Manual Or Machine PCB Prototype
When you are building a complete embedded system with tiny pitch footprint and hundreds of components, you know there is no choice but to choose a machine PCB prototype. Trying to make such a complex PCB manually is meaningless. However, when you design a simple PCB layout, cost, quality, and lead times may make prototype a difficult decision.
Simple through-hole PCBs with less than 20 components may appear to be cost-effective when hand-made and assembled. After all purchasing blank PCB and manufacturing materials can be easily done. The etching process is a matter of mixing the right solution and getting the right time. It may take a couple of attempt for the inexperienced before getting the PCB etched properly.
Though the etching process may seem simple, drilling holes on a PCB, even with a simple PCB layout, can be a more tedious process. You may need to use different size drill bits for all the holes in the PCB. In addition, you also need to manually weld a conductive wire across vias to complete the connection. At the end of the day, labor costs may outweigh the material's low cost.
On the other hand, machine prototypes require higher setup costs and may require a minimum order quantity per order. This may be relatively expensive for a simple PCB layout. However, the quality of a machine PCB is better than that of a hand-etched one. The assembly process is certainly much faster then.
All in all, you need to think about the whole picture before deciding whether to apply a manual prototype or to outsource to a supplier who does machine prototype. If the labor costs of internal technicians are very low, then it may be reasonable to manually PCB prototype. Otherwise, finding someone to do this job is better than sacrificing the design team's valuable time.