Guide to Low Volume Manufacturing

Modern manufacturing theory, tools, and best practices are focused on how to make thousands or millions of identical parts or products at a low cost per unit. Custom and low volume production require a completely

 different set of methods — and manufacturers are faced with unique challenges when trying to adapt mass production systems to fit. 

Thanks to the rapid development of manufacturing methods and materials, however, there are now multiple technologies available that can enable the fabrication of these custom and low volume end-use parts and products rapidly and cost-efficiently. 

This guide presents an overview of the different low volume manufacturing scenarios, as well as technologies and solutions for low volume end-use part production.

Low volume manufacturing generally refers to production runs that yield between ten to tens of thousands of parts.

Today, most traditional manufacturing methods such as molding or forming are based on the concept of mass production: fabricating large quantities of identical goods. While these techniques are extremely cost-efficient for high-volume production (over 10,000 parts), they require standardization, expensive machinery, and tooling that rarely allow for product modifications. 

Tooling for mass production processes   $10,000+ and add weeks or months to production timelines. With mass production, manufacturers can offset these steep upfront capital expenses with high-volume orders, as cost per part decreases when the costs get distributed among thousands of parts. Mass manufacturing processes are geared toward producing identical parts in large quantities, restricting the ability to manufacture specialized or highly customized pieces economically.

In contrast, the fabrication of items based on unique specifications, also known as custom manufacturing or high-mix low-volume (HMLV) manufacturing, is traditionally performed manually in small workshops. Because of the high proportion of manual labor and the lower throughput, this results in a higher cost per part for custom products. For the same reasons, creating large quantities of individually custom-built goods, referred to as  as seldom been economically viable.

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