Would you pay a little more for EU / USA built 100?

In the UK the relations with China are deteriorating due to human right abuses in our former Hong Kong colony (as well as increasingly draconian suppression of Tibet and the Dalai Llama, Falon Gong, Weigurs, etc and the recent occupation of Japanese islands) with the result that many people are considering onshoring industrial production that used to be Chinese.

As the 100 is being sold as a premium product that will hopefully be sat on the desk for a good long time, I would be happy to pay a small premium for it to be built in a democratic country. Am I alone in doing so?

My other keyboard is a Falbatech Minidox, a product of EU (Polish) manufacture with came with a nice bamboo case, and demonstrates that it is quite possible to build keyboards in such ‘high wage’ countries. As indeed do Cherry of Germany.

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Ethically, my reaction is “Yes, of course !”, but…
… Sadly, How many will still be a huge factor.

I bake an Atreus from Keyboard.io because I miss the Model01 campaign, and I believe in Jesse & Kaia vision of what may be my keyboard. As a Maker and a FabLab ex-worker, I could make one by myself, but I wish a reliable product, and no so expensive…

I believe the future of Ethic production is on local scalable industry, something just between FabLab and standard industry : You buy a keyboard model from the designers, parts will be crafted in your local Fablab using parts from the nearest place where they can be made…
Something like what you can already found with 3DPrinting atm, but extended to all kind of the supply chain.

So yes, I will pay a little more for an Ethic product, but probably not as much as a Fairphone $-:

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AFAIK Keyboardio products are so-called open source hardware so could be made locally. Notwithstanding that, we are talking a niche product here, and one whose shipping footprint is not going to be so great compared to other things.

In the UK we have just realised that over the last seven years since Xi became leader, China has deteriorated into a dictatorship complete with a ‘president for life’ and especially since Honk Kong lost its independence we are starting to reduce our business dealings with their firms.

I suspect that the Keyboardio products would not actually cost more to manufacture in other countries - rather I suspect the penalty might simply be more legwork involved since there may not be the ‘one stop shop’ offered in China. But for a small firm I gather the proximity of design to manufacture and lack of language barrier might outweigh the penalties of onshoring.

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Heya David,

[I’m not going to talk about the political & ethical stuff in my reply here. Please don’t read too much into that.]

We’d absolutely love to be able to manufacture our keyboards in the US and have spent a fair amount of time attempting to find reasonable manufacturing partners here, in Taiwan, and in Japan.

With very, very few exceptions, US manufacturing just isn’t set up for production runs of a few thousand keyboards. Just about every factory we talked to in the US who has any experience with keyboards told us that they would hand a project of our scale over to their partners in China.

Things might be different if we were making fewer than 100 units at a time or more than 10,000 units at a time. At the small scale, the unit costs will be -more- similar in different places. At a larger scale, factories anywhere would be much more automated. And there -is- more US capacity for what’s called “Lights out Manufacturing.”

When we priced doing the Model 01 in Taiwan, everything was at least 50% more expensive than doing it in China. When we worked with a Japanese sourcing agency to see about getting the Model 01 made in Japan, they came back and told us that the street price of the keyboard was going to come out at USD700, even though we were making thousands of units.

Early on, we were having trouble finding a supplier in China who could help us with the wooden enclosure for the Model 01, the finished cost of just the wooden parts was about 3x what they are when we manufacture in Dongguan. (Taiwan was about double, IIRC.)

There’s an additional wrinkle, too. Right now, the US doesn’t charge tariffs on individual keyboards shipped from our Hong Kong warehouse to customers in the States (where the majority of our customers are. However, many of the critical parts we’d need originate in China. (Some have no non-Chinese manufactured alternative.) The US -is- now charging tariffs on those parts, which further drives up costs, making US domestic manufacturing even less workable.

If we were looking at a 10% increase in unit cost to manufacture in the US, I think we’d be very interested in doing that. But nothing we’ve seen in the last few years leads me to believe that we -could- make the Model 01 or Model 100 in the US or Europe at a price that’s even close to affordable.

That being said, we’re always excited to meet new potential manufacturing partners. If you have someone in mind, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note at jesse@keyboard.io to talk about an introduction.

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Thank you for the detailed reply. I had heard from your blog about some of the business difficulties you encountered at the start, and after that saga I don’t blame you for sticking with what you eventually found that worked. I am also aware that you know your supplier and as a small manufacturing concern they and their staff can hardly be held responsible for their governments recent transgressions.

I suspect some quotes particularly the cited Japanese price might have been a purposely high price to discourage what they perceived as an untried venture. Now you have produced and sold a couple of batches they might be more keen to discuss, if you were to remain in contact.

As for possible introductions, Falbatech are a manufacturer who build similar products but perhaps too much a competitor in your market.

