Q. How do I go about developing a new bullet?
A. First, you can study our web site for similar bullet design ideas and see if you can tell, from the way swaging dies operate, whether your idea appears to be within the realm of possibilities. Second, you can compare your bullet design with that of other custom bullet makers and see if your idea has already been done, or if the purpose you have in mind has been handled in other ways that may be easier to build. Third, you can scan the U.S. Patent Office records on-line for similar concepts.
If your new bullet idea survives these quick tests, you may wish to call, write, or e-mail Corbin and talk with us about the goals, market, and production possibilities. We may know immediately of some reason the idea is not practical. Perhaps someone else has already done it. Or perhaps there is a technical reason why it will not work. Or we may know it will work because we've done it or something like it before. There are three possibilities:
- We may believe the idea is impractical. In that case, you can proceed anyway and we will do our best to make it work without any guarantee (in other words, build tooling the way you want it built on time and material basis, non-refundable payment in advance). Or you may wish to revise the design so the bullet could be built. Perhaps you may wish to stop here.
- We may believe the idea is practical, and offer to work out a quote for the equipment we believe necessary to build it. In that case, you can request a price quote, or not. You are under no obligation either way. If you accept the quote, and pay the non-refundable amount for the custom portion of the tooling (if any), we will begin the process of scheduling and building your tooling. When the custom tooling is finished we let you know, and you can purchase the additional non-custom items such as presses, supplies, and accessories needed, or just take delivery of your custom items.
- We may believe that the idea involves issues that would require the feasibility, development, and production process. Most ideas that are very unusual go through these steps before anyone can say whether the idea works or not. If we know it will work, or know it will not work, then the feasibility, development and production stages are not necessary. Otherwise they are.
Q. What is the Feasibility Study?
A. The first of three steps in getting custom tooling developed to make a new bullet design is the Feasibility Study. You can download the Product Specifications and Manufacturing Criteria form, which becomes Exhibit A, part of the contracts which follow, to see what we use for criteria to determine whether the project is feasible. Within your limits of budget, production rate, and physical parameters for the bullet, we then conduct a brief feasibility study which will let us determine whether it is sensible to continue with development, or not. If we come up with a real "stopper", this is where it normally happens, before you get too far into the project.
The Feasibility Study results in an outline of the methods that might be used, the most likely kind of tooling to do the job, probable modifications and new tool ideas that may be required, with fairly high odds that such tooling will in fact make the number of bullets per day at the cost per bullet that you need to achieve. Or, conversely, the reason that the project is not feasible and what you might change to make it so. In any case, the feasibility study is over and you have no obligation to do anything further.
A useful feasibility study takes more than armchair speculation and cracker-barrel guesswork: we have to use your criteria and specifications to work out the math for die pressures, tolerances, relief angles and release forces, bursting strength, bending forces on punches, probable wear resistance requirements, specific methods of attacking the production challenges for unusual shapes or parts or extreme tight tolerances, and which of several possible methods of production will result in the best over-all cost per part, total tooling cost, and best production rate within the lower-volume start-up and prototype run realm where we primarily work. (High volume production is relatively easy to develop: you just need lots of money! We work at the starting end, where money is usually scarce and you need to prove the design and the concept before investing huge amounts).
Q. How much is a feasibility study?
A. A feasibility study is typically $160-399. This covers two to five hours of our design team examining the information and criteria, working out the formulas as required, and making an estimate of the probable problem areas that will require solutions, the most likely design approach and experimental tooling that will be required to prove the concept, and an estimate of the cost of the next phase, which is Research and Development of prototype tooling.
We don't know yet exactly what tools will be required, but at the end of the feasibility study we have an idea. And we don't yet know the exact cost, but again, we are headed in a direction where we can at least say, yes, we think this can be done for less than a certain amount, and if you are willing to invest in the next stage, we feel reasonably certain that we can give you exact figures and develop the methods needed, and tell you exactly what it would cost. We can't yet guarantee success, but we've eliminated the foreseeable objections to doing it.
