Using the traditional electronics manufacturing model for prototyping and small run orders is a bit like taking a 747 to the grocery store. It’s inefficient, ridiculously expensive, and far more hassle than it is worth. Sure the 747 has much more capacity than your Nissan Leaf, and it can get you from San Francisco to New York in five and a half hours, but using one for a quick trip in the neighborhood just isn’t smart.
Until recently, however, that was really the only option for electronics designers. Manufacturing service providers built their business around large quantity orders for big businesses with long lead times and little need for iterative prototyping. If you were a small business, Kickstarter creator, or hobbyist and you could even find a vendor to take your order, you could expect a long wait for a quote, no guarantee of when you would get your order, shipping delays, and a budget busting price. That’s because your small order was forced through the same process as huge runs. Just like the 747 isn’t the right vehicle for every errand, the traditional electronics approach is not the right choice for every project.
Fortunately, there’s been a breakthrough in electronics manufacturing. Modern PCB assembly and electronic device manufacturers have figured out how to apply sophisticated technology, based in the cloud, to the problem of electronics manufacturing and prototyping. You can now select a partner that can take you painlessly from your concept to the delivery of your product right to the customer. This new way of thinking about cloud manufacturing makes it possible, and affordable, for anyone with the skills and a great idea to bring their design to market. Whether you are an entrepreneur, small business, engineer, or a maker, this breakthrough is good news for you. (This article from Deloitte Free Press does a good job of spelling out the shift.)
Unlike the old process, today’s cloud electronics manufactures can give you a quote in seconds. Simply upload your designs and select your parts, and you’ll know right away what your project will cost. What’s more, you can get quotes on “what if” scenarios so that you can determine what your pricing will be as your product orders scale. This is extremely useful for setting pricing or determining investment goals.
The best electronics manufacturing partners put control of the project in your hands, giving you real time visibility into the status of your order, the ability to make changes, reporting capabilities and online management of all of your related documents.
The modern approach to manufacturing PCBs and electronic devices fosters innovation by making prototyping and iterative improvement quick and cost effective. You can expect to be able to test and advance your designs as many times as necessary to get the exact outcome you need. Rapid PCB prototyping makes it so that you can get your ideas to market right away.
You can now find a manufacturing partner that will be delighted to accept your small runs and will be able to support your business as it grows. If your product takes off, don’t worry, your cloud manufacturing service provider can handle your order into the tens of thousands.
Look for an electronics manufacturing service provider that lets you ship in components and materials, manage your inventory, and have complex products built without you ever doing more than interacting with the online portal. It is a good idea to give extra consideration to providers with adjacent warehouses and manufacturing lines to avoid shipping fees or delays.
Your expertise is in designing innovative solutions that fill a market need, not packaging and shipping. So why not let your electronics manufacturer handle that part of the cycle as well? The best ones have agreements with shipping carriers to keep costs low and some even offer APIs that will integrate with your e-commerce or ERP solution, making the process even more seamless.
The best news about this electronics manufacturing breakthrough is that it removes the barriers that have, no doubt, prevented great ideas from being realized. In the same way that the internet has changed almost everything about how we shop, work, and communicate, it is finally helping to replace the antiquated approach to manufacturing that has created friction for so many talented inventors.
The technology not only helps you place and manage your order, but it also helps the manufacturer combine multiple small orders into larger ones to keep costs down and production times quick. You can now find a partner with exactly the right methodology for your unique needs.