We've talked about 3D printing your product prototype and how with the right team and software, you can do it yourself! However, when you need to mass produce your prototype, it's time to check out your options.
Prototyping and manufacturing your new product are two key steps in the process of going from idea to selling-and-shipping. For entrepreneurs, startups and small vendors, a likely option will be to outsource.
The process of finding, vetting and selecting a manufacturer, however, can be daunting and fraught:
- You have to check compliance certifications relative to your target industry and geographic markets.
- You then need to compare pricing, timing and availability relative to your target schedule.
- You also need to make sure the manufacturer you're looking can mass produce your prototype.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, one of the companies looking to reduce startup stress is Fictiv. Founded in 2013, Fictiv has built a geographically distributed network of manufacturing partners.
Fictiv's prototyping-through-production services helps engineers, designers, creators, startups, and major companies. Customers range from next-generation electric toothbrush creator Quip to wearables creator Joy, and even Ford and NASA.
Why Fictiv is Great for Startups
Fictiv pre-qualifies manufacturers before adding them to its partners list. Currently, Fictiv has 200+ pre-qualified partners in the United States and China, offering a variety of services, including:
- CNC machining
- Injection molding
- 3D printing
- Urethane casting
Fictiv is great for startups because you don't have to look for -- or vet -- providers. Instead, Fictiv analyzes the project requirements and selects the right manufacturer based on capabilities and available capacity. All the customer does is provide the preferred lead time.
Fictiv’s software doesn’t just connect customers to manufacturers – it also helps you through the process, including:
- Uploading native CAD and 2D drawings
- DFM (Designed For Manufacturing) feedback
- Order tracking.
Rapid iteration is essential for prototyping, particularly for brand new product concepts. Bill May, Quip Co-founder and COO, explains how Fictiv helped Quip:
Getting high fidelity 3D prints from Fictiv turned around the next day through their online portal was really critical to validating our design decisions. They were able to get that mold up and running within three to four weeks, whereas our other partners were taking six, eight weeks just to get first-off tool parts.
Fictiv provides support prototyping at all stages of the development process, from quick-turn 3D printing and precise CNC parts, to Urethane Casting and Rapid Injection Molding for part validation, Engineering Validation Test (EVT), and, if desired, “bridge manufacturing.”
*Note: Bridge-to-production low volume manufacturing is a relatively new stage in the prototype-to-production path, using new prototyping methods and tools to reduce time, cost and complexity for this stage. As the name suggests, it can provide an intermediary between individual prototype instances and ramping up to volume manufacturing, making enough units for more checking and testing.
At startups, product engineers wear many hats. In fact, it's most likely that product engineers and designers have to become project managers and supply chain experts in addition to their jobs. Often, they are responsible for sourcing local manufacturers, managing relationships, and then asked to travel to manufacturing sites.
"Product companies who successfully bring their products to market can end up managing 200 to 500 manufacturing and component partners," explains Dave Evans, CEO of Fictiv. "So finding a manufacturing partner early in the design process to manage supply chains save startups their most valuable resource: time."
And for startups, time is money.
"The combination of intelligent automation and access to Fictiv's manufacturing network shaves months off of traditional volume manufacturing timelines," says Evans. "For example, Fictiv can produce a P20 steel tool capable of molding 100,000 units in just two weeks."
Advice for Startups
If you need to mass produce your product prototype, a solution like Fictiv is something to consider.
"It's worth finding a manufacturing partner who can help you transition between stages of prototyping into ramp and production," says Evans. "A partner to guide you through those transitions is incredibly valuable and can keep you on budget and on time."
For more on prototyping, check out these GrabCAD blog posts & tutorials: