Entrepreneur’s Guide to Modular Product Design Costs

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: October 7, 2019  |  Updated: April 5, 2021

Modular product design and manufacturing

Your entrepreneurial journey may feel like this...

There is no greater adrenaline rush than being an entrepreneur. Building your product and crowdfunding it on Kickstarter can be a rollercoaster ride that brings joy, happiness, and some sense of achievement, especially if you get fully funded. When launching a hardware product, you’ll progress through several stages of production, beginning with printed circuit board (PCB) design, testing and redesigns, and ultimately fabrication and board assembly.

If you don’t use the right design methodology and plan for production carefully, it is easy to spend tens of thousands of dollars to bring a product to life. Entrepreneurs with a full view of the cost tradeoffs involved in designing boards from scratch versus creating products with modular product design tools can make the right financial decisions when planning for design and production.

Development Costs

In most cases, the majority of entrepreneurs tend to underestimate the costs of bringing a new product to market, especially for physical (hardware-based) products. There are many costs involved that go beyond the initial draft and creation of CAD drawings for your product. Depending on your skills and experience level, you might consider hiring a service bureau or freelance designer to develop your product.

Hardware Design and Software Design

Hiring an electronics engineer on a freelancing platform can cost you somewhere around $30 to $200 per hour. Depending on the nature of your project, it might take anywhere from 10 to 50 hours or even longer to make your design production ready. This assumes that you already have an electrical schematic that properly describes your design. If the schematic you have is not correct and requires major modifications, expect your design costs to nearly double.

If you’re developing an embedded system and you aren’t a coder, you’ll likely need to hire out for this portion of development as well. These costs can vary within the same range as those mentioned above, depending on the skills and experience of the developer. Web designers are a dime a dozen, but skilled developers with embedded software engineering skills can be difficult to find.

Production Costs

Having your design ready is just the first step; fabricating and assembling the board is the next step. Producing blank PCBs will generally cost less than your design and development budget unless you are producing massive volume. The cost of an unassembled blank PCB is primarily determined by its size and the number of routing layers.

For example, building a Raspberry Pi SBC based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 might require building a board with 4 layers and measuring somewhere around 13.2 cm x 5.67 cm. Using PCBWay for a price estimate, a 4 layer PCB with standard configuration will cost you about $260 for 100 units, or about $1370 for 1000 units (both including shipping). Note that this is just the cost for the board; we haven’t included the approximately $35 per Compute Module 3, as well as the other components your board will need.

Modular product design and manufacturing

Panelization during manufacturing

Bill Of Materials for Assembly

Your bill of materials will contain all the components you need to assemble your board. Depending on the number of components and the level of sophistication of these components, your entire bill may be $50 per board, although this can vary widely. To illustrate this point, some newer fast FPGAs with high pin counts can cost anywhere from a few dollars to over $1000 per unit. You might receive a ~5% discount once your order volume reaches into the hundreds or thousands of units.

Hidden Costs

The above costs are clear-cut, but other costs that were not considered at the outset can quickly add up and deplete your development budget. There will likely be some hidden costs like shipping costs, production errors that reduce yield, and others that could range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Again, these costs depend on volume.

The greatest hidden costs occur when you receive your order of freshly pressed boards, only to find that minor design errors cause your boards to function with substandard performance or not at all. This can quickly derail your entire project and is one reason why designers normally go through several design, test, and build iterations before moving up to mass manufacturing. Even professional engineers can get the design wrong, and the last thing anyone needs is to waste money on a large production run due to a simple design mistake.

Modular Product Design in Upverter

Using Upverter for modular product design allows you to avoid costly PCB design mistakes. This unique drag and drop design platform allows you to quickly create cutting-edge hardware systems with less time and lower development costs. The builder is easy to use, even for relatively new hardware designers, and you can rest assured that your new product will function as you intended.

Modular product design in Geppetto

Upverter’s modular product design interface

Development time and costs in this platform are lower because the electronic connections between different modules at the PCB level are very well defined. You won’t have to recreate them from scratch: Upverter already has this information built-in. Upverter’s turnkey manufacturing solution gives you the assurance you need that your board will come off the assembly line and work as desired.

As an example of the development time and cost savings, building the aforementioned SBC with a Raspberry Pi Compute 3 module in Upverter will take you about 20 minutes, while hiring a freelancer to develop the same board from scratch will take dozens of hours. Going the route of Upverter is undoubtedly going to save you hundreds to thousands on electronics development costs.

Thanks to the modular product design tools in Upverter (previously known as Geppetto), any entrepreneurial engineer can streamline their design and production process. You can quickly create cutting-edge, fully functional modular embedded systems in a browser-based design interface. You can rest assured that your designs will be production ready and adaptable for nearly any application. You’ll also have access to a variety of industry-standard COMs and modules for use in your new product.

Take a look at some Gumstix customer success stories or Contact us today to learn more about our products, design tools, and services.


About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, and the American Physical Society, and he currently serves on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

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