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Low-Volume Manufacturing

Low-Volume Manufacturing: A Comprehensive Guide

As the product design world evolves, product developers and manufacturers encounter risks and challenges as they launch new products to market. However, innovative companies now use low volume manufacturing to mitigate the occurrence of production risks and uncertainties.

It usually involves manufacturing products in small batches between 10 units to 100,000. Low-volume manufacturing offers several benefits through the various stages of product development, ensuring the cost-effective production of high-quality parts.

This article provides a detailed overview of low-volume manufacturing and how to use this production technique for successful product launches while mitigating risks. You'll also learn more about the advantages of low-volume manufacturing and find out if it's the right technique for you. Let's dive in!

What Does Low-Volume Manufacturing Entail?

what does low volume manufacturing entail

Low-volume production involves manufacturing about 10 to 100,000 parts depending on the technologies employed. The conventional methods of manufacturing are developed on the large-scale production concept, which requires expensive machinery but rarely allows design modifications.

Low-volume manufacturing is a specialized service designed to create identical and quality products in low amounts using inexpensive equipment. This technique allows for custom-made products and developing design ideas from the ideation stage through prototyping and bridging the gap to high-scale production.

When Is Low-volume Manufacturing Used?

when is low volume manufacturing used

Most low-volume manufacturers and developers aim to reduce risks and develop successful products, while others switch to low-volume manufacturing as the bespoke industries necessitate.

However, it would help to note that various industries significantly improve their product development processes by embracing production testing, reduced tooling, cost-effectiveness, and flexible manufacturing.

Below are scenarios when manufacturers produce parts in low volumes:

Cost Reduction

Certain products are cost-effective only when produced in mass using automated manufacturing techniques. However, using these technologies tends to be financially risky, requiring substantial initial capital investment.

On the other hand, you need very little up-front investment to manufacture low-volume products and test their popularity before mass production. You may stay committed to low-volume output if the market is quite small.

Custom Products

custom products

In recent years, the manufacturing sector has witnessed an astronomic increase in customers’ demand for custom products. These products explicitly designed to meet a customer’s requirements are more desirable than universal items.

However, low-volume production helps manufacturers to scale high-quality custom machining for mass-market opportunities without investing in expensive tooling. Thus, low-volume production technologies allow high customizability and flexibility.

Consequentially, businesses re-strategize their product manufacturing mode, exploring new business models that help to meet customers’ demands better.

Bridge Development and Full-Scale Production

Product developers commonly create parts in low volumes to bridge the gap between prototyping and mass production. This method offers a low-risk means of resolving manufacturing or assembly complications not detected during the initial prototyping stage.

So, you can leverage small batch production to produce low quantities of parts quickly and affordably before moving to full-scale production. Therefore, you can gradually boost production and optimize the manufacturing processes before investing significantly in costly tooling.

Gauge Market Success

Low-volume manufacturing is an efficient tool for gauging the market’s reaction to a newly launched product. It allows you to put out a small amount of product first to examine the consumer’s response instead of investing huge capital on costly high-volume tooling.

So, you can purposely launch these products in a controlled mode to a particular group for testing. At the same time, you can release the product to market and gauge its commercial success based on its market adoption.

Advantages of Low-Volume Manufacturing

cnc turning aerospace

Producing parts in low volume offers several benefits such as:

Cost-effective Production

Low-volume manufacturing allows you to develop up to 100 000 high-quality parts with lower investment. Mass production often requires high-volume orders to make up for the high investments in using huge tools and raw material inventories. However, you can process low-volume manufacturing orders without minimum order quantities.

Producing products in small volumes gives you easy access to emerging markets ahead of your competition. This production method helps to reduce total production lead time while keeping tooling costs at a minimum. More importantly, this method saves you from unnecessary expenses in cases where you have to make design changes.

Low Inventory Requirements

Low-volume production is a perfect match for just-in-time (JIT) management systems. Low-volume production doesn’t require stocking extensive sub-component inventories or parts replacement as in mass-production processes. 

Encourages Bridge Production

This production technique offers a progressive means to scale up to mass production. As a result, most manufacturers often refer to low-volume production as “bridge tooling” or “bridge production.” This design process helps simplify best practices to ensure cost-efficiency while improving products’ quality as volume increases gradually.

