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:
- Patent Cost: Understanding Patent Attorney Fees Apr 18 2015
- US Patent Office Fees Apr 11 2015
- The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US Apr 04 2015
- An Inventor’s Guide to Being Taken Seriously by Patent Attorneys Mar 28 2015
- Enablement – Did the public receive all it contracted to receive? Mar 07 2015
- Provisional patents are like chicken soup, good for everybody Feb 24 2015
- Plausibly estimating the market for your invention Feb 14 2015
- The Business Responsible Approach to Patents and Inventing Feb 07 2015
- A beginner’s guide to patents and the patent process Jan 31 2015
- Every invention starts with an idea Jan 24 2015
- Patent Drafting: Identifying the Patentable Feature Jan 17 2015
- Patent Drafting: Thinking outside the box leads to the best patent Jan 03 2015
- Patent Pro Bono Program and Micro Entity Status Dec 27 2014
- How to Know When You’re Ready to File a Nonprovisional Patent Application Nov 08 2014
- Are you Ready to File a Provisional Patent Application? Oct 25 2014
- The Importance of Keeping an Expansive View of the Invention Oct 18 2014
- Why Inventors Should Not Rely On Their Own Search Oct 11 2014
- Patent Drafting: Ambiguity and Assumptions are the Enemy Sep 27 2014
- A Conversation with New UIA Executive Director John Calvert Sep 13 2014
- Patent Drafting: Appropriately Disclosing Your Invention Aug 30 2014
- Getting Your Invention to Market: Licensing vs. Manufacturing Aug 16 2014
- How to Describe an Invention in a Patent Application Aug 09 2014
- Patent Drawings 101: The Way to Better Patent Applications Aug 02 2014
- How Long Does a Patent Last? Jul 26 2014
- What is Intellectual Property? Jul 19 2014
- Understanding Patent Claims Jul 12 2014
- Different Types of U.S. Patent Applications Jul 05 2014
- Utility Patent Applications – Content and Substance Jun 28 2014
- The Patent Process on a Tight But Realistic Budget Jun 14 2014
- The Risk of Not Immediately Filing a Patent Application Jun 07 2014
- Patent Drafting: Top 5 Critical Things to Remember May 31 2014
- Obtaining Exclusive Rights for Your Invention in the United States May 24 2014
- Patent Drafting: Not as Easy as You Think May 17 2014
- Completely Describe Your Invention in a Patent Application May 10 2014
- The Successful Inventor: Patenting Improvements May 03 2014
- The Trade Secret Value Proposition: The Secrecy Requirement Apr 19 2014
- Q & A: File a Patent Application Before Market Evaluation? Apr 05 2014
- An Overview of the U.S. Patent Process Mar 15 2014
- Design Patent Infringement: How to decide if you should sue Mar 01 2014
- Protecting Ideas: Can Ideas Be Protected or Patented? Feb 15 2014
- Why Do You Want a Patent? Feb 08 2014
- When is an Invention Obvious? Feb 01 2014
- How to Find Valuable Invention Services Jan 18 2014
- A Better Mouse Trap: Patents and the Road to Riches Dec 21 2013
- I Can’t Find Prior Art for My Invention Dec 14 2013
- Keep Your Money In Your Wallet Until Proof of Concept Nov 23 2013
- Justified Paranoia: Confidentiality Before and After Patent Filings Nov 16 2013
- Choices for Inventors: Financial Arrangements Nov 09 2013
- Choices for Inventors Needing to Raise Money: Sources of Capital Nov 02 2013
- Choices for Inventors: Commercial Possibilities of Invention Oct 25 2013