Community Spotlight: Seedlabs

This month, we talked with the open source hardware company, Seedlabs. They are making headway in building the energy grid of the future and are starting by bringing a haptic smartknob with visual feedback to the open source world. Watching them use the LumenPnP to help the production of their Smartknob Dev Kit has been such a joy, and we quickly picked one up when their preorders started up again. We hope you enjoy his Community Spotlight. It is very interesting! 


Tell us a bit about yourself and what you make.

Hi, we are Seedlabs, a company focused on accelerating the transition to a more sustainable way to produce and consume energy in the residential space. We believe the way energy is produced and consumed today can be improved by empowering each home and neighborhood to produce and consume their own energy in a smart way.

To achieve this, we need to have enough sensing, controlling, and actuating devices in people’s homes to manage energy and make intelligent decisions on how it gets stored, distributed, and consumed.

It’s a long journey, and we are starting with a user-centric mindset. We have been asking what could be a delightful experience that we can add to the user's home and help us in our endeavor.

What are you building with your LumenPnP? 

Our first product is not really a consumer product. It’s a development kit. As we plan to have everything that we do open source (both hardware and software), we wanted to start engaging with our community on what we believe could be an interesting domestic controlling device.

Right now, if you have to control any connected device in your home, you need to open your phone, go through a long list of apps, and 10 taps later, you might be successful in your intent.

(Smartknob Dev Kit v0.1)
We believe users are instead interested in a unified, immediate, and tactile control experience. Our Smartknob Dev Kit (v0.1) is our attempt to show that such an experience can exist. Through the use of a brushless motor, our knob gives dynamic feedback to the users, changing completely based on the experience they are trying to control.

It’s a unique experience if you haven’t tried it before. The dial ‘clicks’ with extreme resolution when dimming lights but snaps to more generous detents when trying to set the temperature; it just feels natural.

Inside the knobs, along with the motor, there is a main board with over 220 components (35 unique) and an ESP32-S3 as the main MCU. An additional board is used as a base for the LCD display in the center of the knob. The two boards are connected through an ingenuous cable, barely passing through the very narrow hollow shaft of the motor.

Did you build or buy a LumenPnP? Have you made any modifications from the original build?

We started with a Lumen v3.1 with 10 feeders, and later, once we got a better understanding of the tasks at hand, we added another 20. We also have multiple 3D-printed custom trays for loose components.

How many boards a month do you produce with your machines?

This really depends on which phase we are in. For the dev kit, we went through the entire journey of small prototyping up to the full scale (tens of boards a week) to a hybrid model where we do both external assembly and in-house one.

Considering the setup costs in terms of time for a board as complex as ours, once you get going, it makes sense to do quite a few!

How were you building these boards before the LumenPnP?

We were getting the PCB manufactured, shipped over, assembled by hand, tried it out, and iterated on the design. Unfortunately, with the increasing amount of components and the small footprint (0402 / EC15), this was not really sustainable.

Also, getting that done by a third party wasn’t a viable option either, as we were still changing the design. If you don’t plan carefully, a third-party PCBA can easily add 2-3 weeks to your development cycle.

Having a LumenPnP in-house is perfect for that mid part of product development when things start getting ‘serious’, but you don’t need hundreds of the same boards straight away.

What is the single most important piece of advice for running an SMT line?

Don’t give up! If you think about it, given the dimension and the tolerance required, the process of surface mount components is an incredible engineering fit. The more you understand how it works, and where it can fail, the more you learn to prevent that failure.

The learning curve is steep, but once you get to that top, the view is beautiful. Literally, you can spend hours watching that nozzle going up and down your board and dropping components in the right spot.

What's your solder paste of choice? Any advice for others?

The Mechanic 138C or 183C depends on the project. For a 2-sided PCB, we usually pick a paste with a high melting point for the side that goes first.


You can find Seedlabs, at their website.  
To keep up to date with Seedlabs, check out their Instagram here.