How to upload code to 1000 arduinos or are there other products I should be looking at?

Hello everyone,

I need to upload code to 1000x Arduino Nano’s or find a better way of how to take my product from testing to production.

I am making a marble clock, where the time is displayed using marbles (steel balls). Arduino will make sure that exactly 1 marble is lifted per minute. For the circuit side of things, i need:

  • 12V DC power supply
  • Arduino Nano
  • Stepper Driver
  • Nema 14
  • (most likely) RTC module

I browsed the web, and the best method that I found is “Standalone AVR programmer” from adafruit. I don’t know exactly how to do that just yet though…
Then I was also thinking of doing custom PCB’s, but for 1000pcs it probably costs much more than off the shelf parts.

Plan is to order 1000pcs Arduino Nano’s from Alibaba with bootloaders on them.

I talked to one or two factories and they did not understand what I was asking them. (If they can upload my custom code onto Arduinos from the factory)

Can anyone help me? I’m really lost on how to take this from testing to production. I don’t have the knowledge past the testing phase at all…

pic of my marble clock WIP:

I thought this was a pretty interesting article from SparkFun on the subject:

Adafruit’s programmer with the hex code stored on the programmer arduino, along with a fixture with pogo pins, is going to be fairly fast, and is usable on a custom board as long as you have access to the ISP pins. You can also order bare atmega328 chips pre-programmed if you decide to make your own pcb.

I think you’d be better off with a custom PCB with the relevant parts of the Nano built in and have someone like Digikey pre-program the 328Ps before they get installed on the board.

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Looks great.

You can have a look at Uploading to multiple boards although the exact design is a slightly flawed. But you can consider a similar aproach.

I too browsed the web and turned up a crap-ton of clocks that look very much like your imagined one above.

Since you are making 1000, and I can’t imagine you are planning on giving them to 1000 friends as Xmas presents, I assume you are hoping to make money.

I know you are here for technical advice and the problem you present is interesting, but I am compelled to ask if you have done any market research.

The number of highly similar products that are “out of stock” now makes me wonder if other ppl have made a thousand or two, sold them out and moved on, and whether ultimately they made money commensurate with the time and effort involved.

But you can color me cynical and pessimistic, which is probably why by any objective measure my life has been a waste.

Good luck, srsly!


I will be selling them of course… I only have like 3 friends… so don’t know what I would do with 997 if I was giving them to my friends :stuck_out_tongue:

I run a rather successful business where I design and 3D print marble machines… Out Of Marbles
and people have been bickering me to design a marble clock, so here we are :slight_smile:

This is a hobby and education web site.

For a business coming here asking for help to make a profit is just wrong.

As mention, design a standalone PCB and go to a company like Digikey which does this kind of thing.

Where in the world are you based? If you are in the UK, this is a service we offer.

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this looks amazing! I think it’s what I need, if I go the manual route.
They have it shown hooked up to RedBoard, but I see that arduino nano has the same 6 pins, correct?

Putting all that on a custom board with the Nano components would be pretty straightforward.

In slovenia… UK is a bit more tricky now with brexit and customs… I used to buy a ton from UK… not anymore after new year though…

I see that you do that for a living? I would assume that for a 1000pcs PCB production run, it is a few times more expensive than using off the shelf parts and wiring them together?

Yep. It’s the standardized ICSP header.

You can see here a programming rig for the Pro Mini from back when they were using the AVRISP mkII approach:

The SparkFun Pro Mini actually doesn’t have an ICSP header, so they are using the standard pin headers to make the programming connections, but this rig is maybe a bit better inspiration for something intended for the Nano.

Maybe replace the stepper and Arduino with a 1 RPM permanent magnet AC synchronous clock motor. :slight_smile:

The price seems to be about $1 each from Alibaba. You would need separate 60Hz/110V and 220V/50Hz models and regional power cords if you are selling world-wide.

Cool machines!

My “market research” didn’t turn you up. Now I want one or several.

The last paragraph on your website home page with the center justification made me feel like I was a marble on one of your zig zaggy paths.


As you can see, there are ways to do it yourself or have a company do it for you. I’d guess that the manufacture of the physical clock takes a while though so until you are selling many a day, maybe do it manually.

My sister ripped her entire CD collection to iTunes by doing one disk when she got up, one after her shower and another at lunch. Kick the upload off periodically and walk away. When you’re bored with that and selling so many you can’t keep up, pay Digikey (or equivalent) to do it for you.

If you have the bootloader I wouldn’t bother with a separate programmer.

Where I work we do small-volume production… Many different products usually in batches less than 100. The newer products are programmed (in-circuit) with a JTAG programmer and the older products uses socketed parts that are programmed before final assembly. Either way the programming time is about the same as using an Arduino & bootloader (except for the handling of the socketed components).

The IDE/bootloader doesn’t require any additional/special hardware and if the USB port is accessible you don’t have to open the case to update the firmware.

If you buy your processors from , for example microchip .com , you can buy them with your software preloaded .

You just supply them with your hex file.

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Remember that you would also need to have all your components Lead free to sell in most parts of the world.