If you’ve decided not to produce parts in-house, you’ll find a range of out-side contract manufacturing services for production and in just about any quantity you need. Outside services include Service Bureaus, Service Brokers, Independent Machine Shops, and High- Volume Production Houses. Each of these options offers a range of design help, manufacturing processes, capacity, standards, turnaround time, and costs. The best choice is the one that fits your product and market goals.
Let’s take a closer look at each option
Service Bureaus usually have a range of manufacturing processes including the three major technologies—subtractive, injection molding, and additive manufacturing. Some service providers may specialize in just one of these manufacturing methods. Production capacities range from making a few hundred parts to making hundreds of thousands of parts. Some bureaus will also offer production over the life of a product.
Brokers typically function as the middlemen between designer and manufacturer. They’ve built a network of manufacturing suppliers and send your design data to the supplier that they think best fits your needs. If you are not sure where to go, brokers are a good first step because they can find more production options. A drawback is that you may not get your part or parts as fast as you need or there could be translation problems resulting in errors in the parts.
Independent machine shops are often viewed as smaller manufacturers. They tend to specialize in a few services. Because of their specialization, they may offer a lower price, but usually at a lower production volume. They are well suited to prototyping and initial production needs as long as they have the skills you need. One thing to watch for is the cost of tooling. Because they often do not produce in huge quantities, tooling may have a high cost.
High-volume production houses can produce thousands or millions of parts. They will also produce an initial prototype, but multiple iterations can increase the overall costs. The initial cost for tooling might be high, but the tools will last through a large quantity of production runs.
When making your choice, consider the following:
1. Capacity—Can the supplier manufacture the quantity you need? Is there a minimum part order and at what cost?
2. Equipment—Does the supplier have the right manufacturing processes needed to produce your part?.
3. Timing—Can the supplier handle quick-turn orders during product development, market launch, or production phases?
4. Quality—Can the supplier offer the level of quality you need? Certain industries, including medical and aerospace, require manufacturing to meet various regulations.
5. Material—Does the supplier offer the material you need? Or can they work with a material you supply?
6. Design support–—Does the supplier offer design support? With some technologies, like additive manufacturing, expertise on manufacturability can help reduce the costs of the part.
7. Beyond the one job–—Consider whether you need to build a long-term relationship with a supplier. If not, a broker may suit your needs.
You may find that any and all of these options will be useful at one time or another.