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How Much Does a Prototype Cost to Make?

In this article, we’ll discuss how much it costs to make a prototype, including 3D printed, mechanical, electrical, mobile app, and other prototypes.

 

When you are developing a new product for the market, a mobile app, or even a handy tool for your personal use, prototypes will come helpful in many cases. You may want to build a prototype to get a proof of your concept, have something to show to your potential investors, or get feedback from your future users. Prototypes can often supplement your development and marketing efforts.

How Much Does a Prototype Cost to Make

Whether it’s a physical product that you are about to start manufacturing or a mobile app that you are ready to submit to an app store, you need to test a prototype. With a prototype, you can:

  • validate your final design and get some customer feedback,
  • detect possible critical bugs or design issues that might help you to avoid product recalls and user complaints,
  • get some assurance before investing a significant amount of time and money into manufacturing and marketing,

and more.

If you want to learn more about the importance of prototyping, download our white paper “Why prototyping is important”.

Budgeting Prototyping

In most cases, you won’t have an unlimited budget for prototyping (even if you work in a well-established company), so it is important to consider the cost of prototypes. Prototyping is typically the largest expense in the product development process, excluding manufacturing and marketing. Prototyping may contribute to up to 80% of the total research, design, and development cost.

Without proper budgeting, not only you might spend too much time and money, but you might not even achieve all the prototyping-related goals. In another instance, if you do not budget properly, you may run through too many cycles of prototyping paying a very high price for that.

For budgeting purposes, it’s important to remember that prototyping is an iterative process. Each prototype might be of a different type, serve a different purpose, and take a different amount of time and money. Thus, you might want to budget the approximate cost of each prototype your project might require.

Since it’s impossible to accurately predict the number of prototypes you would need, it’s wise to add an extra allowance for possible additional expenses. One of Murphy’s laws says that

“A carefully planned project will only take twice longer and twice more than expected”.

Murphy’s Law

There are ways that allow you to save on prototypes, though. Jump to “How to save on prototyping?”.

What contributes to the cost of a prototype?

The cost of building a prototype depends on the production methods that will be used, the scale and the complexity of the design, and the amount of effort, time, and investment it will take. Materials, components, and labor are the primary prototyping expenses.

Unforeseen issues, possible design modifications, and additional material requirements that arise during the prototyping process can also significantly contribute to the overall expenses.

Other expenses include equipment purchases and amortization, general lab supplies, and other overhead expenses a prototyping company may have.

How prototype cost is estimated?

Here is a step-by-step process for estimating the cost of a prototype that our team follows:

1. An idea of how the prototype is going to be made is developed by engineers, designers, and prototyping specialists.
2. The cost of making and purchasing the components is calculated.
3. The amount of labor is estimated based on experience and past projects.
4. The risk factors are estimated that primarily depend on the prototype complexity and the possibility of scrap and unexpected problems along with their severity.
5. The anticipated profit is added.

Video: How Do You Estimate the Cost of a Prototype?

How much does it cost to make a prototype? How much does each kind of prototype costs?

Below we described a few common types of prototypes and how much each prototype can cost in ballpark price ranges.

It’s important to remember that the actual price of your prototype might not fall within the specified ranges due to various possible reasons (read about the prototype cost factors), after all, each prototype is a unique piece of art and science.

3D Printing Prototype Cost:

A simple mockup or a prototype that can be easily 3D printed with no or little post-processing and assembly can cost anything between $30 and $3,000. The cost in that case would primarily depend on the size and the design complexity of the 3D printing prototype. An example of such a prototype could be a plastic product consisting of a few parts where no parts need to move, such as an enclosure for an electronic device, a dog toy, or a container. 

3D Printing Prototype Cost

Example of a Simple 3D Printed Prototype

It’s worth noting here that, if the size of the 3D printed prototype is larger than 12” in any direction, the cost of 3D printing increases significantly. That’s because most 3D printers used for prototyping have a rather limited build volume that is typically limited to 12” on at least one axis. 3D printing out of specialty materials, that have unique mechanical, chemical, or electric properties also increases the cost of prototyping significantly.

Complex 3D Printed Prototype Cost or Simple Mechanical or Electrical Prototype Cost:

If a 3D printed prototype is rather complex and/or requires assembly, test fitting, and possible design adjustments, then the cost range would typically go up to $1,500 – $12,000. An example of such a prototype could be a simple electrical device or a mechanism with a few moving parts. In addition to the cost of the parts and labor, the anticipated number of trials and errors contributes to the cost. Other factors increasing the cost are novelty and uniqueness of the prototyped product, custom software or firmware requirement, unique production methods that will be needed.

