For 30 years, China has been the manufacturing powerhouse that many companies turn to for an expedited order size of one thousand or one million units. It would be almost unthinkable to request a production run of only five or fifty items; that’s where A-ONE’s Prototyping Factory makes it possible.
In 2018, A-ONE had come to realize the need for a prototyping factory after chatting with fellow manufacturing partners and clients. The thought of offering companies prototyping services with the same standards of quality of labor and equipment seemed to be an untouched market. Instead of high-volume and long lead-time, they wanted customized, quick-turn, low-volume prototyping. This request fit an upcoming sea change in the Pearl River Delta (China’s manufacturing hub), where many facilities had excess equipment sitting idle.
A-ONE quickly learned that the manufacturing profit model works equally well when making ten units for $100 as one million units for a tenth of a penny, and even has less risk. Out of that experience, A-ONE’s prototyping division was born.
In the last two years, A-ONE’s prototyping shop has grown from a small team to a large division where they can manufacture any prototype a customer can conceive, out of any material, in as little as 3 days.
Having worked with some of the largest and smallest design firms across the globe, A-ONE has learned the best practices and pitfalls of prototyping manufacturing. When planning to prototype a product, A-ONE recommends to keep these tips in mind:
1. For High-Quality Prototyping, the benefits of an International Prototyping Team will yield better results than a Local 3D Printer
For nearly two decades, 3D printing has been the default mindset to approach a low-cost prototype. Though it is still a viable option for companies to consider, 3D printing doesn’t provide the same level of quality that customers may expect. A-ONE utilizes the capabilities of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining; hand-finished CNC-produced products are generally more detailed, more precise, and more polished than 3D printed products. For both ABS plastic polycarbonate and aluminum, CNC is a much more accurate representation of injection molding (which you’ll ultimately use for mass manufacturing).
That’s not to say 3D printers are useless. 3D printers are very effective for timely, initial conceptual renderings. If you want a $30 prototype in eleven hours, use a local 3D printer. For a minimum viable product or trade show samples, however, A-ONE recommends using a prototyping team. The cost may be higher and the lead time may be longer, but the difference in quality is as noticeable as night-and-day. From A-ONE’s point of view, having a better quality prototype will save a company days of work in improving upon their product and go-to-market.
The key value in our CNC-based prototype production comes from the hand finishing. After the prototype is produced, a small team of expert craftspeople sand-blast or sandpaper it, adding the finishing touches that give it a sparkling look and feel. When our customers take hand-finished prototypes to a trade show, they can receive real responses because the final product feels like an injection-molded, mass manufactured final product. Those finishing touches are incredibly valuable.
2. For Assurance and Understanding of a Prototype, Visit the Prototyping Factory
Over the last twenty-five years, many customers have audited A-ONE for mass manufacturing. If they have extra time, A-ONE invites them to see their prototyping shop. They’re consistently amazed by the level of talent: Expert craftspeople are seen creating high-quality products using many processes including cutting, welding, and polishing. This is not a mindless machine pumping out shapes; this is craftsmanship.
Product designers are much less likely to visit a factory for their prototypes than they are for mass manufacturing. While it’s true in prototype manufacturing that results can speak for themselves, A-ONE’s customers are typically pleased that they put in the due diligence. An initial inspection can show a lot about a facility, which is especially helpful if a company is working with a prototyping team that also does mass production. A-ONE’s prototyping team often discovers elements that affect the final, mass-market design, meaning many of their customers find a big benefit to using a single, high-quality team that they audited at the outset.
Due to international travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, this prevents A-ONE’s clients from visiting at the time of publication. However, in the near f uture, A-ONE is excited to be able to offer that option again. Fortunately, their prototyping work hasn’t been slowed by COVID-19: their production facilities are still operating with the same quality and timeline. Looking forward, they’re optimistic for the possibility to help with this pandemic. They have been often hired to make custom labware for biotech labs. As A-ONE hopes, perhaps their prototyping will even play a role in solving the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it comes to prototype manufacturing, a company can have it all. As the company had established with its original manufacturing consultancy, customers can expect the same 3 values that they have instilled: comparable pricing, fast lead times, and a quality-first approach.
“We’re excited about our move into the world of prototyping, and look forward to working with many long-time and new business partners to achieve their prototyping initiatives,” said A-ONE’s director of business development, Lorne Smith.
Are you looking to prototype a product? Contact A-ONE for a quote.