An ESP32-based board with wired Ethernet connectivity and power over Ethernet

May 02, 2019

Project update 15 of 20

Second Production Run Update

The scourge that is customs

In my last update I reported that I had everything ready for a second production run. I was going to try a CM in Mexico because CTS has been very busy and with the higher volumes I need to find other assembly houses. So I packed up a kit and got it ready for shipping to the CM in Mexico. Then I ran into the first customs issue: how to do the paperwork correctly. This was going into Mexico temporarily just to have it assembled and then it was coming right back to the US. I sought advice from the CM and a local export company, and yes, I received information on some generalities, but no one really gave me any concrete answers on what codes to use, exemptions to claim or checkboxes to tick. So after wasting almost a week waiting for guidance I gave up and shipped the box with the documentation as good as I could figure it. I marked the shipment with the AES 30.37(q) to indicate a temporary export that would be returned within a year. Whether that is correct or not I don’t know. Nobody had told me what to do and it seemed the right thing to do.

DHL got the box to Mexico after 4 days or so. Then the touble started. First they claimed they couldn’t contact the CM at the telephone number I had been given and had put on the forms. They wouldn’t tell me why they needed to contact them. DHL was giving me options like "we can send your package back, or send it somewhere else for an extra charge, or we can destroy it for you (!)". This nonsense took a week or so, a week of anxious freaking out for me. Then after wasting what they must have deemed sufficient time, they somehow did manage to get in touch with them and supposedly needed a tax ID from me. I run a passthrough LLC and certainly wasn’t going to give them my SSN! That sort of blew over after some work done by the CM and then they found that the contents of the box didn’t match the PI I had included. This was partially my fault: I had based the PI on the BOM, but even though neither me nor the CM cares about the exact part number of a reel of resistors, of course customs paper pushers do. I also had included some full and partial reels in the kit and amounts on the PI didn’t match. I really didn’t think it mattered just how many parts were left on a partial reel, but of course they did.

What a joke. None of it should have mattered of course. The parts are temporarily exported and will be sent back to the US again. But, that’s not how they see it apparently. They just wanted to drive up the value to get the maximum amount to slap import tax on. On Monday, after wasting more than 3 weeks I finally received word that the CM had received the parts. And also that customs had slapped $1300 import tax on my shipment!

I almost fell off my chair. This is highway robbery, pure and simple. Customs is nothing but piracy, hijacking of another person’s property for ransom, a scourge brought upon those trying to accomplish something constructive by leeches who don’t accomplish anything other than making money by ripping people off and making them miserable. It’s a purely artificial complication designed to hamper progress and cause friction to those who want to get things done.

Think about it. What have they accomplished? They have wasted 3 weeks, causing all of you to have to wait 3 weeks longer for the products you have ordered. Nothing useful was accomplished in that time. They’ve managed to get $1300 from me. Wooptidoo, have fun with it guys because it’s the only thing you’ll get from me. Because suddenly, there’s no point to building my product in your country and dealing with all this hassle anymore. You’ve just more than doubled the cost of building my product and it’s now a similar price to building locally. So why would I bother next time and go through this agony again?

The CM in Mexico is actually the biggest victim in this. They have not done anything wrong but the pirates at the border think they should take as much money just for letting my parts through as the CM is going to make actually doing the useful work of building boards for me! In doing so, they’ve made the CM uncompetitive and there’s nothing they can do about it. Their government has conspired against their business for its own benefit. It’s so wrong.

OK, enough of the rant. Where does that leave the project?

I thought I had added plenty of padding to the schedule the last time the projected ship date was adjusted. I had of course never expected that customs would eat up this much of it right off the bat. Now it depends on how quickly the CM can do the build and then how fast they can get the PCB assemblies back to me. If we don’t have yet another customs hijacking on the way back into the US, the current May 23 date may still be feasible. It’s too early to know, I’ll try to keep you guys up to date as I find out more.

I’ve tried to get an update from the CM to check if they’ve made any progress, but I have not received any response after two days. So I decided to just post this and give you guys the scoop on what I do know right now. Since there’s a lot of uncertainty associated with when I will get the 500 boards back from Mexico, I’ve also scheduled time at Colorado Tech Shop to have the other 500 boards built there and they’re going to try to cram me into their busy schedule around May 15. So at least now we have parallel production paths and some redundancy on getting boards to ship from one or the other before the end of May.

This is going to be the last time I’ve collected all parts here for building the wESP32. To be able to meet future production targets and reduce logistics headaches I will need to outsource much more of the production process. I will likely have the next batch made at PCBWay and let them take care of PCBs and assembly. I’m currently evaluating them by having them produce the next round of LiFePO4wered/Pi+ boards, and up till now it has been a much smoother process. I also am evaluating KingTop Technology by having them do a build of my LiFePO4wered/Solar1 product.

Figuring out supply chains and good partners to work with as production scales up is a painful process with ups and downs. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Eventually you find good partnerships that work to be able to meet demand and make sure you, the customers, are satisfied and get the products you need. Thank you for sticking with me through the process!

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