Licensing your invention is a lot easier if you can show that it’s selling. That means you have to produce a small quantity of your product. Nice idea – until you learn that a plastic injection mold costs $25,000.
Now what? Fortunately, there are options. You just have to know where to look.
Small-quantity manufacturing lies between rapid prototyping processes and volume production. To discover the processes in the low- to mid-quantity range, visit www.jobshop.com. Also search —job shop shows — on Google.com for contract manufacturers, there were about 1,000 references last time I looked.
Attend the shows in your area; talk with vendors. Always ask about the most practical quantity range for your project.
Also ask about the best process for quantities above that range and below it. This research will take some time. But it could save you thousands of dollars and dramatically reduce your losses if you decide to abandon your venture.
Tooling for small production runs has a lower cost than tooling for volume production. The catch is that as the tooling investment drops, the cost per unit increases. (This is true even if you use aluminum molds. You can machine aluminum much faster than you can steel and can reduce cost by as much as 75 percent.)
Suppose you only want 200 parts for market testing – a good strategy if you hope to license and pass the mold cost on to your licensee. You could have the part machined in a computer-driven machining center.
Your tooling in most cases consists of a special drill or reamer, and the program to run the machine. If you already have 3D computer-aided drawings, their digital information can be amended for the machining program at a cost of a couple hundred dollars or less.
Your part cost, however, might be $2.50 per unit, compared with maybe 30 cents for a molded part. Still, 200 pieces for a total of $700 for tooling and parts may prove a wise test investment. If your part is a stamped and formed sheet metal piece, the same principle is true.
Rather than invest several thousand dollars in a stamping and forming die-set, you can have the blank shape cut by either laser or abrasive water jet, and the bending done on a press brake.
Again, the digital information from your drawings will control the machining. A limited run of stamped parts will cost dollars, rather than pennies, just as they did for the plastic injection molded parts.
You may be tempted to produce limited runs offshore. The same mold that you’d make in the United States may cost half as much in China. However, that gap is beginning to close. The cost of the molded parts won’t be a proportionate bargain.
Add import tariffs, ocean transportation costs and the nightmare of quality control, and the savings may evaporate or turn negative.
If you intend to produce and market your invention on your own, it usually makes sense to test the market before investing in the volume-production tooling. But price the product as though you had been making it with the volume tooling.
Will you lose money? Probably.
Thomas Edison sold his first light bulbs for far less than their cost to launch his system of power generation and lighting. Remember, your objective in the early stage is to prove that you have a market, not to make a profit.
For more information on this and related topics please see:
- How to Write a Patent Application
- Patent Applications 101: Drawings Really Should be Required
- Understanding Substitutes: Is your invention desirable to consumers?
- Filing a patent application is still a smart decision for inventors
- Inventorship 101: Who are Inventors and Joint Inventors?
- Admissions as Prior Art in a Patent: What they are and why you need to avoid them
- Provisional Applications: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Patent Search 101: Why US Patent Searches are Critically Important
- 10 Critical Pieces of Advice for Inventors
- What is a Confidentiality Agreement and Why are they So Important?
- Patent Drafting: The most valuable patent focuses on structural uniqueness of an invention
- Patent Drafting: Proving You’re in Possession of the Invention
- Patent Drafting: Understanding the Enablement Requirement
- There is no such thing as a provisional patent
- Patent Drafting 101: Say What You Mean in a Patent Application
- 5 Tips for Inventors: Meeting with a Patent Attorney
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- Patent Searches: A Great Opportunity for Inventors to Focus on What is Unique
- Should I File a Patent Application Before Licensing the Invention?
- Turning Your Idea into an Invention
- Learning from common patent application mistakes by inventors
- Why Patent Attorneys Don’t Work on Contingency
- Patentability: The Adequate Description Requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112
- Patentability: The Nonobviousness Requirement of 35 U.S.C. 103
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- Patentability Overview: When can an Invention be Patented?
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- Defining Computer Related Inventions in a post-Alice World
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- Do You Need a Patent?
- Inventing Strategy 101: Laying the Foundation for Business Success
- Debunking the Myth that Patents Create a Monopoly
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- Patent Drafting for Beginners: The anatomy of a patent claim
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- Patent Drafting for Beginners: A prelude to patent claim drafting
- The Inventors’ Dilemma: Drafting your own patent application when you lack funds
- The Inventor’s Patent Dilemma: Beware the many pitfalls waiting to trip up the unwary
- Provisional Patent Applications the Right Way, the Wal-Mart Way