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:
- Patenting business methods and software still requires concrete and tangible descriptions
- Describing an Invention in a Patent Application
- When should you do a Patent Search?
- Design Patents 101 – Protecting Appearance Not Function
- The Top 5 Mistakes Inventors make with their Invention
- Patent Searching 101: A Patent Search Tutorial
- Freedom to Operate: Knowing if you will likely infringe a patent
- Patent Drawings and Invention Illustrations, What do you Need?
- The Key to Drafting an Excellent Patent – Alternatives
- Patent Strategy: Building a patent portfolio with meaningful rights
- Patent Strategy: Laying the Foundation for Business Success
- When Should a Do It Yourself Inventor Seek Patent Assistance?
- Patent Cost: Understanding Patent Attorney Fees
- US Patent Office Fees
- The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US
- An Inventor’s Guide to Being Taken Seriously by Patent Attorneys
- Enablement – Did the public receive all it contracted to receive?
- Provisional patents are like chicken soup, good for everybody
- Plausibly estimating the market for your invention
- The Business Responsible Approach to Patents and Inventing
- A beginner’s guide to patents and the patent process
- Every invention starts with an idea
- Patent Drafting: Identifying the Patentable Feature
- Patent Drafting: Thinking outside the box leads to the best patent
- Patent Pro Bono Program and Micro Entity Status
- How to Know When You’re Ready to File a Nonprovisional Patent Application
- Are you Ready to File a Provisional Patent Application?
- The Importance of Keeping an Expansive View of the Invention
- Why Inventors Should Not Rely On Their Own Search
- Patent Drafting: Ambiguity and Assumptions are the Enemy
- A Conversation with New UIA Executive Director John Calvert
- Patent Drafting: Appropriately Disclosing Your Invention
- Getting Your Invention to Market: Licensing vs. Manufacturing
- How to Describe an Invention in a Patent Application
- Patent Drawings 101: The Way to Better Patent Applications
- How Long Does a Patent Last?
- What is Intellectual Property?
- Understanding Patent Claims
- Different Types of U.S. Patent Applications
- Utility Patent Applications – Content and Substance
- Moving from Idea to Patent – When Do You Have an Invention?
- The Patent Process on a Tight But Realistic Budget
- The Risk of Not Immediately Filing a Patent Application
- Patent Drafting: Top 5 Critical Things to Remember
- Obtaining Exclusive Rights for Your Invention in the United States
- Patent Drafting: Not as Easy as You Think
- Completely Describe Your Invention in a Patent Application
- The Successful Inventor: Patenting Improvements
- The Trade Secret Value Proposition: The Secrecy Requirement
- Q & A: File a Patent Application Before Market Evaluation?