerly awaiting the new product, and we have a fly in the ointment. The damn printers for the fascias. Promises of quick turnaround digital prints ahead of the final screen prints so we have our production sample were clearly outright lies (48 hour turnaround says the salesman). Over a week later we get one side and not the other.
I was really pissed off at that (somewhat shouting at one of my staff even, not his fault). I was literally sat here waiting for news on this - have they finally arrived after promise after promise, and then find they sent only one side and not the other. This one minor supplier has added a week or more to when we can start selling these. I am exasperated.
But, calm down, step back, and let my staff do their stuff. We wait and see when the other side arrives and we can finally send the production sample for final safety testing. It will happen in the next few days. There is no guarantee we pass, but we know we are doing well, and we know the issues and we are good. We are pretty sure of that. I could find there is some other delay in a week to two's time, but we know there can be nothing major.
Once we finally get the sign off, we can do the formal paperwork, declaration of conformance and attach the dreaded "CE" mark to the product and start shipping.
In the mean time, next week or two, we may have a few prototypes for evaluation for some select customers. If you get one, you can consider yourself special.
But what makes the FB2900 special?
FireBricks are a tad special. There are many routers and firewalls and all sorts around now - when we started there were not. But there are actually only a handful of underlying operating systems out there - linux, vxworks, maybe a couple of others. We have our own operating system from scratch and it is all UK designed and built. We control every line of code from scratch and ensure no back doors.
The FB2900 is the latest in the long line of FireBrick products. It builds on the FB2700 but is a lot faster (up to around 750M routed traffic rather than 350M) and has an extra port (a 5th port is SFP).
This makes it truly ready for the latest Internet links, 330M G.fast and FTTP, and multiple bonded FTTC.
The SFP allows true fibre lines, and even some of the new DSL SFP modules to be used directly.
The DC options are interesting - I mean, who wants to use a FireBrick in a car or a truck? Well, you would be surprised, but what of alarm panels? Many alarm panels have 12V DC lead acid backup and these days they need Internet. A 12V FB2900 with SFP DSL could be that backup for a long time. The power requirements are really low. This is actually what I plan personally at home, albeit with fibre SFP.
It also has a few gems that are waiting in the wings. We have a true random number generator that will come in to its own as we launch newer software in the coming months. It even has a hardware AES crypto processor which we really hope to link in to the IPsec code later in the year. The key here is the software updates are free and automatic, so these advances will be in there as soon as we launch them. Obviously we need to do a lot of work on these, so no guarantees yet, but the hardware is built to support them.
Oh, and unlike previous models we actually have a rack/wall mount kit. It does one or two FB2900s in 19" 1U or a wall mount, either way round/up.