low-volume production

An Overview of Low-volume Production for Rapid Prototyping

As the need for customization and personalization grows, low-volume production is becoming an important manufacturing strategy for companies of all sizes. Low-volume production involves producing 50 to 100,000 parts, bridging one-off prototyping and full-volume production. It offers flexibility to the design process, reduces risk, shortens time-to-market, and frequently creates possibilities to save money on manufacturing costs.

This article will discuss low-volume production, including its typical technologies, benefits, challenges, and strategies to help overcome these challenges. 

What is Low-volume Production?

Low-volume production is a specialized manufacturing term that means making products or parts in small batches, often restricted to 100,000 parts or less – depending on the manufacturing technique employed. Low-volume production enables our customers to invest less time and money in tooling and materials while gaining faster market access. Additional benefits include faster reaction to shorter product life cycles, effectively functioning as the important step between prototyping and mass production.

Low-volume production using traditional manufacturing technology might be costly since the cost of manufacturing is shared between each part produced. Traditional manufacturing technology has overhead expenses, including tools, materials, and labor. However, low-volume production costs have lowered because of a hybrid strategy integrating traditional and additive manufacturing technology. With additive manufacturing,  the cost of entry is inexpensive since less material is wasted and less labor is required.

When Should Use Low-Volume Production?

The manufacturing process in low-volume production is designed to be flexible and adaptable to variations in demand, allowing the manufacturer to adjust its production output as needed swiftly. The following will introduce When we should use low-Volume production?

1. Product Customization 

Many customers devote more time and money to locating products that satisfy their specific wants and specifications. More customized, curated products and good experiences are required to fulfill demand. Generally speaking, custom products cannot be made cost-effectively utilizing high-volume production. In this case,  low-volume production provides significantly greater flexibility and customizability.

2. Evaluate Market Acceptance

Using low-volume production can test the market reaction to a new product. Instead of spending large sums of money on expensive high-volume tooling with the goal of success, a limited number of products may be released first to see how consumers react. These products can be distributed and controlled to a chosen group for testing or put into the market. The commercial success can be used to evaluate market acceptance.

3. A Bridge between Prototyping and Mass Production

Low-volume production is frequently utilized to bridge the gap between product prototyping and full-scale production. It is a low-risk approach to resolving manufacturing or assembly concerns missed during the prototyping phase. Production may be gradually ramped up from a low-volume starting point, with manufacturing processes refined along the way. As a bonus, this occurs before investing large funds in costly tooling.

4. Less Initial Investment

Some products can only be lucrative if they are mass-produced in enormous quantities utilizing automated manufacturing processes. Unfortunately, considerable initial cash investment is required. Low-volume production involves less initial investment and may be used to gauge product acceptance before committing to full-scale production. If the market is tiny, the producer may not even consider going forward with mass production.

5. Product Innovation

Designers may push the boundaries of design complexity, optimize structures, and personalize parts at no extra expense using novel techniques like 3D printing. This can create unique and innovative products that are impossible to make using traditional methods.

Low volume manufacturing

What are the Benefits of Low-volume Production?

Low-volume production makes products rapidly in small quantities before actual serial production starts. Low-volume production generates several distinct benefits below. 

Quick Response to Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is an important factor in determining a product’s commercial success. One of the most important advantages of low-volume production is the capacity of a company to gather and respond to customer feedback swiftly.

As soon as the first batch of products hits the market, it establishes a feedback loop with customers. Business specialists may analyze this feedback to find and diagnose manufacturing flaws, incorporate shifting market trends into the design, and even identify unexplored market segments.

Save More Storage Space

Saving more storage space is a benefit of implementing low-volume production. Unlike mass production, low-volume production in this setup only occurs in a limited number of batches. The low-volume manufacturer doesn’t need excessive storage and inventory control. Because of rapid prototyping technology, businesses can now easily adjust to fast changes in demand.

Faster Market Penetration  

In today’s fast-paced climate, staying ahead of the competition is challenging. Each innovative concept can be swiftly duplicated and mass-produced before its original developer can enter the market. Low-volume production is the most effective approach to get the product to consumers as soon as possible.

Detect Production Issues

Large-scale manufacturing frequently reveals many problems that were not discovered during prototype development. They might include inconsistencies in production methods, material shortages, or assembly problems. Low-volume production can assist in detecting these issues before they affect more expensive high-volume equipment.

Low volume production parts

Add Flexibility of Update Product Design

Product development is an iterative process at all times. Because early designs will always have defects, a rigorous prototype development process is critical for successful product life cycle management. Quick design updates are very helpful in these cases. One of the benefits of low-volume production is the greater flexibility in altering product designs at any moment.

