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Welcome to Zerksus Engineering           South African based 

February 2019  

It is progressively getting more difficult to display stuff that we are busy with. Although we are quite busy I cannot get permission from my clients to either list their names or show any products we develop for them. So we work for weeks, deliver, get paid and then I have no HTML for show for it. These include a large transport company, military company and a bio-medical partnership that we are involved with. We also get most of our work via word-of-mouth and not so much from this website. However, I will try and upload some interesting things in the near future.

We have several CNC machines for manufacturing. Generally we can accept work for certain CNC jobs. In the last few months we have done quite a few jobs involving simple jobs like cutting custom heatsinks but we have also done complete circuit to box production runs as well. The question is mostly, for CNC only jobs, if we can take a customer's GCODE and make the product. It is unfortunately not that simple. The 1kW milling machine is Linux CNC based, so it will accept Linux NGC files. The problem comes in with feedrates which we then need to manually edit in the GCODE files. Thus far we have found that we need to get files in as SVG, DXF, Parasolid and STL, then CAM it ourselves for production. Each machine is different. The Roland MDX-40 is very specific about its GCODE. We have upgraded that machine with a more powerful 12 000RPM spindle (mostly for plastic box engraving and mouting holes) but each GCODE file needs to be run through a program to make it compliant. We can run the Roland up to 450mm per minute BUT it does not mean that the cutter can be pushed so fast. Thus it is difficult to provide "design rules" to customers. I can provide you with safe limits but then it is also not nice watching over the machine for double the time. The spindle runs at the same speed so we use double time, double power and risk running into potential loadshedding (the horror story of my life). So each job still requires you, me and some CAD/CAM time...and only then I can provide a proper quote.

To be honest we don't really like doing just CNC jobs. We rather do full development projects including circuit design, assembly, prototype box machining and software development. The problem comes in when a client brings their CAD files where the actual job is quite small or when they only need a few units. We have had situations where I personally had to sit and CAM a program, do the setup, spend literally 3 hours ...and then CNC it in 15 minutes. The friction starts when I have to then charge engineering rates for the CAD/CAM work (more expensive) but the customer only wants to pay for machining time (much cheaper). This kindof forced us to rather work for the larger, more formal companies that ask for a detailed quote which include hours for travel, meetings, design and manufacturing. They actually pay for each budgetted labour hour spent. The difference comes in with expectation. If we state we cut material at Rx.xx per minute then a private, salary earning person obviously wants to utilize the cutting 100%. Each second counts. The problem comes in where the "time saving" is done at CAD/CAM level and not how fast the machine cuts. This is where that 3 hour CAM session comes in and every little aspect gets scrutinized by the client. The large company already works in labour hours. Some will have 3 hour meetings, which they pay you for. I have had dealings with large companies where I eventually charged them zero for the actual delivered product as their consultation payments more than covered all the costs.

The other problem is that each new client brings new problems, especially the non-technical type. Either the client wants something so complex that the CAM work takes ages, requires special tools or work arounds (e.g. a special tool that must undercut material) OR a badly designed product (e.g. wants a laser cut sign with an O letter but forgetting to put supporting tabs in...and the inside falls out).

The question is then if we still accept simple CNC jobs? Well, yes and no. We will now accept jobs based on certain criteria. Do we have the time? If the job is complex and requires several hours of CAD/CAM work then we will charge for it. I know this will be prohibitively expensive for Tant Sannie who just wants to laser engrave "Huis van Liefde" on a piece of R10.00 pine wood. I will have to charge for the CAM part as well as the setup, althought the actual engraving might only take 5 minutes. But if Tant Sannie wants 1 000 units then I will waiver the CAM costs. Many times I get the: "You must please help me, nobody else can/wants to help" or " it is 16h00 on Friday and I need the thing by 17h00". In the end we lose and probably never see that customer again. Rush jobs end up crap. Shortcuts get taken,  and high feedrates damage the material and/or break the tools. This is not nice when the customer is in a hurry, the 1 hour cut job is begged down to 30 minutes and a R250 cutter shatters...which is suddenly not the customer's problem. Generally, and unfortunately, the majority of clients just want this one-time design with huge promises of millions and millions. It is literally just a handful of companies that keep us in business, but like I said above they want an A to Z product and pay for all NRE costs as well. However, I am always open to discuss. Maybe the one-off product turns into a 1 000 000 unit order?

What we actually do to feed ourselves:

The projects come in mainly two flavors, prototyping and small manufacturing runs, with levels in between.

