The people and motivation behind this site.
microBuilder was set up to help people learn the basics of what we like to call 'micro-manufacturing'. While manufacturing electronic devices might have involved an expensive and time consuming process in the past, the reality is that today you can realistically produce commercial quality electronic devices yourself without having to remortgage your home in the process.
We try to provide articles and videos on the entire design and manufacturing process, including embedded software and hardware development, how to choose (and use) the various tools and equipment you'll need to go from idea to prototype to small-scale production, and all the other messy little details that are an essential part of making stuff.
Who is this site for?
Our main motivation is the belief that electronics is not only an interesting and exciting field, but an area that provides interesting possibilities for economic development and self-sufficiency. While building stuff is fun in and of itself, building stuff that creates new opportunities and puts food on the table is more interesting still! If we can help be a small part of that than the time, effort and resources we put into creating and maintaining this site are well worth it.
That focus on developing an "end-product" and building opportunities for financial self-sufficiency means that our target audience for this site isn't so much electronics hobbyists (though if that's you you're certainly welcome and we hope you find some useful information here), but rather people who are interested in learning how to develop and manufacture a clearly defined product that can be manufactured on a small scale and a (probably VERY!) small budget. The type of content we produce, and the tools we use, will obviously be affected by that more specific focus.
Like everyone we love free stuff and are big supporters of the idea of open-source software and hardware (we make some ourselves!), but we do still use some commercial tools and software products simply because a little bit of money can sometimes go a long way in terms of productivity. You could say that our focus on the bottom line and getting things done in the most cost-effective but productive way possible makes us open-source idealists, but not open-source purists. We try to save pennies everywhere possible, but sometimes spending a couple hundred dollars in the short term can save you hundreds of hours of work in the long term. Hobbyists who just want to have fun building something probably won't attach a value to the amount of time and frustration involved in getting something working, but when developing actual commercial products time and effort have a different meaning that will be reflected in the choice of tools you use.
You can see this 'bias' toward product development in the fact that we tend to focus on ARM microcontrollers rather than the more hobbyist friendly 'Arduino'. This is due to the fact that most manufacturers of ARM MCUs have chips for every budget and requirement, and you have a lot more freedom to only pay for what you need in terms of SRAM, flash storage and performance. It's also a platform that can grow with you in complexity as your requirements evolve (high-resolution graphic LCDs, external memory controllers, ethernet, performance measured in hundreds of MHz, etc.), and is a more natural architecture to focus on for commercial development. We love Arduino and are excited to see anything that makes electronics fun and easy, but the reality is that it's probably the wrong choice of tools for certain commercial projects (unless they have other electronics hobbyists as a target audience).
In a few words, though, if you're struggling (like us) with some of the many problems involved in designing, prototyping, sourcing, assembling, and marketing an actual product, this site is made for you! It's a much longer and bumpier road than most people realise when they get started, and while we're happy to share what we've learned (to give back a bit of what many people freely gave us over the years), we're also hoping to continue to learn from the experience and expertise of other people like you. We try to dismantle (or at least warn you about) some of the obstacles you'll come across moving from an initial concept to an actual product manufactured on a small scale (and a small budget), but our biggest hope is that we'll all benefit from the experiences and collective knowledge of other people navigating that same bumpy road!
Alright ... What's the catch? Who's paying for this, then?
The main goal of this site is simply to help people learn how to get things done from an initial concept through to having a final working product in their hands ... and maybe have a bit of fun doing it. We don't charge anything for the content we produce, and we certainly don't plan on starting any time soon. Not surprisingly, though, there are numerous expenses involved in producing these articles and video tutorials (materials used, tools abused, etc.), as well as keeping all of this content up and running on the web (servers and bandwidth).
To keep all of the content free, and more importantly to keep adding new content, we've decided to provide a cherry-picked selection of tools and components that you are likely to use when prototyping your hardware and ideas, and to offer pre-assembled versions of some of the "open-hardware" we have in the works. Our thinking is that if you find this site useful, you might consider purchasing something from our store to help us pay for server maintenance and all the various expenses that go into maintaining this site.
You're certainly free to shop elsewhere, but if you do find the tutorials and information we provide useful, a great way to say thanks is to pick something up from the store. That said, we'd be just as happy if you drop us a line as well!