Everything you need to know about how to manufacture an invention.

What You Need to Know to Manufacture An Invention

Maybe we should say, how to find a manufacturer for your invention. The point is, you need to make right decisions about how to manufacture your invention, that means you must to understand how the manufacturing process works. You must have some background information to assess your options for manufacturing your invention. And you will want a basic grasp of some manufacturing terms so that you can communicate with your manufacturers and staff.

As you can probably imagine, the field of manufacturing is absolutely huge. There seem to be almost as many options as there are products on the market. There is, of course, a wide variety of manufacturing materials, as well as dozens of ways to work with each of them. In this article, we can’t cover the whole field, but we can outline the broad categories and manufacturing methods so that you can find the right people to work with, and know the right questions to ask.

Before you begin the manufacturing process, we assume that you have completed other important steps of the invention development process. Because of First to File rules, you should have already acquired your patent. You should have also created your development prototypes.

At this point, once your invention is legally protected with a patent, and the initial design has been settled upon, you can begin the search for a manufacturer and the creation of production prototypes. Production prototypes are samples of your invention made in the actual factory and on the machines that will be used to mass produce your invention, they are used to check for quality and specifications compliance.

But first, you must find a manufacturer. How, out of the literally thousands of manufacturing facilities in the world, can you possibly expect to choose the right one?

Your best source of manufacturers is through referrals. If you can find a good recommendation from someone you know and trust, who has worked with that manufacturer before, you are halfway home. We’ll discuss other methods to find a manufacturer later in this article.

Terms You Need to Know to Choose a Manufacturer

These are terms commonly used not just in the manufacturing process, but in manufacturing contracts as well. You’ll need to know these terms to handle negotiations and accurately assess your contracts.

  • AML (Approved manufacturer list) is a list of manufacturers of parts for a product who have been identified and specified by the agreement.
  • AVL (Approved Vendor list) is the approved list of vendors who may provide parts and materials for your product.
  • BOM (Bill of Materials) — The list of parts and items that make up your product.
  • CAD (Computer-aided drafting) — A system for creating 3D designs of physical product. These can often interface with the manufacturing systems, to provide the needed specifications directly to the machinery for building your molds and product. ECAD refers to CAD for the design of electrical products and MCAD to mechanical systems.
  • Change Request — Identifies a problem in the manufacturing process or item and requests corrective action.
  • Compliance Mark — These marks show compliance with necessary regulations, which can vary by country or region. For example, tags may be required on clothing or physical stamps on electronics, to be sold in some countries.
  • DMR (Device master record) is required for medical inventions. It is a collection of all the records about the specifications and manufacturing of a device.
  • ISO Standards — There are several of these for different categories of products. They are internationally agreed upon standards for products such as medical devices and environmental quality systems.
  • JIT (Just in time) — An inventory management system to deliver a product as and only when it is needed.
  • Made-to-spec means products that have been manufactured according to specifications.
  • MCO (Manufacturing change order) refers to changes made in the manufacturing process or a part, without affecting the design of the invention. Often made in response to an MCR, which is a production change request.
  • Manufacturing Deviation — a temporary change in the manufacturing process, may include parts or materials substitution. It may be unplanned due to a temporary shortage.
  • NPD (New product development) is used interchangeably with the phrase “product development.”
  • OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) refers to the practice of a company buying a finished manufactured product and rebranding and selling it under their name. The OEM is the actual manufacturer, whereas the branded name is what the consumer is familiar with, such as Dell or Motorola.
  • Off-the-Shelf are items that are bought from suppliers without modifications.
  • PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) is the control of the complete record, including documentation of your invention, from the prototype through the manufacturing process.
  • Production Prototype is a sample of your invention that tests the manufacturing process to ensure all specifications are met.
  • SKU (Stock keeping unit) is used for inventory, delivery, and sales.
  • TTM (Time to Market) is the time it takes to complete the entire product lifecycle of an invention, from development through manufacture, as well as the time for delivery and sales, finally ending in the hands of the consumer.

These terms commonly arise in the manufacturing process and are quite common in manufacturing contracts.

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How to manufacture an invention requires a knowledge of the methods of manufacturing.

Methods of Manufacturing Inventions

You probably have a pretty good idea of what your invention will be made of, and the materials you expect to have used in its manufacture. But, there are many different manufacturing methods for each type of material. The method chosen will influence the price, look, and quality of your invention. Below, we cover some of the most common methods for creating products from different kinds of materials. Having an awareness of the various possibilities will help you in your search for an invention manufacturer.

Casting is a method of manufacturing where a molten material such as metal, plastic, or clay is poured into a mold and allowed to harden. 

Imaging and coating is the process of painting, printing or engraving your invention. Conventional methods are laser engraving, inkjet printing, chemical vapor deposition, and sputter deposition.

