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Cost-effective rapid prototyping technologies

How Much Does a Prototype Cost to Make?

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One of the most common questions we get asked is, how much does rapid prototyping cost? Understanding the cost of rapid prototyping is crucial for effective financial planning, resource management, and overall decision-making throughout the product development process.

In this article, we strive to answer these crucial questions: how much does it cost to make a rapid prototype? Is it truly worth the investment? We will also dive into the top tips for further reducing RP costs, facilitating a deeper understanding of the financial landscape in this pivotal phase of product development.


The real cost of rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping (RP) is a powerful prototyping technique that, when used effectively, should not only allow you to save on time, but also save on overall product development costs. Common RP technologies include 3D printing, CNC machining, vacuum casting, and rapid injection moulding.


a breakdown of the cost of rapid prototyping


Although each technology varies in technique, the real cost of rapid prototyping encapsulates similar facets, including materials, labour, equipment, iterations, and overheads. A simple prototype can easily cost anywhere from $50 to $500, while larger metal parts might escalate into several thousand dollars per iteration. In the next section, we will provide a breakdown of the direct and indirect factors that influence the RP costs.


Factors that drive the cost of rapid prototyping

1. Material Costs

Material is one of the three main factors that directly influence the cost of prototyping. It varies depending on the type, quality, and quantity of the material itself. As a rough estimate, at HLH Rapid, SLA materials start from $0.4 per gram and SLS (Nylon) from $0.7 per gram. In comparison, stock billets of material for CNC prototyping range from around $3 per kilogram up to over $200 per kilogram. 


2. Labour Costs

The number of skilled workers, their wages, and notably, the hours dedicated to operation and post-processing directly influence costs. For example, in 3D printing, distinct cost-per-hour rates are often applied for various materials.


3. Equipment and Machinery Costs

The purchase, maintenance, and operation of machinery and tools directly contribute to the total cost. In China, some shops will quickly cut ABS plastic with little regard for tolerances, charging as little as $5 an hour, and there are parts that demand high-speed 5-axis machines costing around $150 per hour.


cnc expert running advanced prototyping machines


4. Product Type

The nature, size and complexity of the object you’re trying to create significantly impacts the cost of rapid prototyping. Complex designs might indirectly increase costs due to higher material usage, longer production times, and the need for more advanced machinery and tools.


5. Prototyping Methods

Different rapid prototyping methods come with varying costs. If you’re looking to 3D print an object, you can expect costs to be between $50 to a few hundred dollars. In comparison, vacuum casting the same object may cost from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars when factoring in the cost of the silicone mould.


6. Post-Processing and Finishing

Depending on the requirements, the need for post-processing can add to the overall costs of prototyping. Some vendors may charge a standard rate for different surface finishes, while others may use a cost-per-hour rate.


Is the cost of rapid prototyping worth it?

While the initial expenses may seem significant, the value lies in the efficiency and advantages it offers. Rapid prototyping allows for quicker iterations and faster product development cycles that facilitate early-stage testing, enabling identification and rectification of design flaws, thereby reducing potential manufacturing issues. The ability to visualize and handle physical prototypes aids in clearer communication and better stakeholder understanding. Ultimately, the benefits of reduced time-to-market, improved product quality, and minimized risk often outweigh the upfront expenses, making the cost of rapid prototyping a valuable investment in many scenarios.


Tips to reduce the cost of rapid prototyping

Reducing your rapid prototyping cost can help allocate more resources for future innovations. It can also ensure optimal quality while maintaining a tight schedule. Regardless of your design complexity or manufacturing goals, cost-effective RP is available. You only need the right tactics and a hands-on service provider.


Cost-effective rapid prototyping technologies


Determine the best approach for your project by considering factors other than the price. These clever cost-cutting techniques could also help you stay on track:


  • Optimise your design: Minimise unnecessary complexities in the design to reduce material usage and production time. Conduct thorough design reviews to catch potential flaws early on.
  • Use compatible material alternatives: Explore compatible, cost-effective materials suitable for your project. Often, a material with similar properties but lower cost can serve the purpose without compromising quality.
  • Save on post-processing (where possible): Proof-of-concept prototypes can often do without detailed surface finishes and extensive post-processing. Eliminate unnecessary processing and try to incorporate the missing elements directly into your final design.
  • In-house vs outsourcing: Sometimes outsourcing to specialised companies can be cost-effective, especially for one-time or occasional projects. This strategy isn’t only advantageous for startups and small-to-midsize businesses; larger corporations also use it to reduce prototyping expenses.
  • Order in small batches: Especially in the early stages, consider ordering smaller batches to test and validate the design before large-scale production. This can help save costs by avoiding potential design flaws in bulk orders.
  • Make a thorough plan: While this may appear as an obvious tip, it’s essential to emphasize on the importance of focusing on creating a well-thought-out design from the outset to minimize the need for numerous iterations and modifications. 


Estimate the cost of your rapid prototype

Upload your 3D CAD on our instant quote tool, choose a technology, material, and surface finish to get a quote for your project. To start prototyping, simply click “place order” in the check out area, to place your order with us online.

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