Video: How to Maximise Effectiveness of Contract Manufacturing

Why buy a machine when you don't have to?

For short to medium-run manufacturing, manufacturing as a service is becoming increasingly popular. Why build a new line, or develop an in-house capability if you don’t have to?

Courtesy of Protolabs

Courtesy of Protolabs

Contract manufacturing takes the load off: floor space, upkeep of machinery, capex, materials, allowing customers to focus on design and development of parts rather than production.

Historically, small job shops have had a real barrier to entry for making new projects. Prototypes and manufacturing were so expensive, new projects were often out of the question. Service bureaus like Protolabs aim to level the playing field between large, capable manufacturers and solo entrepreneurs. Now, anyone can upload a CAD file and get a production quality part.

Protolabs delivers multiple different processes, including injection molding, machining, under one roof. According to Eric Utley, application specialist at Protolabs, a lot of customers are looking to consolidate vendor lists and have one stop shop. Protolabs can also carry a part through multiple operations, or phases of development, such as 3D printing a prototype for validation, then taking the project through to larger scale production via injection molding, for example.

“Some customers know what they want, some don’t,” said Utley. “If you don’t, Protolabs can deliver expertise to help optimize the order based on quantity, material and process. Protolabs can compete up into the hundreds of thousands of parts in larger scale manufacturing.”

Utley gives the following advice for customers new to manufacturing as a service. Uploading a CAD file to Protolabs’ website will give feedback for design for manufacturability, on different platforms. “The rookie mistake is to come up with a design, 3D print it, and then say, ‘yes, this works. Now I need 10,000 of them,’ and the design cannot be molded,” says Utley. “Design the part with the manufacturing process in mind.”

For more videos featuring additive manufacturing experts, check out Ultrasonic Metal Foil Additive Manufacturing.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.