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.