In anticipation of Halloween, I decided to build a robot to hand out candy. It was great to take a break from thinking about manufacturing in high-volume and focus on just getting one prototype to work.
During this process, I was reminded of how different the considerations are when you’re going “Zero-to-One” (Z2O) vs. “One-To-Many” (O2M).
Here are some key points to know when you're going from “Zero-to-One” (Z2O):
Iteration cycles are quick: With short lead-times (1 - 2 days with expedited shipping), great dev boards like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, 3D printing and laser cutting, it is easy and inexpensive to try out new ideas and swap in new components.
You can “File the Corners”: Because you are only building one unit, it’s possible to “sand down” any rough spots to get the parts to fit together. In high-volume manufacturing, the last thing you want to do is sand down 40k units to get the parts to fit together.
It’s OK if it is not quite perfect: You’re just trying to get one unit to work under ideal conditions. No need to worry about part tolerances between units, harsh operating conditions, edge cases, reliability, etc. You’ll most likely be alongside the prototype, and can nudge it in the right direction, and also explain any issues.
No tooling / secondary efforts required: Typically, the parts are fabricated directly via 3D printing or CNC. It’s not necessary to build and debug tools that are then used to build the parts. As a result, it’s much easier to make quick changes and iterate with minimal consequences.
Focus on the product, Not the fabrication method. Almost any geometry can be 3D printed. It’s not necessary to worry about Design for Manufacturing or Assembly. As a result, it’s much easier to get a single unit working.
Once you have a working prototype, you’ll be able to create a Bill of Materials (BOM) and CAD Files. With these files, you can move onto the next phase: New Product Introduction (NPI) where you’ll move another step closer towards manufacturing and going to “One-To-Many” (O2M).