How to Design and Manufacture an Open Product

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A summary of the main steps,by Smari McCarthy at the Open Manufacturing mailing list, at

Informal, but still useful.


1. Develop the product concept, plan for target groups, etc.

2. Build a prototype.

2a. Plastics could be done by manually milling the casing or creating a cast mold from urethane or wax.

2b. Electronics can be designed in a program like Eagle and either made by hand (for small quantities) or purchased from a third party; various companies do cheap circuit board fabbing.

- 2b1. If your design includes new microchip designs, you're going to have a harder time prototyping, but I'd suggest writing the VLSI and then working with a FPGA for the first round. Remember that microchips are products in their own right!

2c. Metal parts required can be machined easily enough, just avoid awkward sizes and shapes. If you don't know milling/lathing yourself, buy the work from a third party. Companies with CNC mills and lathes will often output from good CAD files for very little money if the design seems interesting to them. (These companies are run by enthusiasts who suffer horrifying tedium; surprise them)

2d. Getting the initial prototype 3D printed to some extent is not a bad move but beware that it can be costly if the object is big. Z-Corp 3D printers are everywhere nowadays and give a nice finish, but also keep your eye open for SLS's, SLA's, FDM's and other acronymic digital fabrication technologies.

2e. If the assembly of the prototype from the parts gathered doesn't work, it's because you didn't do the CAD work and the homework well enough.

3. Figure out who's going to bankroll the mass-production.

3a. This is where the market analysis stuff comes in handy.

3b. If it's going to be you, try and make sure you will be able handle the product flopping.

4. Find a fab that's capable of mass producing to your demands.

4a. Many smaller ventures hand-craft each item, but this raises price and slices profits.

4b. Bear in mind that unit cost tends to drop as unit number goes up, in part due to externalization of the true costs of production (read: larger companies use slave labor more liberally)

5. Profit.

Adaptations for the Open Path

The open path, being advocated here, is much the same, except:

  1. Exchange step 1 for building a website.
  2. Exchange step 3 for learning how to do things yourself.
  3. Exchange step 4 for uploading the design to the website for free download and stick an ad there offering the object pre-fabricated with a personalized design.
  4. Exchange step 5 with the knowledge that you have helped humanity