One of the biggest problems facing makers bringing new hardware products to market is the cost of Printed Circuit Board (PCB) assembly. Due to the set-up costs of the machines needed to place small electronic components on boards, makers have found it difficult to “market test” new products they’ve prototyped.
Among traditional service providers, the result is either that per unit costs are higher than the market will bear, the units are sold at a loss, or significant risks are assumed to achieve scale. This is the central problem Small Batch Assembly has addressed.
Founded by Nova Labs member, Bob Coggeshall, his strategy is to dramatically reduce the costs compared to larger scale service providers and pass the savings on to makers. (Coincidentally, Bob is also credited as the co-author of “sudo”, one of the most famous linux commands.)
First, he employs a “mass customization” and “no frills” model for PCB assembly, recognizing that makers mostly utilize a common set of electronic components. Think “CafePress for hardware.” By limiting parts selection to a common set of parts, set-up costs can be reduced dramatically.
Check out this video of his Pick and Place machine at work!
A web interface entirely manages the customer experience of engaging a PCB assembly service. Through the interface a customer can upload their board design file, select the parts and place the order.
Automation of Back-End Processing
Coggeshall has also automated much of the back-end processing interfacing the highly advanced robot, known as a Pick and Place machine with the ordering system.
Overall, these cost savings can be passed on to the makers, allowing small batches of several hundred units to be competitive with the larger scale production runs of several thousand units.
Here’s a look inside Small Batch Assembly’s offices currently residing in one of Nova Labs’ incubator labs.
A look inside Small Batch Assembly, located at Nova Labs.
As Nova Labs’ flagship incubator tenant, Small Batch Assembly has benefited from co-locating at a makerspace. Nova Labs members have enthusiastically volunteered to beta test the service to ensure system bugs have been worked out while getting their custom-designed PCBs assembled. Speaking of bugs, Bob put together a bloopers video of early mishaps involving larger components.