Prototyper: Where is your money going?

Carlos Ospina (BF)

So, you’ve been running a project that involves electronics, and your cash is burning faster than calories at a spinning class? Have you stopped to think where the money is going, and if it’s worth it to spend it like that? We know you’re a busy person and the project depends on you, so we’ll go straight to discussing the concerns of many of us working in electronic projects and building prototypes: the cost of prototypes is high and it takes too long to build them. These problems create an additional, and probably more important complication: it increases the time between tests on physical prototypes reducing the effective time you have to test the device. As in any other development projects, fewer tests means a higher chance of error in the outcome. We bet you already knew that, but let us elaborate on the problems so we can show you a possible solution.


First we’ll analyze the costs. While prototyping you’re creating one board at the time. Because the etching process at the board houses is almost as complicated for one board as for a thousand, the price for a single etched board is usually high. Aggregators have made it easy for us to get quality boards for as low as $12 by optimizing the space on the blank copper board and creating enough volume for board houses to have a profitable business. The second cost comes from assembling (populating) the board, which in turn is expensive because it requires five customized steps:

  • Getting the electrical components
  • Creating the stencil for the solder paste
  • Applying the paste
  • Picking and placing the components
  • “Cooking” the circuit to cure the paste

The assembly of a single board usually runs on the order of $150 if you want it done by an assembly house. Unfortunately, aggregators can’t offer any cost optimization to the assembly process given its inherent complexity.


If you know where to look, you can get a board manufactured and assembled for as low as $160 plus components per prototype, but your price can go higher if your circuit uses a flexible substrate, has more than two layers or a lot of through-hole components. Prices will grow exponentially high if you’re in a rush. Not that you’re ever in a rush, right?

So now that we’re talking about time, we should take a look at how costly time is to our project. Do you feel like you’re waiting forever to get your board back? Well, it may not be just a feeling, a board takes around 10 days to be delivered, on average. Are you asking for the board to be assembled? Then you’re probably looking at twice that time. In a world where everything is connected and we can’t stand a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, we, the group of people working on bleeding edge technology, are willing to wait for DAYS to get our boards. The cost of waiting becomes materialized as the development cycle grows longer, reflecting its toll on the engineering cost. In addition, technology is a though market and being the first at BestBuy could have a great impact on the success of your product. Put in more dramatic words: if your development cycle is too long, and your competitor beats you to market, you may not reach the volume you need and will have to say good bye to your dream.

Now that the problems are stated, let us tell you how we think they could be solved. The DIY movement, hackers and makers are coming together to enable our community to create circuits from our desktops: low-cost milling machines, inkjet printers printing conductive ink, 3D printers that can embed conductive lines and desktop pick and place systems are slowly making their way into our office spaces.

BotFactory offers you one of your best options: a machine capable of printing and assembling your board. The cost per prototype is $5 or less and the build time is about 30 minutes per board. The new process will not only save your time and money, but will also enable you and your team to prototype several times in a short timeframe until you get things right. Welcome to the new way to prototype and design electronic circuits!

Are you ready to introduce “Rapid Prototyping” to your project? Visit, register on our mailing list, follow @botfactoryNYC or like us on

Do you think we are on the right track? Do you think this will contribute to the future of electronics? Leave a comment below..