Know Your Climate has embarked on setting up India’s first network of citizen-owned weather stations around the city of Bangalore. Each weather station costs about 35,000 rupees, and a frequently-asked question is why a weather station costs so much. It’s a question that we at Know Your Climate were asking back in 2013.
Rajeev Jha of Yuktix Technologies, KYC’s technology partner, answers. This is the second of a two-part series. [Read Part 1 here.]
In the first part of my explanation of why you cannot build a good automated weather station with $50, I talked of various components which cost more than that. Here I will be elaborating on other reasons that influence the cost of professional-grade devices – the remaining three of seven broad reasons.
At Yuktix, we have to ensure continued supply of weather stations. People can do one-off favours and customisations for cheap, but running production batches repeatedly needs good quality components that are tried, tested and readily available from distributors. This can cost significantly more.
There’s the tyranny of the “MOQ”, the minimum order quantity. If you have budget to make large number of weather stations, say a few thousand, then the whole supply chain will give you deep discounts. Everything from manufacturing to assembly to shipping to testing becomes cheaper per unit. You can afford to get components directly from the supplier instead of using a distributor. Large MOQs also allows you to approach quality vendors who otherwise would never talk to you. Setting up machines take time and no one wants to invest time in you unless you can guarantee good numbers. As a simple example, take fabrication of a metal plate. The vendor with the right machine will never do 10 units. He would like MOQ to be at least a batch in size — which could be a 100 or more units.
Short quantities mean that one has to pay a premium for good components, as well as put up with a high cost of discovery. The only alternative is a compromise on quality.
Sixth, there’s the related cost of a generic design, related to the MOQ challenge. Managing different ‘Bill of Materials’ (BOM) is difficult for a startup. Getting one design into the market can sap out the funds and you cannot afford to keep going back to drawing board. The next best thing is to do a generic design that you can adapt to different needs in order to make money. However that also means an escalation in costs. As an example we can do a citizen weather station on cheaper PIC18F-type 40-pin chips. However same board will not work for a professional version. Hence we use a 100-pin chip that costs 1600 rupees instead of 150 rupees. The power supply story is similar: if you have the numbers, you can make designs optimised for a solar, battery, or adapter based designs. However doing a generic design that can work with Solar or Li=ion batteries or AC power means more costs again.
Finally, there are labour costs involved in assembly, installation and maintenance of the weather stations. DIY assumes your own labour to be free, and unfortunately we are unable to do that at our fledgling startup.
Rajeev Jha is the founder of Yuktix Technologies, Know Your Climate’s technology partner for the Citizen Weather Network.