Crowdsourcing PCB Manufacturing

Carlos Ospina (BF)
A recent report by 3D Printing Community and Network 3DHubs announced that nearly 1 Billion people are within 10 miles of a 3D Printer. 3DHubs is essentially a place where anyone can connect with owners of 3D Printers and have them print things for them. This simple idea opened up the possibility that anyone, even your mother, can 3D Print things they need. Already there are 200,000 printers out there, and it seems probable that there will be more in the near future. Leveraging social networks means that anyone can access a machine and owners can make a return quickly. 
From the very beginning, BotFactory has felt the same way, taking the approach that the Squink should be a 'Social Machine' with a large Community of users to share designs, problems and solutions. In addition, it should be easy for someone like an Engineer or a EE Student to connect with a Squink owner and have them print circuits for them. The Squink is an amazing tool for anyone to print circuits quickly - BotFactory wants to make it easy for the owner to help them help others. 

The Future of PCB Prototyping Services is Small and Local

The big problem facing electronics designers is being able to reiterate quickly. Breadboarding is an option but limited as there is a level of integration required with the enclosure or overall design (ie perhaps the prototype needs to be tested outside or in adverse conditions). The standard case is that a few boards are printed by larger PCB prototyping services and sent back within a week or two, or 24 hours is need be. These are not cheap, nor close. Big cities often have a few nearby services because the market size justifies the high capital expenses (Land + skilled labor is usually more expensive). It is cheaper for some firms to buy from Chinese vendors and have it shipped to and from the United States than it is to use local services. 

But in the course of recent history, it seems that technological advances and even leaps in online social networking and sharing have proven to be a powerful threat to the status quo. 3DHubs and Rapid Prototyping is a classic example: 3D Printing suddenly dropped in cost by several magnitudes and combined with social media, sharing of designs, solutions and technical problems, the purchase and operation of 3D Printers has never been so easy. 

The promise is not to supercede PCB manufacturing services today - the promise is to make the iteration process faster and let the Big Boys take up the demand for mass manufacturing of a proven board. Students, researchers, makers, engineers - those who can't afford a Squink (for now, but can later!) will still be able to get access to one thru the BotFactory community. It's a pretty vision, no doubt challenging, but a better place to be an electrical engineer!