We have different prototyping assembly houses, but cycle times are so long that engineers need to work on 2-5 projects in parallel.

The typical prototype assembly process is:

  • one day order process, panelization, quotes
  • PCB sourcing 24-48hours for rush orders (factory 2 hours away)
  • component sourcing, 1-4 days for most (in parallel with PCB sourcing)
  • PCB shipping half a day
  • optional stencils, no extra time
  • assembly scheduling (0.5-5 days)
  • machine and component setup
  • assembly of first prototyping 6 boards (0.5-2 days)
  • manual follow-up actions if necessary
  • exception management when necessary
  • shipping

When really pushing, it may be possible to get everything done in a week and half, but two weeks is more typical.

Is it possible for prototyping assembly as a service to happen radically faster? One day would be great as the overall goal. Given people's salary, context switching costs, overheads costs and opportunity costs from moving to the market faster, price is essentially irrelevant. Having an option of saying we need something and having it materialise without major project management overhead would offset all the reasonable costs.

Can a service like that ever exist? Does it currently? What is the shortest prototyping manufacturing and assembly cycle possible for assembly as a service?


closed as off-topic by pipe, Matt Young, duskwuff, Enric Blanco, Andy aka May 3 '17 at 7:27

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    \$\begingroup\$ I realize that downvoting without giving a reason is common practice here, but nonetheless I'm curious why this question was downvoted. \$\endgroup\$ – replete May 3 '17 at 1:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ How long of a turn around are you talking about that justifies putting engineers on 2-5 projects? That alone is insanely inefficient. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Young May 3 '17 at 1:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @replete The answer to the question is obviously "yes" because it' possible to do everything in-house. For when you don't want to do it in-house, it's a shopping question that is highly regional and temporal and thus it is off-topic. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe May 3 '17 at 1:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lauri you should wait a day or two before accepting an answer as correct, to see what else comes up. Upvote answers in the meantime. Otherwise you have essentially closed the conversation. \$\endgroup\$ – tomnexus May 3 '17 at 2:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LauriV StackExchange is not a discussion forum where you are supposed to "come up with unique solutions". It seems to me from your lengthy comments on the only answer so far that you are looking for a discussion. These are all highlighted in dont-ask and the tour. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe May 3 '17 at 2:10

I'm not aware of any, but it's not something I'd expect to find.

Assuming you have a complete design ready to go, living in the continental US or Canada you can get parts overnight if the quantities aren't huge.

The fastest turnaround I've ever seen as a standard offering from a board house is 24 hours, and it's not cheap. That could also show up next day, although you need to place the order early in the day and coordinate it with the board house in many cases. You can look up individual board houses for their rapid turn rates, but they can add an extra 0 on the end of the price depending on what you need. They might not be able to do it if your board is complicated enough, or they're already at capacity.

For rapid prototyping you could mill or etch your own PCBs, but that's a non-trivial thing to do for any sort of compact or complex design though.

Depending on volume assembly houses could do everything in a day, but again you usually need to coordinate it with them in advance so they can fit it into their build schedule.

If you really needed something fast, and coordinated it well between your vendors and assembly house you could have everything ordered on Day 1 and a built unit in hand by the end of Day 2. Provided nothing goes wrong and all your vendors could actually meet the demand.

The price premiums attached to this however are incredibly high, digikey charges something like 60 dollars in the US for overnight shipping. That's nothing compared to the rapid rates for board and assembly houses. I've done it for the odd project, but those were in instances where there was already a time crunch and money was not a huge concern.

From my professional experience however it's just not worth the hassle. It also is more probable you'll mess something up if you're rushing. Plan your project out so you can do other useful work while waiting for your stuff to show up.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In general it requires a lot of planning and it's a major hassle. It's difficult to comprehend why it needs to be that inefficient. Keeping spare cycles available on machines and combining many orders for parts is a fairly trivial thing to do. Paying 1000 USD for around six boards every couple of weeks would also be reasonable considering alternative costs. At least as or possibly more complex processes (including injection molds from scratch, milling and high definition 3D printing works at shorter cycles). Sure, there are external components, but again - poor planning and tools. \$\endgroup\$ – Lauri Voll May 3 '17 at 1:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Poor planning and tools doesn't quite cover it. Modern PCB manufacturing doesn't have tooling overhead like it used to, it's just that the fabs using the newer processes are overseas. They're fairly efficient operations for the most part. Manufacturing mostly just takes time due to the chemical processes, drilling, etc. DFM verification takes time as well. Not to mention all the different stackups and other options people could want. That's why groups like oshpark limit certain options. 3d printing has much less setup overhead. I can't speak to injection molds as much. \$\endgroup\$ – alphasierra May 3 '17 at 2:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ My party trick when I want a fast prototype is to notice that usually the BOM is at least mostly settled well before the layout is done. I mean sure sometimes a few passives change after that point but the long lead stuff is usually pretty well fixed by the time the schematic is done. If you have a decent relationship with your assembly house you can usually pay them to source the BOM before you are in a position to sent them the PCB files. Sometimes I will even book programming and machine time at this stage, this removes the procurement element from the process can can get a board in a week. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Mills May 3 '17 at 15:09

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