For instance,  after the first batch is sent out, the customer feedback may suggest that a certain product is too heavy to use. Product designers may immediately address this issue by employing a lighter material and producing the next batch appropriately. This action can protect a faulty product from reaching a wider audience, keep sales from dropping, and boost consumer satisfaction and faith in the brand.

Increase Return on Investment

Mass production sometimes necessitates significant investment in equipment, human resources, and a dedicated supply line. While these needs remain in low-volume production, businesses have the luxury of micro-managing their resources following their present production objectives.

For example, a company might invest in less expensive equipment best suited to their short-term production goal. Moreover, resources like labor and inventory may be fine-tuned to current demands to save money. This operation will increase the return on investment of a company.

Reduce Production Time

Production time is directly related to productivity. As a result, reducing production time is one of the most significant advantages of low-volume production. Typically, low-volume production requires less time to finish. Although its manufacturing processes are identical to any other mass-production setup, operating small-batch production saves time.

What are the Challenges of Low-volume Production?

Companies that employ low-volume production typically have a high degree of flexibility and can respond quickly to market changes. However, implementing low-volume production may face some challenges. Let us take a closer look at them.

Increased Cost Per Unit: Manufacturing costs may be cheaper overall, but the cost of production per unit will often be higher since there would be fewer opportunities to take advantage of economies of scale.

Trouble Sourcing Raw Materials: Certain manufacturers may have problems obtaining raw materials for low-volume productions because suppliers may prioritize bigger orders. This may lead manufacturers to have difficulty sourcing raw materials.

Limited Economies of Scale: Achieving profitability with low-volume production has some challenges. This is because low-volume production does not benefit from the cost reductions associated with large-scale production.

Typical Technologies of Low-volume Production

Low-volume production may make use of a variety of technologies to produce parts rapidly and affordably. Some of the most prevalent typical technologies of low-volume production include CNC machining, urethane casting, injection molding, sheet metal fabrication, and 3D printing.

CNC Machining

CNC machining is a subtractive technology that uses computer-controlled tools to shape three-dimensional parts by removing material from a solid workpiece. This enables manufacturers to program repeatable, extremely accurate, and sophisticated operations that would be impossible to accomplish manually or effectively. Yet, as part complexity grows, so does the number of mechanical processes, raising production costs.

One key advantage of CNC machining is its minimal material production constraints. However, some interior features are challenging to produce with CNC machining. In this case,  3D printing may be a more efficient approach. Additionally, CNC machining does not often provide turnaround times comparable to 3D printing or urethane casting; it does provide shorter lead times than injection molding.

low volume CNC machining

Urethane Casting

Urethane casting or vacuum casting involves encasing a master pattern in a silicone mold, which is then utilized to make exceptionally exact reproductions of the part. This makes it a feasible option for parts where surface finish is important. As soon as the silicone molds have been set, they may be placed into production.

Urethane casting parts require little post-processing and have features and properties similar to those of parts manufactured by processes such as injection molding, which are noted for their durability. Most silicone molds can only be used for 25 to 50 shots before they need to be thrown away. This makes the process good for low-volume production because it is cost-effective.

Additive Manufacturing/3D printing 

For low-volume production, additive manufacturing or 3D printing is usually an excellent alternative. Additive manufacturing lets you produce parts without incurring the initial costs of tooling. Parts can also be manufactured with no minimum order quantity, saving manufacturing and carrying expenses.

low volume 3D printing production

Injection Molding 

Injection molding is ideal for clients that want small quantities of molded parts. In addition to making a lot of production-grade plastic parts for verification tests identical to the end product, it also provides at-will fabrication of final production components for low-volume production.

Sheet Metal Fabrication 

Sheet metal fabrication creates parts from a metal or metal alloy sheet by cutting, stamping, punching, blending, and finishing. In contrast to full-scale production’s high initial setup cost and cycle time, low-volume sheet metal fabrication reduces setup time to allow for fast job changeover.

Applications of Low-volume Production 

More and more manufacturers are adopting low-volume production modes in their systems. The main reason is that it is affordable and has many advantages over mass production. Here are some areas where its application is widely preferred.

  • Create Production-grade engineering prototypes.
  • Produce functional prototypes that must match the final product.
  • Use as a rapid bridge between the prototype and mass production.
  • Use when producing small batches of parts.
  • When producing high-quality customized parts.
  • In industries dealing with customized low-volume CNC machining.
  • Low-volume sheet metal machining.
  • Use for plastic injection molding tests.
  • Testing and validation of pre-production components.

metal parts for small batch manufacturing

Strategies for Low-Volume Production

Low-volume production strategies focus on cost-effectively producing small batches of products. They need to reconsider the conventional emphasis on quick mass-market manufacturing in favor of techniques that retain efficiency and quality for each product. Here is a quick rundown of several strategies:

High Mix, Low Volume Manufacturing (HMLV)

High Mix, Low Volume Manufacturing involves creating many products in small batches, requiring frequent process changes and diverse materials and tools. As a result, it is not a good fit for an assembly line workplace since it demands innovation and adaptability.

