Who do you hire to build a simple prototype item?
December 12, 2013 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Where do I begin looking to hire a person as cheaply as possible to build a prototype for a very simple invention I thought of? It will only be for me and not to try and pitch or have made en masse. It extremely simple and involves a containment unit and timed lock but I would need to explain my idea and have somebody build a spiffy looking one.

Do I just look up engineers or are there companies that do this just for one model? What is the best and most cost effective way of going about this? Please dont suggest I build it myself as I need it to be professional looking. I understand this will cost several thousand from what I understand thus far.
posted by Jenna Roadman to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't directly answer your question, but is it this? Maybe you don't need a prototype after all if someone here can recommend an off-the-shelf alternative. "Prototype" and "spiffy looking" are not usually terms that go together.
posted by contraption at 3:30 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can look into machine shops in your area. If it's just a matter of incorporating two existing items, then that will be the cheapest way to go. If you would like to, you can send me an email with a sketch of what you're trying to do and I can at least set expectations. (I'm a product design engineer.)
posted by just.good.enough at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2013

First thing I would do is to hire an engineer to make plans. Any mechanical engineering firm can do that.

After that, it is tricky. Engineers are not necessarily machinists and craftsmen. There is a difference between an electrical engineer and an electrician, for example. You would no more want the electrician drawing up the plans than you would want the engineer installing the lights.

You might have to go looking in an unusual place, like the local technical college/trade school. A professor who is teaching electricians might be the kind of person that has the technical knowledge to read the plans, is a skilled craftsmen, and is willing to take on a substantial side project.
posted by Flood at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2013

What do you want this made out of? Wood, metal, plastic? Find a craftsman who works in that medium.
posted by ssg at 6:17 PM on December 12, 2013

You find someone who can make you a prototype CAD -model-, not prints. If there are a lot of fussy tolerances in your idea then you may well need to find someone conversant with the details of "art-to-part" modeling, since there is an element of design called "design intent" which is conveyed most readily by means of prints.

If you like learning things you may want to take on the initial steep learning curve of Rhinoceros to create your models yourself, which IIRC can export .stl files. If you find someone who does 3D CAD, most current packages (Pro/E, Solidworks, NX) will export .stl files.

Send the completed .stl files to a variety of 3d printers. I favor Shapeways, with whom I have created several private projects. These, with some hand finishing, became jewelry. Their work is good-ish out of the box but material selection is limited. You can also send solid files in multiple formats to Protomold or Solid Concepts in order of increasing accuracy and cost.

If you believe the item(s) you need to make are best created by means of machining, you need a prototype machinist who will make the parts from models and prints together (the prints don't need to show everything, just the tricky design-intent bits).
posted by jet_silver at 8:16 PM on December 12, 2013

I have training as a draftsman and a general interest in mechanical stuff. I've been recently looking for project ideas to draw plans for and/or build.

Depending on the materials requirements etc., there are a number of prototype fab shops these days that can manufacture one-off parts very cheaply compared to few years ago. This project might be a lot cheaper than you think :)

Memail me if you're interested in discussing it further.
posted by teatime at 9:56 PM on December 12, 2013

It's tough to give really good advice given that your question doesn't explain much about what type of thing this is that you need, but your profile says you are in Portland, OR. You should call ADX. ADX has a fabrication end that builds stuff like this for people all the time. And if it's something that ADX isn't really set up to do, they know everybody in town more or less and can probably point you to the right shop or shops. But ADX does one-offs, prototypes, etc., along with larger-scale jobs.

It extremely simple and involves a containment unit and timed lock

So it sounds like your project has at least two parts: the unit, and the lock. All of the things about using 3D printers or rapid prototyping services online are probably not a good fit. If the "containment unit" is anything like a box, additive manufacturing (MakerBot, FDM, etc) is not the most efficient way to do this, and without getting into insanely expensive systems, will probably not give you what you want. Also, you don't need to produce a solid model in Solidworks (or a NURBS model of the surfaces in Rhino, or drawings in AutoCAD) to produce a box. You need to give someone a drawing and then they can bend and weld sheet metal, laser cut and glue plastic, cut glue and screw wood, or something along those lines. And you're going to need to worry about the electronic part too.

It's tough to say given your very brief description, but I really don't think hiring an engineer is going to be efficient, frankly.
posted by jeb at 12:32 AM on December 13, 2013

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