Can Screaming Circuits, a full-service assembly provider, compete with a “no-frills” assembly house?
Upon first thought, it might seem like Screaming Circuits, would be too expensive for anything but well-funded big-business and big-education. In reality, that may not at all be the case. Like so many other things in life, there are trade-offs between time, effort, and money. The nice thing about Screaming Circuits is that, unlike the low-cost small volume manufacturers, we can cover both ends of the spectrum.
Our least expensive service is not as cheap as the lowest-cost assemblers. We don’t sell on price, but when you start to add in reality and practicality, the cost difference gets much smaller.
If you need that maximum performance, “I need it now, now, now!” service, there’s no question that you need a premium manufacturer, like Screaming Circuits. But let’s do some compare and contrast on the other end of the spectrum. Can Screaming Circuits be a good deal for a maker?
I’ve got an open source Arduino-compatible robot motor board that I designed a while back. I’ve hand-built a few, because I enjoy soldering, but for this exercise, we’ll pretend I’m a maker with a Kickstarter and I need more built up.
I’ll need 250 for the hypothetical Kickstarter project. The 1.5” x 3.5" board uses an ATMEGA32U4 processor with the Arduino Leonardo bootloader. From a software perspective, it looks just like a Leonardo. It uses a different hardware form-factor than the standard Arduino to better fit a mobile robot.
It’s got 26 different components (26 line items in the Bill of Materials). Due to some part types being used in multiple places, that’s a total of 48 surface mount (SMT) placements. I’ll ignore the few thru-hole parts. As a Kickstarter, I would supply the board with all of the SMT parts installed and let the customer solder in the thru-hole parts. That’s pretty common practice in the hobby, maker and Open Source world.
You can quote the assembly on the Screaming Circuits website without registering, so let’s do just that. It’s got:
- 250 desired board quantity
- 26 unique parts (BOM line items)
- SMT on 2 sides? Yes
- Lead-Free? No (If you’re shipping into Europe, you’ll need lead-free)
- Class III? No
- ITAR? No
- 48 SMT parts
- 0 thru-hole
- 0 BGA/QFN
For 20 day, Short-Run production service, this comes out to $9.81 per board - less than $10.00 each.
Soldering by hand, I can do about two an hour. Some folks are faster than me, but some are slower. At two per hour, I’d spend 12 ten-hour days hand soldering the 250 boards. Ouch!
You can most likely find a cheap overseas manufacturer that would build 250 them for less, but they may not want such a small job. You may end up with concerns about intellectual property theft, and you may not get the yields you need.
At Screaming Circuits, we treat every job as proprietary, we’re happy with a run of 250 without any commitments for more, and we promise 100% assembly yield. Finally, a job like this, that totals out to $2,452.48, gets the same process and care as does a $10,000 quick-turn complex prototype.
Food for thought.
Here's a Kickstarter we built back in 2012