Complex 3D Printed Prototype Cost or Simple Mechanical or Electrical Prototype Cost:

Example of a Complex 3D Printed Prototype, Simple Electrical Prototype

Complex Electronics Prototype Cost:

A prototype that contains electronics and needs to be programmed often costs anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000. The high end of the range could even be in hundreds of thousands in this case. The price would depend on the following factors:

  • novelty and uniqueness of the product,
  • the scale and the complexity of the electric circuit,
  • whether a custom PCB would be needed,
  • the number of code lines,
  • type of software that would need to be developed.

An example of such a prototype could be a wearable gadget, a household electronic product, or an IoT device. 

Electronics Prototype Example

 

PCB Prototype Example

Automated Equipment, High-Tech Device Prototype Cost:

A prototype of an automated machine, a piece of large-scale equipment, or a high-tech device, such as a mobile phone, for example, can easily cost tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

mechanical product design brunson machinery tools excavator attachments by la new product development tools, product design company

Heavy Machinery Prototype Example

Mobile App Prototype Cost:

Prototyping a mobile app can be divided into two stages. Typically, the process of prototyping a mobile app starts from building a mockup prototype of a user interface (UI). This can be done relatively inexpensively using graphic design software or various special prototyping tools. This mobile app prototype can cost anywhere between $800 and $8,000 depending on the number of screens that need to be designed, the complexity of the layout, and the quality of the design you want. Developing a functional prototype would require coding and its cost would primarily depend on the complexity and the scale of the mobile app and whether some unique technology would need to be developed. A functional mobile app prototype cost can range between $2,000 and $20,000 on average. Some unique mobile app prototypes can even cost several hundred thousand dollars.

ios app development, ios development, app development, LA NPDT.

Mobile App Prototype Example

When estimating the cost of building a prototype, it’s important to remember, that prototyping might reveal some design issues that would need to be corrected before finishing the prototype. Thus, it’s important to include possible design modifications into the prototyping budget. 

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How to save on prototyping?

Because prototyping is closer to art than science, the process often entails trials and errors and rarely goes without issues or delays. Due to the significant amount of uncertainty, most prototyping companies add a buffer (also called “cushion” or reserve) for unforeseen expenses.

 

Some rapid prototyping methods are riskier or failure-prone due to their nature. For example, the 3D printing success rate for one-off prototypes typically varies between 40% and 70% depending on the design complexity and 3D printing method. The prototyping companies factor the possibility of failure and re-print into the cost. Thus, some 3D printed part that is expected to cost $100 can be priced at $130-$160.

 

Each prototype production method would require a certain set of tools and machinery that will be needed. Depending on the complexity of the prototype and the production method, a different skillset and experience level would be required. Some prototype production methods require years of learning and practice. For example, mastering hand sewing, silicone rubber molding, and CNC machining typically takes a few years, while basic 3D printing may only take a month or two. The higher level of skills allows to avoid costly mistakes and thus reduce the cost of a prototype.

 

Here are you can read about seven ways to minimize the cost of prototype manufacturing.

How payments for making a prototype are typically structured?

In most cases, the process of building a prototype consists of several stages and milestones. The prototyping companies typically break down the process into phases and stages and charge a deposit before the work begins. The remaining amount would be due upon completion of each stage. A deposit is needed to ensure a customer is serious about the project and to purchase the materials needed for the prototype. A deposit can typically be anything between 30% and 70% of the total cost. 

At LA NPDT, our standard payment terms are 50% deposit and 50% upon completion of each stage.

How long does it take to make a prototype?

The time it takes to build a prototype depends on its complexity and scale. A simple prototype may take just a few hours to make, while a complex and large one may take months and even years to build. On average, you can expect something between one and three months. Here are the average timelines for building prototypes depending on their type:

Electronics prototype (with a custom PCB) – 4-12 weeks
Mechanical prototype – 4-8 weeks
3D printed mockup prototype – 1-4 weeks
Fabric prototype – 2-4 weeks
Silicone rubber molded prototype – 2-6 weeks
Mobile app prototype – 2-6 weeks
Chemical prototype – 3-8 weeks
Paper or cardboard prototype – 1-2 weeks
Sheet metal prototype – 2-6 weeks
Machined metal prototype – 2-6 weeks

How many prototypes do I need?

As many as you can afford in terms of time and money, they will require. In most cases, our customers go through at least 2-4 prototypes before launching their products to the market. When prototyping a large or complex device, most people would build only two or three prototypes. If a product is small and simple, tens and even hundreds of prototypes are often built.

What should I do to get started? How to start a prototype?

First, gather all the info about your product and all the related documents. If you want to build a physical prototype, you should have the CAD files of all the custom parts and a bill of materials (BOM) as a minimum. If you don’t have the design of your product created in CAD yet, you may want to work on that first, before starting the prototyping process. For that, make sure your prototyping company can also help you with product design.

Once you are ready to order a prototype of your invention or product, reach out to our prototyping team by filling out the contact form below or calling us at +13182130770

Order a Prototype – Contact Form

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