"One Perfect Part at a Time"

What will it cost to make this for me?

I receive requests from designers and people with ideas asking if I can make something for them. Most of the time I say no, because I have enough projects of my own on which I would like to be working. There are also some designs that are beyond my means, usually because it is too large or requires special tooling and materials. (I wish I could charge the designer for the new tools!!)  Some if not most of the designs also suffer from knowledge of how things are made on machine tools. The sketches and drawings show holes where they can’t be drilled or unnecessary and difficult areas requiring multiple setups.

These requests show that there is a need for prototyping services and these inventors and idea people have problems turning their ideas into products.

But prototyping is not as simple as sending out an unproven design for bids. (Yes, I know it is done.) But I am talking about solicitations from hobbyist and small time inventors who have never worked with a prototype or even in a machine shop. A good design is one that can also be made as inexpensively as possible on standard machines and tooling. That seldom happens on the version #1.

What I am saying is the folks who approach me don’t realize their design may need a lot of cooperation (face time) between the designer and the maker. Of course I am not talking about a bar of aluminum with two holes drilled into it. The designer can do that himself. I see the hard stuff, like machining threads on a very thin tube and the tube is thinner than the thread depth. (Yes, I have seen this.)

Outsourcing prototyping is not inexpensive. Building a prototype may cost 100 to 1000 times what a design will cost in production.

I imagine a hobbyist with a new retract gear design for a model airplane would drop dead if I quoted $2,000 to build the working prototype and $100/hr for consulting. Time is a BIG part of prototyping cost. Making special tools and fixtures also greatly adds to the cost. So this has to be considered in the design and the time it will take to make the first one.

Many hobbyists wisely choose to do their own prototyping. I sell the small machine tools suitable for such work. The problem may be… the hobbyist will have to develop machining skills by trial and error. So the invention design is only a small part of the item cost, ninety percent if not more is getting the idea built.

I have been in several nuclear science labs at prestigious universities and I was surprised and pleased to see that they have their own fully equipped machine shops. They are used for design and construction of their specialized apparatus for nuclear experiments. The large components they outsource (at very high cost) but a lot of the small chambers, brackets and guides are built by the students in their own machine shop.  The reason is cost and to have the ability to quickly make changes.

The reason I enjoy my hobby is I can do everything for myself. It is called design build in the engineering world. I am free to make changes anytime and in any way I desire. I may throw the whole first start away and start over with an improvement. The hobby is often called model engineering rather than amateur machinist.

The problem is having that freedom when you are working with a customer design and a fixed budget. That $2,000 quote may turn into $4,000 real cost.

 Design, specify, build on a prototype is a very risky for both the designer and the builder. It is also not good for either as the cost goes up. What’s needed is a mutual rather than an adversarial relationship. “You told me you could make it for $25.00. Now you say the real cost is $125.00” is adversarial. No one wins. A designer should never bid a prototype for the lowest cost. No one will be happy at the end.

Competitive bid is the way to go when you are going to make 1000 items all the same and the prototype proves the method of manufacture. The cost to make that fixture for one part is now one thousandth the cost of the prototype.

The person with the $3000 retract gear prototype cost can spread that cost over 1000 items ($3.00/item) If the retracts sell at $300 a set the prototype is 1% of the cost. Yes the prototype cost $3000 to build one but the production unit is priced at $300.00. Those are the facts my friends.

It also shouts out there is no financial reason to custom making something that is already mass produced. A hobbyist may just want to because he can, but that is not a good business decision.

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