How China’s manufacturing and rapid prototyping services are adapting and leading Industry 4.0
Part I: The evolution of China’s manufacturing industry
It is common knowledge that China is the world’s largest manufacturing nation. In recent years, roughly 40% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has come from the manufacturing sector. What is perhaps less common knowledge is that China’s manufacturing industry is undergoing a significant transformation in a bid to keep on top of global manufacturing demands and evolving manufacturing technologies and trends.
Though it was perhaps once known for the mass production of low value goods, China is revamping its manufacturing sector, transitioning to the production of high value goods and services. Driving this drastic industrial change is the Made in China 2025 initiative, which launched in 2015.
Made In China 2025 focuses on high value industries like:
Made In China 2025 is a strategic roadmap with the goal of evolving and modernizing China’s manufacturing sector using new state-of-the-art processes like digital manufacturing, rapid prototyping, CNC machining and Industry 4.0 technologies. Made in China 2025 is also shifting the focus away from low value goods to high value industries like the automotive, aerospace, electronics and robotics sectors, among others.
In this changing manufacturing landscape, CNC machining is becoming established as a key production process for many industries, both in China and the world. CNC machining’s high degree of automation and accuracy, as well as its versatility and material compatibility, are leading to unlimited applications in industrial machinery, transportation equipment, electrical and electronic goods.
To meet this growing demand for advanced manufacturing and CNC machining services, China is seeing the emergence of a profitable new business area: CNC manufacturing networks and streamlined manufacturing service bureaus.
Part II: Growth of CNC machining services in China
Though CNC machine shops and rapid prototyping services are not a new phenomenon, we are experiencing an overhaul in how these services operate. The days of clients waiting several days or weeks for a quote and lead time estimate are going the way of the dinosaur as a new, digitally powered era is being ushered in.
Digital trends that are taking hold around the world are having a significant impact on the manufacturing industry and how it conducts business. Advanced design software and generative design tools are changing how products and parts are conceived and designed, while digital inventories and logistics programs are streamlining how companies store and ship their products.
On the level of CNC machining services in China, we are seeing the most drastic changes in the ordering process. Intelligent algorithms power online ordering engines, such as RapidDirect’s leading platform, enabling customers to receive instant quotes and lead time estimates for their prototyping or production jobs.
RapidDirect’s online quote engine offers customers:
- Easy CAD Upload
- DfM Feedback
- Material and finish options
- Order Quantity
Advanced manufacturing technologies and digital innovations are heralding a new age for manufacturing services, and China has experienced a recent boom in online ordering platforms for CNC machining, additive manufacturing, sheet metal fabrication and injection molding.
Today, several rapid prototyping services and production service bureaus exist in China. The broad market is indicative of the growing demand for efficient online CNC services, but it can also make it challenging to select a manufacturing partner. Here are some tips that can help in finding the right CNC machining service to work with.
Part III: Rapid Prototyping reaching new heights
While we touched on this briefly in the previous section, we really want to emphasize the dramatic effect that online ordering platforms, like RapidDirect’s service, are having on rapid prototyping and production workflows.
Thanks to intelligent algorithms informed by the extensive experience of industrial engineers, we have sped up the manufacturing cycle without sacrificing or compromising quality. Online quoting engines enable customers to receive instant quotes for their prototypes or parts as well as lead time estimates.
RapidDirect’s online CNC machining service also gives customers the necessary tools to track their orders and keep tabs on the manufacturing process. This degree of workflow transparency between the customer and the manufacturer is enabled by our unique ordering platform.
Beyond the ordering process, increasingly sophisticated manufacturing equipment is contributing to more efficient production and prototyping services. At RapidDirect, state-of-the-art in-house manufacturing technologies—including CNC machining, injection molding, 3D printing and sheet metal fabrication—are supported by a broad manufacturing network, which ensures that customers never have to wait long to receive their order. In some cases, parts can be delivered in as little as 24 hours! All of our manufacturing partners are trusted and are paired with clients based on demand and their expertise.
All in all, online ordering tools are unlocking unprecedented production levels. Rapid prototyping and CNC machining services such as those offered by RapidDirect can thus maintain high efficiency rates for prototyping and small batch production. It is truly a game-changer for rapid prototyping services.
Part IV: Serving China and the world
Though China’s intelligent rapid prototyping services do have a local market, many are looking abroad to serve the manufacturing and prototyping needs of the global market. We at RapidDirect work with clients from all over the world, including Emirate, Benz, NASA, Nikon, Emerson, Toyota, HP, who benefit from our rapid turnaround times and competitive production rates.
