In the fabrication industry, specifically metal fabrication, parts or products are generally in one of three phases: prototype, production, and mass production. All three are treated completely different when manufacturing. This article will go into more detail of how the three stages differ from one another.
Prototype: This stage may also be known as product or part development. This is when your part or product is in its infancy stage. It is recommended that you work with a design house or engineer to help develop the product correctly to save money in the long run by having it designed and engineered right the first time. This stage of manufacturing is for the purpose of testing out the design to see if it is feasible or if changes need to be made before going into production.
Many times prototype quantities range from 1 to 100 depending on the company and product. Since there are less economies of scale and the set up costs are allocated between very low quantities, prototypes are substantially more expensive to fabricate. Prototypes may be fabricated using different materials, hardware, and finish than what would be used during production to validate the design only (also known as a rapid prototype), whereas some prototypes are meant to be an exact replica of the part before moving forward to production. Therefore, prototypes require a lot of hand holding from a manufacturers’ point of view. One or a few fabricators may be involved in fabricating a prototype where they are walking the prototype through the entire manufacturing process until complete.
Here at Vista Industrial Products, Inc., we are not known as being a prototype house, but have the capabilities to do one-offs or low quantities. However, we are not a rapid prototype house, so if we fabricate prototypes, they will be with a standard lead time which is three to four weeks.
Production: This stage may also be known as batch production. This is when your part or product is in its introduction and growth stages. Once prototypes have been validated for the design as far as fit, form, function, cosmetics, and a demand has been established, production is the next stage. This stage of manufacturing consists of batches of parts that range from 50 to the hundreds (sometimes thousands) and usually performed in batches.
This stage of product development is perfect for VIP’s capabilities since our shop floor is divided into departments based on our capabilities. Therefore a department will perform fabrication on all the parts and continue to move them to the next department for its next process to be performed on all parts. Since there are larger quantities in production, the set up costs are much less per part since the set up costs are allocated by the number of parts, which makes the total cost per part more reasonable than say a prototype.
Mass Production: This stage may also be known as repetitive flow production. This is when your part or product has reached its highest potential growth and is in the growth and mature stages. Once production has reached a point where the demand for the part or product is consistent and has reached quantities in the thousands, your product is ready for mass production.