Inventors and Injection Molding

Part 1 of 4: Exploring What an Inventor Should Know About Injection Molding

Imagine if an inventor came up with a million-dollar product. This inventor may need one or more plastic parts to produce their new product. After making a few parts on a 3D printer, the inventor may decide the next step is to call an injection molding company. However, there are many considerations that should precede requesting a quote for molds and molded parts.

In this four-part series, we will explore the following key topics and questions of interest to inventors:

  • CUSTOMER: Is there a market, and who are my customers? What is the price-point my customer requires to make a “buy” decision? How many products will I sell per year? Can I get a solid patent to protect myself from competitors? What are the alternatives to this solution?
  • PROCESS: Is the product right for injection molding? What manufacturing processes are possible for my product? Is another process possible or more economical?
  • MATERIAL: What are the engineering requirements of the product, and which materials will achieve good results? What is the optimal material selection based on cost and cycle time? What percent of recycled material (regrind) can I use?
  • ECONOMICS: What will it cost to mold the parts? What is the maximum all-in cost that will still allow you to achieve profitability?

In Part 1 of this blog series, let’s explore the idea of a customer and why inventors need to spend so much time on this topic.

Many inventors fall in love with their idea and assume that other people will love it too. A typical pattern that will likely lead to failure may look like:

  • Come up with a great idea
  • Invest in a patent
  • Get a price for a mold and the parts
  • Figure out the marketing and sales once the product is in hand

Most inventors can come up with the money to get a patent but are stopped cold when they find out the cost of molds. A single mold can cost between $25,000 to $100,000 depending on size and complexity. This cost stops most inventors in their tracks.

Don’t assume customers exist just because your idea is a good one. The four steps mentioned above start with the assumption of an adequate customer base. Instead, work backwards from the customer to your idea. How big is your potential market, and how much of that market can you reasonably gain? What does a customer look like (whether a business customer or a consumer)? Can you describe your ideal customer, their motivations for buying your product, where they shop, and how you will reach them?

All potential customers are getting by without your product today, making it a “want” rather than a “need” in your customer’s eyes. In addition to solving a problem or improving your customer’s life, they will assess the cost of a product in relation to its perceived benefits, or its “value.” Therefore, the price point is a major consideration: the value of your product must be superior to the value of alternative solutions in the eyes of potential customers. Working backwards from the customer to your idea, you may have to redesign or strip-down your product to hit the right price point.

Adequate sales volume will also be key to ensuring success. Do you know your anticipated market size? Were you thorough in determining how many customers you can capture? What is your specific plan for reaching them? How does sales volume change with respect to the sales price point?

If you can’t confidently explain in detail your market size and price point to a potential investor, you need to do more research.

Summarizing the above: Make sure you have a business, and not just a “good idea,” before investing substantial sums of money. Don’t let your enthusiasm override your need for extensive customer research up front.

Whether you realize it or not, your outsourced manufacturing partners are really investors. Injection molders, if they choose to partner with inventors, invest a lot of time, energy, and money when they take on a new customer and product. Like all investors, injection molders are interested in a good return on these investments and will compare your project with other opportunities that may have a better risk/return ratio.

Most molders aren’t exactly excited about “getting in on the ground floor” of an inventor’s new product, no matter how passionate the inventor is about future success. Established businesses are lower risk and higher reward than unproven start-ups. As an inventor, you must prove you have more than just a product – that you have established your market and sales channels, that you can pay your bills, and that you have solid projections of annual sales. As an inventor, expect to be thoroughly scrutinized by a potential injection molder partner.

Remember that injection molding is, by its nature, a high-volume business. Molds can be expensive, and you will need high production levels to justify those costs. Injection molders make their living selling machine time, so low volume projects are usually a poor fit. For example, GreenLeaf rarely quotes projects with less than 50,000 units per year.

Not ready for prime time yet? No problem. There are many molding companies that specifically focus on low volume projects. While mold costs and required annual volumes are lower, unit prices are higher. However, these prototype molding companies may make the most sense for an inventor who needs injection molding to make their new product a reality.

Looking to find the right injection molder for your project? Contact GreenLeaf Industries today to get started!