Prototyping: We do rapid prototyping. The client has a problem and we attack it head on. Either we give a fixed quote (takes more time) or it is "balls to the walls" with the client parking his/her butt next to me and paying the agreed rate from Time Zero. We keep certain critical components in stock, like common 8051/ARM CPUs (even an Arduino or 2), power supply components and many more. Even if the client needs to use another type of CPU or FPGA we can target what is available of the shelf and then change it later(to chase time to market). Then we do the layout and artwork. Although we do have the ability to do 6mil PCB tracks (special LDI printer) we generally design for simple 10mil  width and gaps(with 8mil where required e.g. QFN chips). Proof of concept normally trumps super miniaturized mobile phone tech. We have a dedicated CNC PCB drill and we can churn out a double sided NON-through hole PCB within the same day. Yes, we can do through hole plated but I don't do that for clients as it is very labour intensive. I reserve that only for my own projects. For through hole PCBs I make them at premium cost at CBM in "pretty please" 1 day orders. For our own inhouse boards we will try and minimize vias but will design for easy assembly. We then also design the enclosures. For quick prototypes I generally prefer standard ABS or die cast boxes from e.g. Communica. We can machine connector holes and engrave.  For a more personal  touch we can 3D print an enclosure (as an example think about something like a remote control). Then all the software is also done in-house. Many standard libraries already exist. The client must accept the fact that it is a prototype and not suitable for qualification or long term use ...and that the device might malfunction when being tested. The more complete the prototype the longer it will take and the higher the cost. Simple. I will inform the client which parts remain the IP of Zerksus (I have had clients trying to stop me from using my own designs) or what is unique to their product. On that note any NDA is also discussed before I start with any design. I have seen it all. Don't try and BS me into signing an NDA because you believe your dream from last night produced a unique concept. We will sit and Google it. If it comes up (any listing, publication like IEEE, patent etc...) then no NDA will be signed. Basically I will need to see the approved patent documents and chat to the attorneys involved.  Depending on IP arrangements the rights (and supply of datapack) will belong to either Zerksus or the client or mutually owned. Keep in mind that many of the PCB and software designs already exist in modular versions (like UART drivers, switch mode power supplies etc...). Only the final functionality MIGHT be unique. Many times a client just wants a re-hashed version of an existing product and then I definitely won't sign any form of NDA supplied by the client. I also take no responsibility of any patents (or pending). If I accidentally redesign a product that falls under someone elses IP or patent then it becomes the client's responsibility to handle that problem. I have had clients bringing me actual patent numbers to put on the enclosure (which actually covered that particular product) only to find out later on they actually don't own than patent. You will sign a release form. This generally excludes my larger clients (e.g. military) as they pretty much give me a very detailed specification, a very specific output and we work within legal boundaries (and they are in general not full of $%^t). So unless you present proof for the cure for AIDS, free energy or the cure for cancer the NDA is probably useless. I have 25 years of designs archived and can probably prove precidence on most ideas. However, I do protect my clients from each other and do not share any information. BUT if two clients ask for a 5V USB power supply, running off a 12V battery then I will design it for both... but you will be kept apart. In 25 years I have never ran away with someone elses product. It is more beneficial to keep the client happy and make them do all the other work (like marketting and sales).

Production: Unless you have all your $%^t really sorted out (I mean a perfect datapack) I would prefer first going through a prototype phase as above. We WILL first go through an EDM version and a few PPMs (pre-production models). If you have to ask me what these stages mean then Zerksus is not the place for you or the cost will go up if we need to train you on how to do planning on your production. For circuit production we have specific PCB manufacturers that can guarantee design requirements (some are good for double sided and some are good for multi-layered). Not all PCB manufacturers are equal. Some make nice looking boards but are not certified (e.g. ISO certified) . We use specific PCB assembly companies depending on quantity, complexity and type (military/commercial which dictates RoHS). We might machine certain parts in-house. We have proven suppliers and will order the bulk components in the proper format (tape, reel, tubes, trays). We always assemble and test the final product in-house. This is to generally assure quality, protection of IP (like final software loading) and just general ease of mind on our side. Before a production run every single item is specified including the smallest cable tie. Any change WILL stop production. We have been bitten before. One example was a client that changed a single hole in an enclosure and then also required the "simple" addition of a single component. These modifications cost Zerksus 6 full weeks in additional labour. If you get that: "Oops, I forgot one component" feeling then we will stop and get that: "This is going to cost a lot more" feeling. We are used to the: "Friday is the final deadline" story but will assess the change and add the labour and component cost to each unit. Good planing beforehand equals smoother and cheaper production afterwards.

 
What makes Zerksus different from other similar businesses?

We are a one-stop-business. We might not be able to do and execute every aspect of a particular project but we take care of it by managing the sub-contracting of it. Many businesses specialize in one particular field, e.g. software, and then buy the rest in. That might work for some clients but maybe not for others. We are mainly undefined. Not really a machine shop, not just electronics, not just software, not just rapid PCB development but rather a evolving combination of abilities that adapts with the requirements. I must say that the one strength of Zerksus is the ability to handle the entire problem a client might present. When a client requires a system that includes controller cards, server software, enclosures plus all diverse parts but then evolves to include mobile applications then we might not directly design the latter (yet) but we then have a network of engineers that will absorb that requirement. We have clients that approach us with: "I wonder if that is possible?" on a Monday and then having a crude proof of concept on the Friday. Although Zerksus is predominantly a family business we have a rather wide range of specialized experts on-tap. These include mechanical designers, electronic experts at various levels, mobile software development, CNC machine programmers/operators, server level down to compact code embedded programmers, hand assembly and even procurement experts. Many of these people also operate independently, like us, while other free-lance at night and over weekends. Internally we also strive to understand each project/product intimately, be it a train, military tank, access control, fleet management etc... This allows us, after just a short while, to assist the client with more detail aspects of their field.

We strive to be the business to call when you have a problem.

For any questions drop me an email to victors@mweb.co.za  or victor@zerksus.com.
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Zerksus is a design and manufacturing business specializing in electronics. Zerksus was founded in 1997 and is dedicated to long term relationships with clients.

We are able to assist with custom designs and manufacturing as well as the supply with standard products to make your life easier. We specialize in security systems, vehicle tracking, FPGAs, microcontrollers and power supplies. If you have any queries please don't hesitate to email us at info@zerksus.com .

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