How an electronic toy is made

Ever wonder what goes into making and delivering a new toy? Once you have a concept and a product design, there are still plenty of steps before a toy can be manufactured.

In this post, we’ll review the design process that established everything we needed to send a factory to have them make Linkitz. We’ll discuss the manufacturing process, during which ourfactories produce Linkitz according to our design.

Design isn’t a linear process. It consists of iterative updates. A new design for the schematic (the electronics design plan) means we needed a new circuit board and new firmware, and those changes lead to updates in the Linkitz app and the plastic housings. When testing our design indicates that changes are necessary, these changes ripple through the other parts of design.

We used 3D printed housings and hand-soldered circuit boards to build proof-of-concept prototypes that showed a part of the interaction we wanted to deliver. As that stage progressed, we transitioned our focus from designing and building single examples of many prototypes to mass producing a single final design that delivers on all the design goals at once.

An early version of our printed circuit board, showing the hub. The black square object in the middle is the microprocessor.

An early version of our printed circuit board, showing the hub. The black square object in the middle is the microprocessor.

The major milestone for the completion of the design phase and the start of the manufacturing phase is having a credible plan to get all the way through the manufacturing phase and sending final designs of the parts to the factories that will make Linkitz. Other designs don’t have to be final to start transitioning into the manufacturing phase, but they have to be close enough that they won’t make any changes that ripple into the housing design, and this requires a comprehensive understanding of what we’re making, and how we’re making it. 

Manufacturing Linkitz involves the management of each of the processes to create the custom parts in the kit. Linkitz consist of custom plastic parts and custom electronics. Our plastic parts are injection molded, like the housings for almost all consumer electronics devices.

These bags are full of Makrolon brand polycarbonate pellets. The pellets are melted to make the plastic "goop" that is injected into our molds.

These bags are full of Makrolon brand polycarbonate pellets. The pellets are melted to make the plastic "goop" that is injected into our molds.

A mold for each of the parts is cut, into which molten plastic is injected and made to take the shape of our parts. Test parts are produced to verify that the molds make suitable parts. Once we approve the test parts, full production starts. After the plastic parts are molded, they are decorated with icons for the various types of links using a custom stamp. Then the plastic parts are ready to assemble.

In the meantime, our electronics factory produces the custom circuit boards that go inside the housings. The electronics are tested to make sure that they operate properly. The electronics are placed inside the housings, and the housings are sealed shut. The final assemblies are tested one last time, completing the manufacturing process.