However, maybe out on a limb here, I wonder if Maltron might be worth a shout. They manufacture in-house in the UK, they have an illustrious history as bringing to market the grandfather of your style of keyboard. On the other hand your firms designs are different, so your products don’t directly compete to the same customers. Also they might be technically competent but their marketing and building ‘community’ (twitter, web forum, etc) is lacking, so there is potential for your businesses to compliment skills if collaborating on stuff. I am not sure about wooden cases, but the UK is a small country, and the West Midlands in particular full of specialist workshops, so I wouldn’t be surprised if - with their contacts as an established manufacturer - they couldn’t find somebody ‘down the road’ who can machine wood to required precision.

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I’m familiar with the “quote high instead of saying no” thing, but in the case of the Japanese suppliers, they really, really wanted the project. And the resulting product would have been beautiful. But they just weren’t set up for the size of production runs we do. In terms of the US-milled wood, we had a number of quotes, all in the same ballpark. In Taiwan, for whole keyboard assembly, same deal.

I’m familiar with both Falbatech and Maltron. I don’t believe that either of them are set up to do medium-sized-run OEM keyboard production. To the best of my knowledge, both assemble individual keyboards to order and have optimized around techniques that are good at doing one-off orders.

Maltron vacuum-forms their enclosures (just down the road, like you said) and, unless they’ve changed things up recently, point-to-point solders their switches inside the enclosure.

Falbatech does all-CNC, even for plastic parts and is optimized for selling kits. That’s a perfectly fine business choice, but not well set up for what we do. Based on their retail pricing for their designs, even if they could manufacture for us, we’d be back into $400-$500 keyboard territory. Pricing out a Falbatech Ergodox with commodity keycaps, a bamboo enclosure, and no LEDS, you’re looking at a retail cost of about USD400. Yes, that’s Cherry switches instead of Kailh or Matias switches, but that’s at most a USD4 difference in parts cost.

Injection molding is another whole issue. Tooling costs in the US and Europe are much, much higher than in China. Part of that is that there’s a ton more tooling made there, so there’s a lot more design and production capacity.

Available manufacturing options are something we try to keep pretty close tabs on. We spend a lot of time talking with friends and friendly competitors who make products similar to ours (and very different products using similar techniques and technologies.)

I wish it were not the case, but I don’t see the resources I’d need in the US to be able to mass-produce fully-assembled keyboards and sell them to you at a price that’s both affordable to you and profitable enough that I can keep the lights on. That’s been true since we started talking to possible manufacturing partners in the US in 2014 and, thanks to COVID-19, is even more true today.

This -is- something we’re constantly thinking about and evaluating. There’s a ton of business value to being able to work with manufacturing partners in the same timezone, within driving distance, or with whom we share a first language, but at the end of the day, we want to make high-quality keyboards for you that are affordable to as many of you as we can.
-jesse

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Hi there. Thank you @jesse for the explanation. Maybe just to answer the initial question: since I would have to save up for the next keyboard anyway, I would’nd mind if it was, let’s say, 20€ more expensive, if it would be built eg in the EU. It would be a huge benefit, if qwertz-layout (and azerty?) would be available as keycaps in the EU, too. That alone would be a good reason for me to pay about 20€ more.

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Yes, 20-25 €-$ is on the 10% acceptable increase @jesse was talking about :slight_smile:

I will be glad to possess a high grade keyboard like the Model01 with an added value of “Made in an Ethical maneer”, and maybe a Fairtrade label like the Fairphone or other emblematic objects.

But unlike the Fairphone, that is also in the $400-$500 territory, I think that for the price, I will prefer to manage doing one by myself with local support.
Mine must not be Heirloom… much more Gradle… And resolding would become a mundane task, but the journey should be an interesting one !

For the Atreus, my choice has follow the same way : I’ve backed one because of the uncompromised quality of Keyboardio products, and the quality of the humans behind the product ; but if the price had been 250$ or more, I surely have done an Atreus42/64 by myself… one day :mantelpiece_clock:

Jesse & Kaya give us a piece of artisanal art, with the quality of industrial standards, at an affordable price. The community here follows them, and I hope this will continue with the Model100 !

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Everyone who contributed made good points and certainly I appreciate Keyboardio is a new entrant which had to work within the manufacturing landscape that existed, which appears over the period of trading effectively to have meant China. I suspect if you were based in Europe there might have been more options (we still like our convenience, but are maybe a little more willing to allow the state to support industrial employment) but you are not :grinning:

I grant you that the manufacturers you mention represent very different modus operandi - and would be fascinated to look round their facilities :slight_smile:. Maltron is an interesting one: I played with one on their trial programme and I can’t say I am fan of that vacuum moulded case. Of course they have to solder in their labour intensive way because of the sculpted form rather than being in some way ignorant about printed circuit boards!

All things considered this thread has given reassurance in choosing the Atreus. I am satisfied with my Minidox and even submitted my own keymap to QMK but want the greater portability of Atreus and think Kaleidoscope firmware will allow me to do things I had aspired towards but couldn’t easily do with QMK.

Incidentally, taking the discussion we just had on manufacturing off on a tangent, I was in another thread keen to enquire whether a wider choice of switches could be offered to take advantage of what one might presume greater flexibility to install switches in the hot-swap mainboard at time of shipping.