Q. What happens if the Feasibility Study says my idea isn't practical?
A. You save the cost of trying it and finding out the hard and expensive way! What you have paid for in that case is the hiring of a team of design engineers who do this sort of thing all the time, and in whose opinion you should either make some suggested modifications to the design or forget it. You do get a report from the study, of course, which outlines the reasons it won't work or tells what you could change to make it work.
Q. OK, what happens if the study says tools to build the new design are feasible?
A. In that case, it is very likely the bullet could be made, with the cost, speed, and physical dimensions specified, on equipment that we can build for you. We make no judgement on the merit of your design as being suitable for a specific purpose, marketability, accuracy, or other parameters besides manufacturability. There is no guarantee that the bullet can be made, but it is considered very likely unless some new issue comes up in the development stage which cannot be solved in a satisfactory way.
(If you only want an opinion on the other factors of performance, we can offer them without charge outside the scope of the feasibility study. Such opinions carry no guarantee or warranty of any kind. Until the bullet has actually been made and tested in sufficient quantity, there is no factual basis to support such an opinion).
If you decide to proceed, the next step is the Research and Development stage, which we simply call "Development". We will send a new contract or agreement, called the "Experimental Product Development Agreement", which details what we will do and what fee we believe will cover it, in order to come up with a prototype or at least reach the point where we can give you a guaranteed price for a specific set of tools that will do what you need. One of the answers you get with the Feasibility Study is the amount of the development fee. We don't know how much it will be or even whether it is necessary, until we have done the feasibility study and determined the approach to take.
Q. What happens if I decide to proceed with the Research and Development phase?
A. Before you pay the development fee, we send a development contract that tells what we will do and what it will cost. If you send your payment and copy of the signed contract back, then we will start the development stage, which means trying to find the best way to build your bullet design.
This can take days, weeks, even months of work. We make our best estimate of cost up front, and then we stick with it unless you change the criteria. If a change is suggested that would facilitate manufacturing, then our estimate stays in effect. If you initiate a change that wastes the time already spent in developing to the original specs, then we go to time and material basis.
Suppose, for instance, that every few days you change the different bullet weight or diameter, or call up during the middle of long complex experiments to change the wall thickness of the jacket or alloy hardness. A great deal of work will now have to be done over to suit the new specifications, so we will probably stop right there, make an estimate of what this will cost, and ask if you want to pay it or not. If you do, we go on with the new criteria. If not, we stop, refund any amount of your unused fee, and give you all the materials and tooling and information about it that we have developed to that point.
The Research and Development phase can have three end results:
- A problem may be discovered which requires a change in criteria. This might be a different material, weight, cost per unit, unit production rate, or some other factor involved in manufacturing the bullet. Perhaps your material will prove too thin, or the geometry of a hollow cavity will require punches that are not strong enough to withstand the forces required. In any case, you have two choices.
- You can stop now. Any unused amount of your fee will be returned along with the data and tooling that has been developed up to this point.
- You can authorize the change in specifications. If so, we will proceed with the new specs.
- Information may be developed that specifies exactly what tooling will be needed, and at what precise cost, to make the bullet according to your specifications, with or without suggested changes and improvements to allow easier manufacturing or to accomplish the goal more economically, quickly, or with better results. At this point, you have two choices:
- You can stop now, collect the data and any tooling used to develop it, and use the information as support for marketing your idea (as opposed to manufacturing the product yourself).
- You can proceed to the production stage, knowing precisely what is required and what it will cost. The main purpose of R&D is to determine this information, assuming production is achievable. Production may include both standard (stock) items and custom items. The custom items are started upon payment of the non-refundable cost of these items. The stock items are quoted but need not be paid for in advance.
