Manufacturing’s Path to a More Efficient Future
Manufacturing and prototyping are the ultimate “black box” of the product development circle. Even for many of us working in the industry, these two processes can be mysterious. We know that both processes start with a design and end with a hopefully functioning product, but they’ve evolved very differently in the tech age.
In the beginning, early prototyping wasn’t so different from manufacturing. Similar tools, materials, and people were needed to put together a prototype or sample. Since the advent of more advanced technologies, prototyping has come a long way. Additive (3D printing) and reductive (CNC milling) prototyping are both more fast and affordable options to get a physical representation of your product concept into your hand, as opposed to building molds to create parts to put together and form a prototype.
This new rapid prototyping technology has spurred a shift in the way the whole sector functions. 3D printing technology has existed for a few decades now, but it is still largely cost prohibitive on an individual basis. That’s why dozens of 3D printing studios and even “printer farms” have popped up to churn out prototypes for you. Fictiv took it one step further and created a local network of printers that can essentially be leased for a project at any given time. This way you can find the printer closest to you that is free exactly when you need it, and you get your prototype faster than hiring one particular printer every time.
Quick and affordable prototyping is powerful and critical for successful product development. You can find examples all over the web and crowdfunding sites that clearly demonstrate this, but our favorite is the story of the Glif.
If you read their story, or that of the first Pebble watch, or hundreds of others, you’ll notice that manufacturing at scale is the biggest sticking point, hassle, expense, and time suck for every first timer. Manufacturing is complicated, difficult and physical, and it hasn’t been able to evolve as quickly as prototyping has.
The physicality and sheer volume that goes along with mass manufacturing is a huge obstacle when it comes to technology solutions and collaboration potential. However, there is a glimmer at the end of the tunnel. Different from marketing, supply chain fulfillment, e-commerce or online payments, which were able to catapult into the digital age, manufacturing is going through a necessary intermediary step.
Companies like Platform 88 are working to bridge the manufacturing industry with the new phase of product brands by leveraging technology alongside a longstanding and deep seated knowledge of and familiarity with factories and the manufacturing processes in China. By connecting the traditional way of manufacturing with burgeoning new tech companies, these connector services are making an integral step in product development not only possible, but also efficient.
The industry is changing in other ways, too. Some manufacturers are taking product development entirely into their own hands, and creating products from open source designs. Like the hoverboards investigated in this Planet Money story from NPR, the products lack any sort of branding.
Manufacturing technology has a ways to go, but it’s also the section of the product development cycle facing the most obstacles. Now is the time to bridge the world of technology and traditional manufacturing best practices. Companies like Fictiv, Platform88, Maker’s Row, and more, are doing their part to move this sector into the future.