Your family and friends have fallen in love with your new project: a omelette (or cake) cutter that ensures that all the pieces are the same size. You already have a prototype which is the one that you have let your family and friends use. They all love it, and the people that saw it asked about it and they also want one. You even created a web page where they can pre-order the product and you already got some clicks in the “buy” bottom!. So what now?
What are the small series?
It is making a small amount of your product to start selling it. It is a step between the MVP (more info here) and the mass production.
In the last years, prototyping techniques (being 3d printing one of the most popular ones) have been used to create small series because it has some advantages over the traditional production techniques. These are our top 5 advantages of small series.
1- Lower initial invesment
I am sure you have heard about mass production and its methods base on lowering the manufacturing cost by producing high volumes.
This is due, for example, the initial investment required for a mold but that can make thousands of parts. If you want to produce a “small” amount of the product it might not be worth it or you may need to raise the price of the product ,.
In the case of our omellete/ cake slicer you could produce with Additive manufacturing the parts that won’t be in contact with de food, because we don’t recommend use printed parts for alimentary purposes unless it is a particular case. For the rest of the components we would recommend you to look for components or parts that you can easily buy or, even better, are standardise. Even though these parts might be more expensive at first sight and they are not completely ideal for your product you can avoid making an even bigger investment for creating new parts. Once you have a high enough amount of sales you can find more industrial and specific solutions.
2- You don’t need big stocks (or any stocks at all).
The parts that you need to make your product, the boxes where you are going to ship them, the products that are ready to be sent… everything takes some room and that has a cost and you need to be organised with everything. Just to give you an example, Amazon also can keep your stock till you sell your products. In the example that they show in their webpage they indicate that for a toaster of 25.5x18.8x17 cm you will need to pay 4,7€/month if you want to sell in Spain and 9,90€ if you want to sell in Europe .
The larger the stock, the higher is the amount of money that is frozen not in you pocket. There are several methodologies that encourage you to reduce the stocks like Kanban or JIT, by they deserve another whole blogpost.
Organising stocks is especially important when you have perishable products or goods that follow trends. If you take the example of shoes, sellers try to get rid of the summer shoes in spring and early summer. As soon as the end of the summer gets closer, they release special offers (sales) because it is not worth it to keep those shoes in storage till the next year (assuming that they will still be fashionable).
If your cake cutter needs a 30x30x10cm box, 25 boxes in blocks of five makes five columns that are 50 cm high and 30x30 width. Keeping them at home or in the basement doesn’t seem to be that complicated. But what happens if instead of being 25 boxes you have 100 or 1000? You might need to rent a place or a storage unit.
At the same time, the price that you paid to have those 25 units waiting to be sold is frozen money, is cash that is stuck inside a box that you don’t know for sure if you are going to have it back. If it is only 25 units it might be fine, but if it is 1000 units you can find yourself paying a storage unit every month to keep those boxes without knowing when or if you are going to sell them.
3- Adapt the user's needs
Thanks to additive manufacturing, creating small series or, moreover, unique products is affordable allowing you to create specific products for a niche or unique object. In the context of mass production, the same object must be useful for most people. Therefore, these designs are made for being easy to use or liked by most people. For example, most can openers are made for righthanded since it is the majority of the population. But, as you can see, this is not an ideal solution for everybody.
In the case of small series or unique objects (like these shoes https://www.facebook.com/feetzshoes/), since you don’t have an unique mold that will create hundreds of identical shoes, you can still make modifications in the 3d file to add or change the necessary details. You can add the name of the user, change the size so it fits the user and you can create a unique product per client or small group of clients.
Back to your omelette cuter, maybe you have done some research and discovered that the two main sizes are 25cm of diameter or 35cm. If you wanted to produce in mass both, the cost would be practically double because you need to molds, different pieces… If you decide to only produce the small ones, the people that prefer bigger omelettes won’t be able to use it. An obvious solution, and what normally happens, is that you would design for the extreme. In this case, it might be better to only create cutters for 35cm because they can still be used for the 20 cm omelettes. However, because it is bigger it wont fit nicely and your client might not be able to centre it properly and the result will be uneven pieces which can lead to an unhappy or disappointed client. On the other hand, if you happened to decide to produce both, you might later observe that the small one sells 80% more than the big one and that it wasn’t worth it.
That is the reason why we think that ideally, you should make a small amount of both because it is economically viable with additive manufacturing. This way, you can observe which model sells better or with enough amounts to make it worth it to mass produce without risking your resources. Remember that if you produce a large amount and you don’t manage to sell it, you will need to keep storing all those boxes and either rent a place or have a whole room full of boxes at your home.
4- Feedback from your clients
You can incorporate the recommendations that you clients gave you for the next iteration. If you hear a complain often about an edge that it is too sharp or is uncomfortable, you could change the model to launch the second version of your product. Thanks to the small series you can polish your product before incurring in the high initial cost of mass production, where it becomes really difficult to do these kind of edits. As you can see in the following graph, which is based on the previous one, since you need, not only to change the design, but also to make a new mold with the high investment that it requires. In the case of additive manufacturing you only need to edit the 3D without influencing other elements (initially).
If your clients complain that in every family meeting the slicer ends up with the wrong family or you hear that certain piece is difficult to clean due to its geometry you can change the product to be sure that your future clients are 100% happy with your product. At the same time, you can ask a little bit more and offer to engrave the name of the owners family to avoid future misunderstandings.
5- Other industries are doing it!
These concepts might seem new, but they are common in other business.
We you launch a book, you can start releasing an ebook or a first edition and, fif the sales are high enough, you can consider launching a second edition with, maybe, some corrections . Moreover, popular books like “Don’t Make Me Think” or “How to Win Friends and Influence People” have two modern versions because the internet had a huge impact in our lifestyle ("Don’t Make Me Think, revisited" y "How to win friends and influence people in the digital age".
In the case of services, if business is blooming and promising, the owner can decide to open a second location or start a franchise. Having more than one location will allow him or her to sell more and gather more information about their client . However, nobody would recommend you start a franchise from 0.
During the development of an app, it is common to have several versions of the software; they are known as alpha, betta, v1.1,v1.2… When an app is launched the authors are wishing to know the opinions and reviews of their clients, even if they want to complain. All that information can be used to improve their app and transform unhappy clients into clients that feel heard and understood .
In a nutshell:
Small series is the next step once you have the signs that your product is what society is looking for.
It is less risky than jumping into production, because it is cheaper and allows you to change the product while it is being redesigned.
We mentioned some new terms that will require another blog post. Kanban, JUT, design for 3d printing… You can subscribe into our newsletter and I will inform you when we have a new blog.
do you have any question or did we forgot something? Leave it in the comments.