From ideation to producing a machined prototype
s any entrepreneur will tell you, every business starts with an idea. And to separate out the good from the bad, it really comes down to building the product and putting it through a rigorous round of testing.
Herein lies one of the biggest major roadblocks: finding and sourcing the many miscellaneous bits and pieces necessary to put something that accurately resembles and reflects your idea.
Some get lucky scouring auction sites, the web at large, or even local hardware and specialty stores.
But even if this were the case, as you piece your prototype together, it dawns on you that in order to put it together you not only need custom parts—in order to have a scalable and sellable product in the long run, you need to build something that can be easily replicated and mass-produced by machines. In other words, you need custom machining services.
Going back to the Garage
The reason why so many small businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them are bootstrap operations running out of their garage is not only to save money. This idea, this creation that we have been dreaming of and working on, is our baby. We feel responsible for creating a product that is made to the highest standards until we can trust someone else to take over that part of the process.
Entrepreneurs who have the necessary business capital may choose to do the work in house, effectively becoming their own prototype machine shop. This gives us greater control, allows us to quickly respond to customers, and it ensures the security of proprietary product information.
But working in house is not for everyone. Entrepreneurs who choose to do their own work in house hold all of the responsibility of ensuring that their machines run smoothly and that the product turns out as promised.
Then there are the financial considerations to product innovation. If you need precision machining and custom metal products of varying complexity on a very frequent basis, then in house may work for you in the long run. But if you only have an intermittent need for these parts, it likely won't make financial sense for you to invest in your very own machining operation, as industrial metal finishing is anything but cheap.
The growth of your company is another important factor. As most entrepreneurs get deeper into the process, it often becomes clear that outsourcing at least some of the custom manufacturing production process is absolutely necessary if you hope to scale—both efficiently and economically-speaking. But if you attempt to hire a local custom manufacturer, three points will become painfully apparent:
- Hiring an onshore manufacturer currently costs a fortune.
- Custom orders require a substantial minimum order (sometimes around ten thousand pieces or more).
- Most manufacturers simply do not cater to small-scale production.
Outsourcing Your Operations Abroad
After chatting with other entrepreneurs you'd likely hear that the answer to your production woes lies in sourcing abroad. Not only are these factories able to accommodate smaller orders, they say, but it is also less expensive.
But sourcing abroad comes at a steep "price."
If you do not already have an “in” with someone in the industry, it can be very difficult to get a good deal on production. There can be language barriers, importing headaches, and time delays (for instance, did you know that in many factories in China, for example,production grinds to a halt for a full six weeks during Chinese New Year)?
Then there are security concerns. You need to trust that the manufacturer will not steal your idea and produce sophisticated copycats that will trump your invention before you go to market. This not only means negotiating a complicated contract with the manufacturer (which can be difficult because of the above reasons, not to mention very difficult to enforce offshore), but also, it may mean finding a custom manufacturer which can house some parts of product production in segregated cells within the facility.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you have the issue of quality control. Being thousands of miles away from the factory means having no direct involvement in production. All too many entrepreneurs have eagerly torn open boxes from FedEx or UPS from their manufacturer only to find poorly designed and inadequately assembled products in the box.
Where to Turn?
As we've seen, making your own product at home is often not sustainable. But neither are you willing to put the “life” of your idea into the hands of an unknown faceless factory thousands of miles away.
And so, here's where so many simply give up, or perhaps sell their idea to others—with access to their own custom machine shop—far before it really has a chance to fetch an adequate return.
But it doesn't have to be that way...
Aprototype - Low Volume Prototyping and Machined Parts for Product Innovation
It's in having come across countless examples of brilliant entrepreneurs, small businesses, and product innovators facing this gloomy and seemingly insurmountable predicament that we created Aprototype.
With offices both onshore and abroad, Aprototype is able to accommodate the unique demands of entrepreneurs, while providing complete transparency, security, and control throughout the entire manufacturing process. Aprototype is here to provide entrepreneurs, small businesses, and product innovators high quality and reasonably-priced machining services so that equipment and product innovation is more cost effective.
Interested in precision machining and advanced finishing methods? Read our next post.