Design Flexibility and Design Iterations

design flexibility and design iterations

Generally, most manufacturers only detect design or performance flaws or faults after launching a product. Low-volume production offers more flexible design iterations, you can improve your designs during production.

More importantly, you can do this without the need for costly tooling or having to reorganize complex production techniques. Low-volume production facilitates easy validation, engineering, and manufacturability of design ideas before investing in costly tools and mass production runs.

Furthermore, you can achieve faster design iterations following the first test run of the low-volume production parts.

Reduced Production Errors/Defects

Mass production often causes many complexities not detected in the prototyping phase. These often include material shortages, assembly faults, or inconsistent manufacturing methods. However, low-quantity production helps to identify these problems before they impact the high-volume tooling, which can be more expensive.

Faster Market Penetration

Outperforming the competition in today’s market environment has become quite challenging. Moreover, technological change has increased, coupled with the consistent demand to develop. As a result, most product developers are often pressured to innovate new designs or refine existing products and launch them faster.

Notwithstanding, your competition can easily imitate your new product idea, and mass produce it quickly before your original piece can dominate the market. Low-volume production methods are the ideal and reliable means of getting your products to market faster. Likewise, low-volume manufacturing offers an optimized supply chain, ensuring parts are ready for launch in days or weeks instead of months.

Common Technologies Used in Low-Volume Manufacturing

cnc turning industrial machinery

Low-volume production thrives on various technologies capable of producing high-quality parts efficiently and economically. Below are some of these technologies:

Rapid Tooling

Rapid tooling comprises a series of techniques used in fabricating products at a faster rate, lower price, and more efficiently. These include processes such as thermoforming, plastic injection molding, and vacuum casting. Manufacturers make conventional tooling from durable metals with processes like metal casting, which can be expensive.

Rapid tooling in product development stages allows you to validate the design and raw materials before transitioning to large-scale production. Rapid tooling allows you to use production-grade materials for products to examine how such products will perform in real-world applications.

CNC Machining

cnc machining

CNC machining is another perfect process for the low-volume production of parts. The CNC machines are usually fast and easy to install. You can continuously manufacture parts of different specifications, either automatically or manually.

The automatic CNC machines use automated tool changers and robot-controlled palletized systems to feed the material and extract finished parts. In contrast, a manual machine needs an operator to change the tool, feed the material, and remove the finished parts.

3D Printing

3D printing (additive manufacturing) has evolved from when it was only associated with rough prototyping. Now, new technologies help develop functional components reinforced with fiberglass or carbon fiber, providing enhanced strength. Additionally, metal printers can print high-quality steel parts without using costly 5-axis CNC machines.

Moreover, most manufacturers rely on the flexibility of the 3D printing process to produce different components, including jigs and fixtures or molds for thermoforming or injection molding in the product development process.

Sheet Metal Fabrication

Sheet metal fabrication involves creating parts from metal sheets or metal alloy through cutting, blending, punching, stamping, and finishing processes. Although it has a large initial installation cost and cycle time for high-volume production, low-volume sheet metal fabrication reduces the setup time, ensuring faster changeover of jobs.

Is Low-Volume Manufacturing Ideal for Your Project?

is low volume manufacturing ideal for your project

To determine the ideal manufacturing process, you must first define the task at hand. This is because there are important factors that impact a product’s production. These include the intended marketing environment for the product, manufacturing complexities, and the required time frame. However, low-volume manufacturing is best for products with an uncertain market adoption status where the competition might imitate the product.

Moreover, fundamental and revolutionary changes continue to overwhelm the world of product design, causing product lifespan and expected time in the market to shorten significantly. Therefore, low-volume manufacturing offers considerable value as the market demands continue to rise.

AT-Machining offers reliable and efficient services that match your low-volume manufacturing needs. Our team of professional engineers has a good year of experience using manufacturing technologies and offers best-in-class in-house production services. Our quality inspection system ensures that all your products are of standard quality. Submit your design for your next project; our AI quotation algorithms provide faster and more reliable quotations.

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From AT-Machining, I’m a CNC Machining Expert in this field for more than 20 years.  We offer cost-effective machining services from China. Ask for a quote for your ongoing or upcoming projects now!

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