Going from Startup Prototype to Mass Production

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Developing a working prototype from an original product idea is a great accomplishment, representing a lot of design planning, testing, and research in most cases. However, the barriers to entry for developing a new product are gradually breaking down. On Autodesk’s Line//Shape//Space, the following statement and question are presented: “Easy access to design software, 3D printers, and crowdfunding has changed the game for anyone with a great sketch on a napkin wanting to make a serious go of a product idea. But what does it mean to take that awesome prototype into production?”

Today’s inventors can now drastically reduce the amount of time required when taking a new product from prototype to production. The DIY/tech-influenced Maker Movement, which has sprung up over the past few years and quickly gained acceptance, has grown extremely popular in recent years, even receiving a stamp of approval from President Barack Obama. Manufacturing is no longer the realm of private companies, but of the inventors themselves. This monumental shift in thinking is a positive change for the makers as well as society at large. Conservative estimates indicate that inventors who are heavily involved in manufacturing their own product contribute $29 billion annually to the national economy.

Resources for Instant Scale Production

In recent years, several online organizations have come along offering innovators the opportunity to move to mass production quickly and affordably. More importantly, these companies allow start-ups to do so without having to make concessions regarding the customization of their products.

Maker’s Row, which is based out of Brooklyn, New York, is a perfect example. The company contracts with 3,000 manufacturers in the home decor and apparel industries and places their offerings into a catalog. For a small fee, individual designers and small companies can gain access to the databases of manufacturers affiliated with Maker’s Row. After reviewing the listings, entrepreneurs are free to contact a manufacturing company to discuss the steps involved to mass-produce their product. The platform simplifies the entire process by offering instant photo and video sharing.

The organization Brite Hub takes a slightly different approach. It allows product makers to connect with manufacturers with its Request for Quote (RFQ) service. With the RFQ, inventors can list everything they are searching for in a manufacturing partner. This may include the location of production, design specifications, and the types of materials they desire to use. According to Intel’s tech-culture magazine, IQ, “For $19.99, entrepreneurs create an RFQ, which details everything from the preferred location of production to materials and design specifications.”

Yet another new approach to decreasing the time between prototype and production is to offer makers the opportunity to access a worldwide network of 3D printers. Companies like 3D Hubs connect makers with local organizations willing to rent their 3D printers for a nominal fee. This service helps the owners of the 3D printers recoup some costs of operating them while inventors can shave several days off their production schedule.

Negotiate Smart to Keep Production Costs Down

Minimum order requirements are an important consideration with any manufacturing partner. Start-up companies without a lot of working capital need to find a manufacturer that is willing to offer at least some flexibility in this area. Producing thousands of units of the new product isn’t necessarily a good choice, especially when there has been no opportunity to measure consumer demand for it yet.

Criterion to evaluate when selecting a manufacturing partner should include the following:

  • Tooling costs
  • Minimum order requirements
  • Shipping costs
  • Estimated production time
  • Total time to reach distributor

All manufacturing companies require an initial deposit before fulfilling a production request. The individual or group of inventors should be prepared to put down approximately one-third of the total order price upfront and the remainder prior to shipment. For companies with a limited budget, the ability to negotiate by even a few percentage points can make a big different in the bottom line. Whenever possible, someone from the original invention team should inspect the final product before it ships to ensure that it meets expectations.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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