Prototyping has long been a challenge for innovators looking to create new electronic devices with printed circuit boards. For years, the market catered only to large scale producers who weren’t concerned about long lead times and who had enormous budgets. Times have changed and many people are able to design PCBs. There are also new approaches, like Kickstarter, for bringing products to market.
To serve this new demand, a new type of prototyping manufacturing service has been born. The top-tier service providers have applied a modern approach to prototype manufacturing that relies on a sophisticated cloud-based software platform and state-of-the art manufacturing methods.
Gone are the old days of expensive, slow, and complicated prototyping projects. Instead, you can expect a seamless experience that puts you in the driver’s seat and ensures you’ll get the support you need until your product is perfect. In fact, the best services provide end-to-end support from producing your prototype, to assembling your production product, and all the way to delivery to your customer. Of course, that’s only true if you pick a partner that can really deliver. Here’s what you should look for.
This list may cover some services that you don’t need right now. It is still a good idea to add them to your checklist of requirements. That way, you’ll know that your partner can support you as your needs change over time.
Before the rise of this new generation of prototyping manufacturers, designers would have to wait days or even weeks and suffer through a protracted email or phone call exchange just to get a quote. Fortunately, that’s a thing of the past. Today, you can expect to get your prototype quote immediately after uploading your design documents and Bill of Materials to the vendor’s online portal. You can even expect to see what pricing will look like at scale.
Old fashioned manufacturers are notoriously hostile to prototyping orders. They have good reason to be. It is difficult to profitably produce prototypes under the old model, so vendors had to charge a fortune for this kind of work. For the new breed of manufacturing service providers, this is no longer the case. Prototype orders can now be bundled with production runs to keep costs down across the board. This type of vendor is delighted to have your prototype order.
Although your partner will do most of the heavy lifting, you should have complete transparency into the status of your project. This requires online tools that let you upload relevant documents, manage changes, and report on the status of your order whenever you like on the device of your choice.
Although offshore manufacturing was traditionally less expensive than work done in the United States, it has always added a level of complexity, unnecessary delays, and a certain amount of risk. Technology breakthroughs have made it possible for American manufacturers of electronic components and devices to keep prices competitive with their offshore counterparts. You can keep your project here at home without unreasonable cost.
One of the reasons that prototyping is so expensive is that you obviously won’t be buying components in bulk. Some manufacturers realize that this puts prototypers at a disadvantage and have developed a program called “House Parts” to help. The service provider buys large quantities of popular parts and makes them available to their entire customer base. This allows them to offer discounts to you.
You are probably focused on your prototype right now, but it is smart to keep your eye on the big picture and pick a partner that can handle an order of one or ten thousand. That way, you won’t have to change horses midstream as your production needs grow.
Speaking of the ability to scale, look for a partner that not only can expand the number of items you order, but can also expand the types of services you need. For now, perhaps a simple prototype will do, but over time, you may also want inventory management, and fulfillment services. You may even want to integrate the manufacturer’s software platform with your own ecommerce site or ERP so that getting products into the hands of your customers is a piece of cake.
When the old ways of doing something don’t meet today’s needs, a new approach must arise. In the case of prototype manufacturing, it certainly has. The combination of fresh thinking and powerful technology gives your service providers new ways of meeting your needs and accelerating your product lifecycle.
When you find a prototyping manufacturing partner that meets every standard on this list, you’ll be ready to take the first step to establishing a relationship that will serve you well now and into the future.