Part 4 – NRE’s: The Sneaky Costs.
If you’re building a HW product, you’ve inevitably wondered:
- How much can I sell it for?
- How much money can I make?
In Part 4 of this series, Alan Povall from Product Nimbus breaks down NRE costs. These are often overlooked and can be surprising. Take a read and leave your comments below!
Part 1 – The physical product (the stuff you hold in your hands)
Part 2 – Manufacturing and testing (making the stuff)
Part 3 – Packaging and Shipping (sending the stuff)
Part 4 – NREs (hidden costs that can sneak up on you)
Part 5 – Profit (everyone’s favourite!)
Here’s one I love because so many people overlook it. NREs (Non-Recurring Engineering / Expense) usually come from four main places:
Design & development costs:
Electronics, software, industrial design, mechanical tests, IP, prototypes, user research, the works. Everything it cost you (or will cost you) to get a fully manufacturable design, but isn’t part of the physical per-unit cost itself.
Manufacturing set up:
Essentially the cost to get everything up and running for manufacturing, which is typically a flat fee from the manufacturer (depending on how well organized you are). It includes reviewing design files (if you have a good CM), setting up pick & place machines, getting stencils made and more. Typically put this value at $3,000 – $5,000 for a Western manufacturer, although it depends on the agreed upon conditions (e.g. it could be rolled it into the per-unit cost and tied to order volumes). There is often also a smaller per-batch set up fee (to get SMT reels loaded, stencils ready, AOI files loaded, etc).
FCC, UL, CE, FDA, Ex, etc all add up and vary depending on your product as well as the category it falls under, whether it is designated as a medical device, has RF transmitting capabilities and more. Standard certifications are in the $10k – 20k range if you do them right the first time. If you use pre-approved parts (or go through some of the Asian labs), that cost can be as low as $1,000. Failing the tests and having to resubmit can drive up cost, depending on the certification being pursued. It’s a good idea to start discussions with a certification lab once you have a prototype so you can catch early problems.
Enclosure production cost:
If you are using 3D printing for small volume runs, then one-off costs are less of an issue. However if you are using injection moulding for instance, then the cost of having the mould created can be significant and needs to be taken into account. Depending on the actual mould complexity and where you get them made, these can range anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000 (or more).
You may need some sort of test fixture in order to carry out functional tests to ensure that the electronics (and mechanical bits) of your product are working before putting everything into a box to ship. These can range from simple manually operated fixtures which take a few hundred dollars (or less) to create, through to complex ATEs (Automated Test Equipment) which are essentially a full product in their own right. ATEs can range anywhere from $15,000 – $50,000 (yes, really), depending, yet again on product complexity. The more complex a product is the longer manual testing will take, which means that as volume increases there will be a crossover point where manual labour becomes more expensive than creating and using an ATE.
The Key to Remember:
These costs need to be recouped throughout production (preferably sooner rather than later), and so need to be split across the anticipated production volumes. If your total development, manufacturing, enclosure and test fixture NREs are $250,000 (hypothetically) and your anticipated annual volume is 10,000 units, the amortized NRE cost as a per unit cost would be $25 per unit ($250,000 ÷ 10,000) on top of the other per unit manufacturing costs we’ve mentioned already. Naturally you could spread this over 2 or even 3 years (although that would be pushing it a bit), which would reduce the per unit cost to $12.5 and $8.33 respectively, depending on the accuracy of your sales projections (pro tip: they don’t climb exponentially).
Alan Povall is the Founder of Product Nimbus, which provides business resources for hardware tech start ups. Alan’s been involved with heavily in product development for over 7 years as part of an international HW design consultancy. He now works with aspiring entrepreneurs, start ups and even the odd charity to get their product ideas off paper and into the wild.