When there are several components in a single product or when there is product creation aggregation, such as with contract manufacturing, HMLV is usually the best solution. It’s popular in outsourcing since it allows a firm to have numerous revenue streams rather than depending on a single product.

Adaptive Lean Low Volume Manufacturing

At first look, lean principles do not appear suited for low-volume production. However, certain valuable aspects are appropriate. One such aspect is waste minimization. Even in low volume, they are developing a process that allows constructing a single product in as few steps as feasible to be beneficial. Creators can better scale the operation and make the manufacturing stage more cost-effective by always seeking to enhance approaches.

Employing an adaptive lean model in manufacturing isn’t always the best option. This approach is often utilized for producing a succession of similar products or things that aren’t very complicated, as the process allows for little deviation. Lean is likely one of the creators’ greatest alternatives, particularly concerning cost containment. The standardization will help them determine where most of their financing is going and scale back as needed.

Just-in-Time Manufacturing (JIT) 

JIT is applicable in both low and high-volume situations. It all comes down to meeting demand. Product manufacturing occurs after the order rather than in anticipation of sales. This solution lets producers keep inventory low and minimize storage space while controlling expenses.

JIT works best in cases when product development is time-consuming or expensive. It is especially beneficial when the materials used to produce items are limited or expensive. It is also a production approach that works well with bespoke products.

Case Studies of Low-Volume Production

Apple: The company outsourced its Mac Pro manufacturing process to another company for two years. In this way, they can improve processes before bringing production back in-house.

Samsung: The company uses low-volume production to create DRAM chips for phones and other devices requiring high quality and performance.

Porsche: The car maker produces cars with high quality and craftsmanship, using low-volume production to maintain exclusivity and customer satisfaction.

Tesla: The company makes high-end electric cars in small numbers to keep them rare and exclusive for those who can afford them.

Why Choose LEADRP For Low-volume Production?

1. A Variety of Low-volume Production Process Choices

We provide a comprehensive range of manufacturing services for low-volume metal and plastic parts production. Our services cover CNC machining, injection molding, urethane casting, sheet metal fabrication, and other services are available, as are one-stop surface finishing solutions.

2. ISO 9001 Certified Quality Control

As a low-volume manufacturer with years of experience, we have strict quality control processes and high-tech testing equipment that make sure your low-volume production parts always meet the quality standards you want.

3. Use Our Supplier Chain’s Whole Resources

Our comprehensive production technology, experience, and ability to combine resources may meet your machining requirements. We provide low-volume manufacturing techniques through top-tier facilities to meet any project needs.

4. Order Processing Flexibility with Quick DFM Response

We have no minimum order quantity and offer speedier and more flexible orders. We help you overcome engineering challenges and minimize production costs with a timely DFM response to fulfill your low-volume manufacturing demands at any moment.

Summary

Low-volume production bridges the development cycle and high-volume manufacturing. It allows for design refinement and optimization, shorter time to market, and chances to save costs, all while lowering your investment risk. When the time comes, your product manufacturing process can get validation through low volume production and effortlessly transfer to a contract manufacturer for mass production.

Are you still seeking a low-volume production service provider? LEADRP can provide low volume production services, including CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, injection molding, 3D printing, urethane casting, and more.

If you have any questions about your project, please contact us and tell us more details. Our expert engineers are ready to provide free DFM feedback and answer questions for your project.

References

Low Volume Manufacturing: The Biggest Advantages of Small Batch Production – From Tamarisk

3 Low Volume Manufacturing Strategies You Need to Know – From PACIFIC RESEARCH LABORATORIES, INC

 

FAQ

High-volume production allows for economies of scale, but low-volume production has fewer parts, between which expenses related to development, tooling, and production equipment may be divided. Standardization can be viewed as an attempt to achieve economies of scale in low-volume production.

Low-volume production helps you shorten total production lead times, saving you time and energy during product development. If shorter product lifecycles are required, low-volume production allows you to iterate designs and parts quickly.

The major advantage of high-volume production is its high speed. This is the ideal option if you need a huge quantity of products quickly. Because high-volume production is also extremely efficient, you will save money on production expenses.

On-demand Manufacturing Service

LEADRP provides prototyping and on-demand manufacturing services, including CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, custom tooling, injection molding, urethane casting, and 3D printing. With LEADRP, you can solve any challenge throughout product development and manufacturing. Click to tell us about your project or contact us for more information.

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