In my opinion, here’s where these types of machines fit into the prototyping/small run manufacturing process:
Quickturn PCB makers like OshPark are amazing. I use them all the time. But there are two problems I find with relying on them solely-
- It takes time for them to turn around a board
- You pay for it first, then wait for it to be fabbed and shipped, then get to test it and figure out all the mistakes you made.
While the cycle times are fairly quick, I find that I am out time and money, and if a board requires 2, 3, 4 revisions that can all add up really quickly.
I use my X-Carve to work out all my mistakes, iterate through various versions of the board, check footprints and routing and component placement, in the same workshop that I design my boards in. I then produce a fully functioning & accurate board, sometimes a few of them. I use those functional boards to then design my enclosures around, work out the firmware, user testing, etc.
Then, when everything is set and I’m ready to scale up to ~100+ of something, I call up a board house and get a bunch made. At that point, I know my designs are ready to go and I’ve worked out all the errors and bugs. I can then spend money getting professional boards produced and know that it’s money well spent.
What’s the downside of this? I had to spend the money up front to get the machine. I had to learn how to use it. I had to get the special PCB milling bits and the copper board blanks. And I worked out a quick process to mill out a board.
What I get in return is that errors and bad design choices cost me $2 and an hour, rather than $40-100 and two weeks. I can work through 3-4 iterations of a board in a single evening if no one bothers me.
And then I can use the same machine to cut a custom acrylic faceplate for the controls, then a wooden box with tabbed slots and cutouts for the external connectors and put it all together. In a single evening.