Return on Investment

ROI Calculation

BotFactory Inc., Kristen Horstman

Since 3D printing PCBs is a relatively new technology, we are frequently asked about the Return on Investment (ROI) for our printers and their lifecycle. Customers tend to crunch numbers to understand the costs of the printers and the consumables to plan their budgets and pipelines. 

Thus, to aid you and your team in planning for these constraints, we developed a calculator that will assist you in deciding if the SV2 PCB Printer is better for your R&D team and your company than traditional PCB prototyping options. We quantify the savings from owning an SV2 - Professional and calculate how long you'd have to continue printing (assuming your prototyping load doesn't change) to pay it off. The payback time would be quicker with an SV2 Enhanced or Starter, but you will be limited in the complexity of the designs that can be printed. 

While developing our printer, we have constantly collected feedback from the teams actively utilizing our technology. Speaking to them, we concluded that the indirect impact created by adding the printer to their design process has been adding a lot more value than they initially purchased the printer for. 

Usually, design teams create multiple iterations of unique and complex prototypes, which requires cross-collaboration between teams within the company or other companies working in a consortium (mechanical, electrical, manufacturers, assembly line, etc.) before finalizing the design, and after that, if everything goes right, *fingers crossed*, eventually goes to production. 

From a development standpoint, these issues create multiple bottlenecks. They often trigger high risks within the development cycle, such as losing control over Intellectual Property (IP), delivery times, limitations over material and design choices, etc. All these have to be taken into account in product development and usually are taken into budgetary considerations and create unnecessary tasks for the project manager. 

PCB designers have mentioned that the ability to control the print gives them a lot of freedom in designing their prototypes. In addition, they can skip pulling their hair off by going back and forth, speaking to manufacturers and the assembly line while making the other teams wait. For a manager overseeing all these tasks within a work package where the tasks are highly dependent on one another, they are freeing up a lot of resources to be used in other tasks. They have significantly decreased the risk factors involving the projects, even during the whole lockdown process. In addition, teams have positively adapted to our technology and are actively factoring in our printers within future project roadmaps. 

Price Estimation from traditional vendors

Currently, at BotFactory, since we focus on the prototyping market rather than mass production, we evaluate ROI as the money you save using SV2 versus a PCB vendor and assembly line. We firmly believe there is no 'average board' as there are many important considerations when creating a PCB (i.e., gold fingers, tented vias), so we tried to quote vendors for a board roughly equivalent to something made with SV2. Here are the following specs we gave board fabrication vendors:

  • Tracing and space between traces, 8 mil
  • Layer count of 1, 2, and 4
  • Rigid FR4 substrate
  • Lead-free HAL for plating finish
  • 2.2 by 3.2 inches 
  • Via drill size of 20 mil
  • Default Soldermask color
  • Standard Shipping speeds
  • IPC Class-2 A600 

We were charged $100 for any orders that were available in a week and $45 for orders that took longer. Shipping costs were not included in these prices. After gathering the quotations, we split each quote's layer count (we requested estimates for each version with a different layer count) and the board size to arrive at a unit of dollars per square inch per layer.

PCB Vendor Costs
​$/Square inch/Layer
​Per Layer Cost ​1 2​ 4​
​4 to 7 days ​$100.64 ​$64.57 ​$48.33
​7 to 14 days ​$19.72 ​$12.12 ​$7.79
​14+ ​$12.27 ​$8.92 ​$5.47
Table: Average PCB Vendor Costs.

When we calculate the cost of a third-party board, we use this chart as a price reference by looking at the user's input delivery time and layer count and multiplying it by the size and layer count. 

It showed us how greatly pricing was impacted by delivery time and the layer counts. No one was surprised by the delivery time, but it was fascinating to note that the price didn't always decrease if one ordered a board with additional layers. Due to the manufacturer having to drill and plate more vias, a one-square-inch board may cost twice as much as a single-layer board. (See our page on how PCB vendors build boards here.)

In addition, many vendors do not even allow for choosing certain material(s), for example, Kapton (Flexible Polymide), where flexible electronics are becoming an integral part of hardware design in the market. Vendors who do, charge extremely high prices for their rigid counterparts where custom quotations are sent to the customers.

BotFactory’s cost estimations

Using BotFactory’s technology means you will not have to deal with PCB vendors. The result is significant reductions in every aspect of the project development cycle. What would usually take weeks to get a delivery is reduced to a day and does not involve the administration hassle anymore, even with the most complex designs. You could have a single square inch of print in less than 15 mins.
Also, the time provided above is considered "worst case" because they were computed by doubling the volume of ink required to create a solid silver trace (similar to a pour). In these calculations, we find the savings in producing a board using an SV2. These savings can be used to calculate the payback period of your investment.

Additional notes

Comparing BotFactory’s printing technology to an assembly line is quite unusual and challenging since, primarily, an assembly house does not usually perform prototyping runs for a single board. This is because of the expensive and extensive setup costs for an assembly service, where the output of creating one board is equivalent to the cost of roughly 20 boards. We concluded that our calculator would work just fine with a single average price for an assembly run because the costs and delivery times between vendors varied so widely. BotFactory has relied on assembly houses for boards previously; however, the majority of the cost was not in the wait time or the assembly expenses, but rather in the time spent communicating with the assembly house to make sure that the design was formatted properly, the Bill of Materials was complete, etc. Using SV2 to do dry runs to ensure that the board was assembled correctly is an important step to ensuring that each diode and connector is placed correctly. 

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