Why You Probably Don't Need Custom Printed Circuit Boards

In the IoT and embedded development industry, there is a belief that custom printed circuit boards make the most sense for large scale deployments. Though there may be value in this for some specialized applications, like in the iPhone, we believe most IoT applications do not require custom boards. Here’s the three reasons you may want to think twice about printing your own circuit boards:

(1) Existing hardware almost certainly covers your needs, is cheap enough, and there’s enough in the market to buy in bulk.

Take Orange Pi Zero as an example. This small, quad-core Linux microcomputer costs $8USD/board, and you can purchase thousands online through AliExpress today. The day has come when existing microcomputers are affordable and available at scale.

Most commercial uses of IoT that require a tiny footprint and low-power can also rely on existing Arduino and firmware-based microcomputers.

(2) Quality control costs are extremely high and development timelines are long for custom boards. To get to deployment at scale, expect to invest 12-18 months of full-time work.

(3) Most custom boards have long learning curves, since operating systems and drivers are also custom. This means hiring developers to interact with these boards means investing in their education as well.

Overall, we believe that existing hardware options are affordable, and offer good reliability and much better ease of use for developers. We hope as microcomputer prices continue to decrease, more and more of the IoT industry will accept this and build on standardized hardware.