When is a prototype “good enough” to move to the real product?
This is a crucial question, if you ask a developer there could always be time for improvements, if you ask a sales manager it could be already late! My answer is it depends, what matters here is to define the desired level of detail required based on your specific needs. Most of the time a prototype is a milestone in the product development process, meant to be presented to the different stakeholders to show how close you are to a final product. I will use some examples based on my personal experience with the different stakeholders, that I interacted with during my career.
Who are the stakeholders you are presenting your product to?
Do I really need a “final prototype” before the production?
This is a question we hear a lot, especially due to the costs that as seen in the previous stage can easily be around 10 or 20 times more than the expected manufacturing cost of the final product. The difference in price is tightly dependent on the production technologies, if using low investment technologies (CNC, laser, sheet metal bending, thermoforming, etc) for most of the components it will be around 2 to 4 times the production cost.
On the other hand, if our product does require injection molding, forging, or any other high investment technology, then we will have to rely on expensive prototyping technologies and quality finishing.
As a rule of thumb, when using “high investment manufacturing technologies” like injection molding, forging, die-casting aluminum, industrial CNC machining etc., the less expensive will be the single produced item; but it will require to be reproduced many thousands of times to distribute the initial investment costs to be paid off.
This is the reason those technologies are often requiring MOQ (minimum order quantity) of a few thousands up to hundred thousands of units to be manufactured to justify the investment.
Production of serially manufactured objects like consumer electronic devices, sport gear, furniture and kitchen tools are often produced in large quantities from the tenth of thousands to the millions of units. With those large numbers it is absolutely common to invest a few hundred thousands of Euro in manufacturing tools and technologies since those investments will be paid off with a % of each good sold.
This level of industrialization is typically reserved to corporates, that not only have the funds to invest in production, but especially already have a brand awareness and sales network that will let them return the investment as soon as possible. These technologies should be avoided if possible by startups and companies that are manufacturing their first product without a strong foothold in the market.
If you are planning on using “low investment manufacturing technologies” like low volume CNC machining, 3D printing, sheet metal cutting and bending, thermoforming, silicone mold casting etc., the more expensive will be the single item; but there are gonna be virtually no investment costs to distribute and pay off.
Those are the typical technologies used for highly exclusive products made in small series or even single units. They can also be vital for companies looking to “test” a market niche or for a startup launching its first product without wanting to risk heavy investments.
Low investment technologies are not synonyms of low quality at all. Consider that some of the most exclusive niche products are actually made in low volume with some of the most exotic technologies.
“Outsourcing manufacturing for dummies”
Here is a collection of the learning I’ve collected in my years of experience with a myriad of manufacturing companies all over the world from the best Italian craftsman to the industrial steel factories from the American Midwest, passing by one of the best sport good production companies in Taiwan.
If you read this far, you definitely are a curious person, thank you for taking the time. I hope this was well spent time for you, please feel free to reach out.
Adam Savage is a true "rock star" of the maker movement, with this publication he finally shares his vision and approach to the wonderful work of making stuff, sure source of inspiration! You can find even more on his great youtube channel: TESTED
In this weekend read James truly inspired me on dropping my smartphone and run make something with my hands! Totally recommended for a boost of inspiration!