In general, working with an external CNC machining service provider can offer customers many benefits. For one, state-of-the-art CNC machining equipment is expensive, meaning that many small or medium-sized businesses (SMEs) cannot afford the investment of owning their own machine, especially for prototyping. Second, CNC machining requires an experienced operator with specialized training. This means that companies working with in-house CNC machining must invest in the personnel and adequate training, which can also be costly.
By working with external CNC services, businesses can make the most of the technology and can benefit from the expertise of CNC shop operators, without having to make a significant investment in CNC machining equipment and operators.
Why Western companies are working with Chinese rapid prototyping services:
- Low raw material costs
- Lower labour costs
- Thinner profit margins
- Sophisticated logistics
- Easy communication
There are several other factors that make working with a CNC machining service in China even more beneficial to customers from around the world. Cost, of course, is the primary motivator for selecting a rapid prototyping service in China. The reasonable rates that services like RapidDirect are able to offer are due to a few factors. First, raw material costs are lower in China than in Western countries, because the country is a leader in raw material extraction and production. Other factors, like lower labor costs and thinner profit margins also lead to a more competitive service cost for customers.
Online quoting engines and digital advances have also broken down communications barriers between Chinese rapid prototyping services and Western companies, not only creating more trust between the two but also making it easier than ever to keep track of orders and CNC manufacturing progress. Finally, state-of-the-art logistics and shipping enable prototypes and machined parts to be shipped and delivered to customers around the globe with unprecedented speed.
Part V: Working with RapidDirect
RapidDirect’s smart online quoting engine and extensive manufacturing network make us stand out within the CNC machining services market. Our entire platform—from ordering to part delivery—is geared towards making the customer experience as simple and efficient as possible. Our platform has made us the prototyping service of choice for customers in the aerospace, automotive, medical, robotics and consumer goods industries, among others.
For the customer, it all starts with the RapidDirect website, where part files and drawings can be uploaded directly. This means that clients do not have to deal with the hassle and back-and-forth of calling or emailing to receive a price quote. Our intuitive online platform solves this hurdle in the rapid prototyping market by offering an automated quoting engine that delivers a quote and lead time estimate within 24 hours.
To receive the quote, customers simply have to upload their part design, receive automated DfM feedback and select their preferred production material. RapidDirect’s quoting engine does the rest. If any questions come up during the process, RapidDirect has a team of experts available to provide additional support.
When a quote is approved by the customer, the RapidDirect team chooses the optimal manufacturing partner for the job. This process consists of sending a brief to candidates from our pool of reliable manufacturing partners (IP is protected throughout). Based on their responses—taking into consideration price, lead times and suitability—we select the best partner for the job.
Once the partner has been confirmed, the manufacturing process begins. To maintain transparency, RapidDirect makes it easy for customers to track the progress of their order from beginning to end—whether it’s a single prototype or a batch of CNC machined components. We also adhere to a strict Non-Disclosure Agreement, which also binds our manufacturing partners, to keep your intellectual property and part designs safe.
Off the CNC machine, parts undergo any necessary finishing steps before being carefully inspected. Once quality control is complete and we can ensure the CNC machined parts fit the exact specifications of the customer, they are prepared for shipping with custom packaging. After the parts are delivered, RapidDirect welcomes feedback from its clients.
For an in-depth, step-by-step guide to working with RapidDirect, check out our blog.
Part VI: Addressing industry pain points with manufacturing network
Having been an active provider of rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services since 2009, RapidDirect understands the pain points of the manufacturing industry. Thanks to our experience working with customers from across many segments and from around the world, we have refined our process to address issues that often come up when working with traditional manufacturing services.
Industry pain points:
- Inappropriate solutions and suppliers
- Inefficient communication
- Indefinite pricing
- Invisible production process
- Unpredictable lead times
First, we understand how challenging it can be for a customer to find appropriate solutions and suppliers for their rapid prototyping or small-batch production needs. Our service overcomes this challenge with a user-friendly online platform that clearly indicates our services, capabilities and strengths. Before even ordering parts from us, you’ll have a clear idea what it is like to work with us.
The second pain point we have tackled with our online CNC machining service is inefficient communication. Up until recently, customers looking for a rapid prototyping service were plagued by time-consuming price and lead time negotiations. Often, to receive a competitive quote, clients would have to contact several different suppliers, resulting in a lengthy search process. Now, thanks to intelligent quoting software and easy-to-use online platforms, businesses can receive quotes rapidly and without much effort.
Further, RapidDirect’s online quote generating software actually provides customers with a more accurate price quote for their manufacturing job. We believe clarity and a definite pricing scheme are the way forward for facilitating client and supplier interactions.
Beyond improving communications, our customer platform overcomes the industry pain point of an invisible production process. With our online technology and connected manufacturing network, our customers can keep track of their orders easily. Transparency in the manufacturing business is key—it gives customers confidence that their order is a priority and will be completed in their desired time frame.
