There's a lot of buzz floating around these days about "Personal Manufacturing.” I'll do my best to describe it, and what it can do for you. The short answer: personal manufacturing is building your PCB boards on your terms, not on the terms of some nameless, faceless factory. The longer answer is probably more useful.
Traditional manufacturing is all about statistics and fractions of a penny. Those factors are important; especially if you're manufacturing millions. But when you just need a few boards, or a few hundred boards, those factors can make your job nearly impossible.
With personal manufacturing, you can decide when you want or need assembled boards on your workbench. You won't need to beg for time on a busy volume manufacturing line. Where I work at Screaming Circuits, we use cloud-based manufacturing so you can order online from your desktop when you're ready, rather than waiting for someone to pick up a telephone.
With personal manufacturing, you design it, get some prototypes, and make a few modifications — lather, rinse and repeat. Then you'll get a few dozen, few hundred or few thousand — then you start selling. You'll get what your budget allows and don't need to commit to minimum volumes or long-term business. You can polish your design faster, with less hassle, and you can get to market faster, with less hassle. Faster to market and less hassle both mean more time and money for you.
NPI (new product introduction) has never been easier than it is with personal manufacturing. Years ago, I was a product manager at a startup. The entire NPI process was a nightmare. Our engineers couldn't get anything built without half a dozen support staff. Someone had to make the documentation usable.
Someone had to hunt down sample quantities of parts. Someone had to make sure the board would fit on the volume manufacturers' assembly line. It went on and on like that, taking up months of the design cycle. We were at the mercy or people who only cared about making their part of the process easier.
Rather than producing the quality product we wanted, our new products would be shipped to customers with mod wires. I recall one board that needed 64 mod operations before it could be shipped. Yes, that was on a released, shipping product.
With personal manufacturing, you can get a few prototypes built right away. If need be, you can modify, and get a few more built at your convenience. When the mode wires are gone, you can build up a hundred and get them out to customers without delay. It's not about what works best for the manufacturer, it's about what works best for you.
Duane Benson is the Chief Technology Champion at Screaming Circuits.