The more I look, the more I see you are correct. I'm not brave enough to buy a used machine, because I certainly can't afford to fork over a bunch of cash, then have it not pan out.
My latest guesstimate is $40K ~ $50K for the cheapest pick-and-place that is likely to work reliably. I went to look at a couple in town, and they don't even build PCBs with BGAs, because they have too much trouble, and they need to repair a fair percentage of the parts in QFN packages. And their machine cost well over $50K apparently (not sure that includes all the extra component reels they need). Apparently you can pay more for reels than the pick-and-place machine! Crazy! And they said they have a fair amount of trouble, need to tweak and such fairly often. I don't like the sound of that.
Clearly when it comes time to fork out $50K+ for an automatic pick-and-place machine, I must do lots of checking to see which are most reliable and troublefree. So far I kind of like the products at http://www.apsgold.com
, but "what do I know" (answer: not much).
I've had a terrible time getting VERY basic information about important issues like precision, reliability, and so forth. The few places that I've talked to that assemble their own PCBs have no idea whether their troubles are mostly caused when the solder-paste is applied, when the parts are placed, or when the PCBs are in the reflow oven!
Also, I've been unable to learn what percentage of scrap to expect if I have my production done by an assembly house that does nothing but assemble PCBs. Everyone I talk to has a wildly different story! I was originally planning to have my PCBs assembled by some chinese company, but I've heard so many horror stories of so many kinds, I'm getting more and more inclined to handle everything myself, where I can make sure quality control is taken seriously, and careless work is not tolerated.