Molding is a typical manufacturing process, which varies from casting because it doesn’t require a molten material to be actual poured into a mold. There are many methods of molding, for both metals and plastics. They include, compaction, metal injection molding, compression molding, transfer, dip molding, vacuum plug assist, shrink fitting and shrink wrapping.

Forming is used for metals. Standard forming methods are; forging, drop forge, hammer forge, rolling, extrusion, bending, shearing, and stamping.

Machining is a process of cutting and forming the material, be it metal, wood, or plastic, into the desired shape. It is very commonly used to make prototypes and small runs of parts. Machine shops have mills for cutting, drills for holes and shape lathes, turners, and plans for shaping parts and products.

Finishing — There are many ways to finish products, among them are abrasive blasting (sand blasting), buffing, burnishing, electroplating, polishing, etching, plating, barrel finishing, superfinishing and wire brushing.

Joining is the process of putting two pieces together, which may or may not be of the same material. Welding is a method of joining two pieces of metal, even if they are not the same type of metal. There are dozens of welding methods, for joining almost any material. Even putting two pieces of wood together with screws or nails is a joining. It is the process of putting two or more separate items together into one thing. Soldering and adhesive bonding (gluing) are also methods of joining.

Finding a Manufacturer

Armed with some knowledge of the different processes used in manufacturing, you can now begin looking for the best method and company to manufacture your product. As stated earlier, your best option is to use referrals from people you know and trust. Manufacturers can also be found through trade organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers in the United States, through Trade Shows, industry publications, and the internet.

Talk to several manufacturers to have options with multiple bids. And pay careful attention to the terms of your contract. These may include delivery, change orders, shipping, customs, tariffs, and fees.

When dealing with overseas manufacturers outside of North America, shipping times, customs, duties, and limits on imports become especially important. It may be worth a bit of extra cost to have someone on your team who understands customs regulations and is capable of handling the entire process for you. It does little good to pick the cheapest manufacturer and have your invention stuck in port because of improper paperwork.

Various middlemen also handle manufacturing, especially for the overseas production. They are essential “Jobbers” who have contacts with a network of manufacturers with whom they have ongoing relationships. They know manufacturers in their country or region and know the strengths and weaknesses of various facilities. When in foreign territory, a good middleman can be well worth the money.

Remember that when operating overseas, contract enforcement can be tough, if not impossible for small businesses. There has been many an inventor whose company foundered on bad manufacturing quality or the failure of the foreign manufacturer to deliver accurately or on time. Be sure that you understand local laws and customs. A local legal representative, such as a local attorney or government official, can be invaluable.

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Manufacturing an invention with a U.S. Representative can save time and money.

United States Manufacturing and Representation

Having your invention manufactured in the United States or by a United States company that works with foreign manufacturers can save time, money, and legal hassles. You can have the benefit of low-cost overseas manufacturing while enjoying the legal protections and contract enforcement of the United States legal system.

Of course, experience, reliability, and reputation should count more than only low cost in your decision.

Steps of the Process

Once you have chosen a manufacturer, the fun begins; your invention is being made for customers.

The manufacturer will ask for a prototype of your invention, either a physical prototype, 3D model or the CAD model and drawings. From these, they will plan the manufacturing process, and make the molds and set up the machinery and assembly line to make your products. A Production Prototype will be sent to you for approval.

The Production Prototype is a sample of exactly what your invention will be when sent to customers. For this reason, it should be made on the same machines and with the same assembly line, materials, and parts that your large run of a product will be made on. Your contract should specify this. There have been instances where the assembly-line, parts, or even facility were changed later, resulting in small changes that made the product less marketable. You want to see exactly what will be produced with no chance for changes that could be a problem later on.

If your Production Prototype is perfect, you are ready to go on the manufacturing. You now have the option of short runs or long runs. Short runs have fewer items made at one time; it is more expensive per item than ordering a large quantity as in long runs. But, when testing your invention for market success, short runs may be the best option.

Another option, particularly if you have been able to find a United States manufacturer or assembly plant, is “Just In Time” manufacturing, where your product is produced as needed in small but frequent batches. Recently, for some products such as clothing, books, or printed goods, “On-Demand” manufacturing has become popular. On-Demand production makes your products as they are sold. It is more expensive per item but eliminates the need for warehousing and inventory.

Steps of the manufacturing process for inventions.
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Invention Manufacturing Success

Often, the profitability of your invention depends on upon the manufacturing process. You need to have high quality at a reasonable cost to be competitive in the marketplace. Be stingy with costs, but also be exacting in your demands and stipulate all of your expectations and requirements in your contract. Most inventors cannot afford a mistake at this point in the process.

Pay particular attention to change orders, terms and conditions, delivery time, costs and methods. If working with overseas manufacturers, you must be aware of import duties and restrictions. Time spent choosing the right manufacturer or representative will be well rewarded in the long run.