What does it cost to design and fabricate a prototype?

This is the question on every Maker’s mind.  What does it cost to bring my idea to life?  It’s nearly impossible for us to tell you without having a basic understanding of your project goals.  We’re going to attempt to define a generic rubric here to give you a better idea of how far your money can take you.

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Two simple, yet largely true, mantras we see our data proving correct are:

  1. “You get what you pay for” and
  2. “Time is money”

As we attempt to provide guidelines on You3Dit pricing, we’ll use a rating system similar to what you might see in a Zagat guide to restaurants $-$$$$$.

Also keep in mind, that You3Dit has two main services which cost money:

  1. Design Services
  2. Fabrication Services
These three images illustrate our process: 1) you upload your napkin sketch / photos 2) we help you get a 3D Design (Design Service) and 3) once we have your 3D Design file, we help you get that design built (Fabrication Service).

Clients with a napkin sketch have to start with Design services because we can’t fabricate without some sort of workable 3D Design file.  That being said, there are also many 3D Design files that need RE-Design because they are not manufacturable.  A platform where Design is inextricably linked to the Fabrication process dramatically improves our client success and satisfaction with the output results from You3Dit.  This is typically called Design for Manufacture (or DFM).  We don’t know of any other platform that combines both services at scale like we do.

$$ – Most projects we’ve seen come through our network for < $1K are nearly impossible to complete in an economically sustainable manner.  It costs thousands of dollars just to utilize tools required for advanced 3D Design and Fabrication.  If this is your financial budget, you’ll likely be disappointed with what our service can do for that amount of money.  However, you may have time on your side and thus we encourage you to read up on how you can start designing in 3D on your own with our You3Dit Learn page.  We have also been regularly surprised with what some of the Designers and Fabricators are willing to do to help execute on a great idea.

$$$ – We’ve had a lot of projects that have gone zero-to-prototype for the $1K-10K range, but they’re difficult.  These projects are typically being designed and fabricated by students and young professionals working to build their personal brands, experience and expertise.  These projects stretch even the best designers and fabricators because they need to utilize all their mental faculties to find a solution that fits within the budget.  Their precious time, the potential earnings and the project’s functional requirements all factor into the cost.  A lot of new Makers require a lot of time to educate on the process and when a designer or fabricator factors that time into their quote, they quickly exceed the client’s budget.  For reference, an entry level salary for a Mechanical Engineer is approximately $80K/yr which translates into approximately $40/hr.  For self-employed individuals who have to pay for health care and other benefits typically covered by larger employers, these costs all factor into their hourly rates.  Other highly-skilled designers and fabricators can command rates of up to $300+ per hour because their design space and capabilities allow them to dramatically improve the likelihood of your success.  So in general, while we’re excited to see our 3D Designers and Fabricators pull off miracles < $10K, the likelihood of success is low.

$$$$ – Many of the successful, low-fidelity consumer-level projects come in at this range and we’re continually in awe of our Maker inventiveness and our 3D Designer + Fabricator network capability to bring their ideas to life.  Estimating an average designer rate of $70/hr and 3D printing rates to be approximately ~$1/gram and $1/hr on a machine, you can do some meaningful work with $500.  Definitely enough to bring a low-fidelity prototype design to life for market testing (read about effective market testing here).  Definitely enough to get a low-fidelity, prototype solution to a mechanical issue designed and fabricated.  But the key here is low-fidelity.  There’s a lot of language in the hardware industry around low-fidelity, high-fidelity, “looks-like” prototypes, “works-like” prototypes and it can be confusing to a new Maker.  At You3Dit, we try to minimize this confusion for you by including Design as part of the process.  Great designers know how to design for a particular manufacturing process that fits within the client’s constraints: budget, timeline and quality expectations.  For example, consumer-grade 3D printing is NOT yet at the level to meet consumer satisfaction in terms of quality.  However, laser-cut products ARE.  A designer that is able to visualize a solution that leverages laser cutting for a client that wants to “display their invention” or “provide as a gift” is a designer who is setting you up for success.

$$$$$ – now we’re getting serious about design and fabrication and with this type of budget, you can get quite a bit done.  Many of our one-off, Internet of Things (aka IoT) prototypes were 3D Designed and Fabricated in low quantities (<10) for the $10K-100K range.  Our Mechanical designers are expected to perform engineering analyses and construct designs that are thinking long term.

  • Is the client looking to scale this design for their business?
  • Is this a personal project?
  • Will the parts be plastic injection molded or produced in quantities 10-100K+/year?
  • Can the part leverage design for digital manufacturing (DfDM)?  Or design for additive manufacturing (DfAM).
  • Do they already have a design started?  Is it manufacturable?  Does it need a Re-DfMA or re-design for manufacturing and assembly?

These are all factors that get considered in this cost category.  Keep in mind that you can spend all of this budget on Design services OR all of your budget on Fabrication services OR some healthy balance of both.  What experts in the industry say is that, “Design casts a huge shadow on manufacturing [fabrication]” (Boothroyd & Dewhurst).  A poorly constructed design will cost you a lot of money in long-term production and assembly costs because it failed to consider how it was made and how efficiently people could assemble the product.  Our friends at Dragon Innovation know all about this and have great resources at their website to help you think about long-term manufacturing.  But overall, our 3D Designers and Fabricators can do quite a bit with budgets in a range of $1K-10K.

$$$$$+ – this is where You3Dit takes you from zero-to-scale – meaning that we can help you develop your idea into a hardware product that is ready for at-scale manufacturing (10K+ parts/year).  Clients in this category see a market opportunity and have the financial resources to act on it; just need help with the 3D Design, Engineering, Design for Manufacturing (DFM), Design for Assembly (DFA) and production assistance.  Clients of this service are typically graduates from an earlier You3Dit project / product / prototype where they’ve confirmed market need for their product and now need to scale.  Whenever possible, we work to include DFM and DFA for each project we consider (as sometimes we never know what the market wants until they see it…take fidget spinners for example).  The more “production ready” our clients 3D Designs are, the more successful they will be when we pair them with one of our trusted Contract Manufacturers (CMs).  Boutique design firms who do this type of work are often known as ODMs or Original Design Manufacturers and have a typical starting price tag of $100K-$1M or more.  While they’re often quite good, they are typically unaffordable to most individuals and non-VC-funded startups.  Companies often hire them in order to buy “instant design & manufacturing credibility” when they’re launching a new product.  Nothing wrong with any of that except that there are better solutions that are enabled by our You3Dit marketplace (and often times at lower up-front costs).  We believe that everyone can be a Maker with the right tools and guidance.

We will probably transform this section into its own blog post, but now you have a better sense on pricing and you can be begin to prepare yourself for what types of Design and Fabrication quotes you might receive once you post your project.

If you’re comfortable with telling our community your budget in advance–do so in the “project description page” we’re going to tell you about in the next section.  This dramatically improves the likelihood that you get the right 3D Designer and Fabricator for your job.

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