New Receiver, New Relationship, New Name
The Development Journey, Part IV
As I mentioned before, we could see that the receiver sensitivity in the small-scale QRP 40 meter radio stood to improve and that we could eliminate the inductor. Using a minuscule PCB for testing, we started on a receiver redesign in November 2019. Unfortunately, that first trial failed because we could not get the update correctly installed (photo above). We’d been trying to connect an itsy-bitsy receiver board with lots of strands to teeny SMD components on the transceiver board. The poor wires were so tiny that we kept breaking them in our effort to hook up additional connections. It was a complete bust.
Sharpen the receiver sensitivity
Time for a different approach. We built the new receiver on a slightly larger board with audio out, antenna in, bandpass filter, gain controls—the works. The second go was fantastic! Tiny wires not needed. And while we wanted to build in a speaker, that concept turned out to be impractical on several fronts, at least for now. The one-inch speaker that we tried to use (shown beside the miniature test board) just wasn’t powerful enough. We mothballed that idea, transferred the new technology to the transceiver board, and the new receiver was ready by the end of January 2020.
We were now on the cusp of Preproduction Run Number Three with the new receiver built in. Eliminating a couple of audio bugs with rework made everything fully functional with that version of the software.
Toughen the case
We also redesigned the case to be much stronger, switched to a better filament type and found a small 3-D printer in Texas to fabricate our cases and lids. He did some quick turns on the lid design so we would get it right before ordering a significant quantity. Naturally, we played around with colors, there were so many choices. But the marketing input was “Black. Black. Black.” Consequently we now have, like the original Ford Model T, any color you want, as long as it is black.
We produced Preproduction Run Number Three and proudly arranged them on the shelf. They didn’t stay there long. Some of those radios sold for $100 off at various events that year.
During midyear 2020, we took on a marketing intern and redesigned the company name, logo, functionality, product name, graphical user interface and feature set. The results were spectacular improvements. We also began developing our next product, the Professional Station GO Bag.
The newly-named DMX-40 Morse Code Decoder & Converter Transceiver was outstanding, but still something about its presentation nettled me. Its face was the actual PCB control board with some visible wiring. Not only was it unattractive, but it also might also trigger damage to the circuit from a user’s static electricity. A professional front panel would make an attractive appearance. It could completely shingle the control board and protect it.
A bit of checking around turned up a panel that goes for, oh, a mere $4000 up front with full-color overlays for only a few dollars apiece—assuming that we ordered a minimum of a thousand. Uh, that was too rich for our blood. We mulled it over.
Brainstorm! And a good one. Why not just order a thin PCB cut out like the control board, with only copper as an anti-electrostatic shield? Have the panel printed just like a PCB? Sure it would be one color, white, but very fine, high-resolution printing, and less than a dollar a pop. Beautiful.
The DMX-40 Morse code translator rolls out
Things were looking good. We assumed that we were finally ready for another preproduction run. Previously, each preproduction run had turned out only ten pieces for evaluation in the market. Now the PCB manufacturer was at last able to supply the toroids. No more hand-winding for us. We ordered 100.
The boards worked very, very well, even better than the previous run. Everything had shifted. Whee! Now we were unquestionably ready to roll. This was PreppComm’s real, honest-to-goodness Production Run Number One! We synced up to construct the first batch, starting with several prototypes for our first full rollout.
Even then, concurrently, there was a lot going on. We continued to add features. The most exciting were the Key-in and Tone-out innovations. With them you could hear outgoing code from the keyboard or your own keyed-in code.
On top of that, our new relationship with American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON) inspired more features. All the changes meant, of course, making tweaks to the PCBs and tossing out a batch of out-of-date boards. We didn’t do prototypes of the changes, as we were confident in them. The new features were working extremely well. So well, in fact, we could not imagine leaving them out! This was it. Production Run Number One was humming.
Rating your Morse code keying
Our club president got so excited by being able to key in Morse code and hear it, and see how the decoder decoded it—he was not spacing things very well—he exclaimed, “This is one of the best features of the DMX-40, the ability to learn to send Morse code and have the computer actually tell you how well you are doing by showing you how well you adhere to good practice.” In the photo, you see him playing around with the DMX-40.
I agree with his evaluation. I send better code now for the same reason. By the way, that’s another exclusive feature! No code-practice unit out there has a built-in decoder that tells you how you are doing. Of course, many of our future customers are not going to be interested in learning Morse code, but some will.
Beginning in 2019 as the CTX-HF3, it became the RTS Series Commander along the way. Today it shines as the DMX-40 Morse Code Decoder & Converter Transceiver. A mouthful, to be sure, but descriptive.
Finally, a reliable plan for hams in a crisis
It has been quite a journey so far. Although we have not lingered on describing the evolution of the software, we’ll just say, modestly, it went through a few hundred revisions. The complete redesign of the GUI turned out a total of 28 different screens for ease of use and functionality, with the support of our marketing intern. She also sparked renaming the radio and giving it a brand. Its new look is much more professional.
Yes, the DMX-40 QRP transceiver is tiny, but its feature set is tremendous. It addresses the need for hams to use Morse code in a crisis, and it alleviates their fear of not being able to call out when the repeaters are down. With the Professional Station GO Bag, they are set up well for emergency communications anywhere. PreppComm’s high power battery bank keeps the energy flowing.Yes, they have a reliable plan. They can make contact in the worst of circumstances. And finally, the DMX-40 provides a way for all amateur radio operators who always wanted to use code but had great difficulty trying to learn it to connect the DMX-40 to their rigs in External Mode, and operate CW on any band they want!
So, back to the lab for the next product. What do you suppose that will be?
I would like to see the ability to update firmware at my Qth. I think this project is ongoing with firmware updates a big feature.