This element of our online ordering service and customer portal also addresses the crucial problem of unpredictable lead times. In combination with a lead time estimate generation tool, our platform keeps customers up-to-date on their manufacturing job, from the time the order is placed to its final delivery.
By addressing these industry pain points, RapidDirect offers its customers a smooth and painless collaboration.
Part VII: The RapidDirect Manufacturing Network
As we’ve illustrated, RapidDirect is not just a user-friendly web interface. While our online platform connects us to clients across the world, there is a lot going on behind the scenes as well. For one, RapidDirect operates a factory in Shenzhen, China, one of the world’s most prominent high-tech hubs. There, our team of highly trained technicians, machinists and engineers work to transform our customers’ digital files into high-quality parts.
Beyond that, RapidDirect also brings together manufacturers from across the country, forming the largest manufacturing network in China. Today, our manufacturing network comprises over 50 manufacturing partners, each of which has undergone a strict assessment and evaluation to become a qualified member of our network.
With all these manufacturers at our disposal, RapidDirect has the means to take on numerous clients at once, without adding to lead times and costs. In other words, when our in-house manufacturing is at capacity, we can select the best candidate from our manufacturing network to take on a new job, without asking clients to suffer through extended wait times.
Moreover, if a client wants to manufacture a part that requires a manufacturing process, material or specification that RapidDirect cannot provide through its in-house service, we can find the right manufacturing partner to complete the project.
On the customer end, nothing changes when working with a manufacturing partner. Clients still upload their part designs and receive a quote from RapidDirect, when the quote is confirmed, they can track their part’s manufacturing progress closely. On our end, we will send an outline of the job to our manufacturing network, detailing what the customer wants (how many parts are needed, the manufacturing process to be used, what tolerances are required, etc.). Manufacturers then submit bids for the job.
Once bids have been received from our manufacturing network partners, a RapidDirect algorithm determines the best fit for the job based on a number of factors, including price, machine capacity, employees, experience, positive reviews, lead times, and more.
From there, the manufacturing process is overseen by a dedicated RapidDirect employee, who conducts a pre-production check of the CAD file, provides real-time updates through the user platform, and conducts a quality control check before the final parts are shipped. Each manufacturing partner in our network is assigned a RapidDirect employee for this purpose.
Part VIII: Other services
In addition to CNC machining services, RapidDirect also provides a number of other rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services, including injection molding, sheet metal fabrication and 3D printing. Our customers are welcome to visit the RapidDirect website to peruse our entire offering.
Our injection molding services include a range of processes, including thermoplastic injection molding, mold making, overmolding and insert molding. These processes, in combination with a broad range of injection molding materials such as rigid, flexible and rubber plastics, enable us to undertake rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing jobs for a wide range of industries and applications.
Turning to sheet metal fabrication, RapidDirect and its extended manufacturing network have the tools to cut, stamp or weld many types of metal, including steel, aluminum and copper alloys. Our sheet metal fabrication services are versatile in terms of applications, but are commonly employed for the production of enclosures, brackets and chassis structures.
Last but not least, our 3D printing services are opening up new opportunities for rapid prototyping and small-batch production. Because of the design freedom associated with 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing), we can help our customers to build parts with increasingly complex geometries. Today, we offer three key 3D printing technologies through our services: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which uses a hot end to extrude plastic filaments; PolyJet 3D printing, a multi-material and multi-color 3D printing technique; and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), a powder-based process that produces highly accurate, high-quality parts.
To complement our CNC machining, injection molding, sheet metal fabrication and 3D printing services, RapidDirect also offers a comprehensive finishing solutions portfolio. Customers can choose from a wide selection of finishing processes to ensure that their products meet their exact specifications.
Q: What is the Made in China 2025 initiative?
A: Made in China 2025 is a strategic roadmap set out by the Chinese government that has the goal of modernizing China’s manufacturing sector using new state-of-the-art processes like digital manufacturing, rapid prototyping, CNC machining and Industry 4.0 technologies. Made in China 2025 also seeks to focus on new high-value markets like aerospace, robotics and automotive.
Q: What is an online quote engine?
A: For our CNC machining service, our online quote engine is a web-based platform powered by intelligent algorithms. Based on customer input, these algorithms automatically generate a price quote that reflects the part design, chosen material and specifications. RapidDirect’s quote engine also provides customers with an estimated lead time.
Q: What manufacturing services does RapidDirect offer?
RapidDirect is a manufacturing service that specializes in rapid prototyping and small-batch production. Our manufacturing capabilities include CNC machining, injection molding, sheet metal fabrication and 3D printing. In addition to these manufacturing processes, we also offer a broad selection of finishing solutions.