- The R&D effort may have required production of tooling that is adequate for your production requirements. In that case, you will receive this tooling along with the information developed. You have two choices:
- You may stop now, with the potential option to sell the tooling with your idea to someone who wishes to manufacture the bullet, using the final R&D report to support your idea.
- You may purchase the stock items such as the press and supplies that would be necessary to operate the tooling developed, and manufacture the idea yourself.
The most likely thing to happen is that we will come up with tooling designs and detailed methods that will let you make the bullet as you wish, probably with some new and improved ideas thrown in from the result of the experiments. You receive a report, with the new knowledge gained from these experiments, including a financial report of what was spent, a package of any materials or tools that were built or purchased using your development funds, and recommendations for tooling to actually go into production, with exact pricing.
The tools we develop during this stage may or may not be sufficient for production. If they are, it is just a bonus. In most cases, the tools are made from easier to work material that quickly proves the concept but does not hold up for wear in production, or has some other prototype characteristic that would not be in an actual production tool. In some cases, the prototype may be the final tool. You may need only to add supporting equipment and supplies to be in business.
Q. What happens after the development stage?
A. You are under no further obligation. Either the development process was successful, and you have a road map for tools that are guaranteed to work, if you want to buy them, or it was not, and it turned up additional necessary changes in design which you can make or not, as you wish. If you change them at our request as we converse during the development, then the project will be successful in most cases.
Once in a rare while, an idea has some hidden "gotcha" that pops up half way through, something no one would have imagined possible, that in fact does happen. Sometimes this unexpected problem is so expensive or slow to work around that it violates your manufacturing or design criteria, and thus stops the project.
It is extremely rare for a project to be derailed after the feasibility stage is passed. But it could happen, and you must realize that there is such a possibility and be willing to accept that. Otherwise, do not proceed with the development. It takes a certain kind of person to do innovation, and only you know if you are that person. If you hate to gamble, and get angry when things don't go just right, that is a good sign that you should stick with things that are known to work and leave the innovation to others. But if you like to take a little chance when the odds are good, and can shake off a mistake or outright failure as a learning experience, then you can look at the development stage as knowledge gained, no matter how it turns out.
Going to the doctor because you are concerned about your heart and finding out it is only an upset stomache is similar: some people complain because they spent good money to find out nothing was wrong, while others rejoice that nothing was wrong and are glad someone was able to discover it for almost any price. "What, you wanted a heart attack?", the wise wife asks. "Next time, don't go to the doctor: maybe you'll get lucky!" Only in this case, we are looking at the flip side of the coin: if the project is stopped for good reason, then you have been saved the cost of going forward with an idea that wouldn't have worked, like the "Insurance" bet in playing Blackjack.
But if this remote possibility does not frighten you away, and the development stage is successful, then you have not just a roadmap into uncharted territory, but a blueprint for exactly what you need for production of your new bullet, priced out and ready to order if you want it. The risk has already been taken. You won. We have proven that we can make whatever tooling we have prototyped, and whatever concepts we have had to develop, in order to produce working tooling.
Bear in mind, though, that even if the tooling works and makes the bullet exactly as it should, that doesn't mean it has any history behind it yet. A new tool design is not really final until it has passed through a long usage test. And obviously, this one has not. So you should be prepared for the possibility of incremental changes in the tool becoming necessary to cure problems of excess wear or breakage, or other issues that might develop only after the tooling has produced a large number of bullets or has been operated by inexperienced operators who may not treat it as well as the die-makers who built it.
If you are prepared for the possibility that you might bend a punch or crack a die, or that there may be more abrasive wear with your new lead-free material than anyone anticipated, then it can be seen as an opportunity to improve. You are in essence doing advanced tool testing. Replacements of custom tooling with improved models is not free, but it is done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most changes are confined to one part of the package, and are a small fraction of the initial cost. Most of the time, the tools last very well on the first try, but sometimes it takes one, two, maybe three attempts to get the heat treatment and alloy and tolerances and angles exactly right on some particular component. Be prepared for this when working with a new concept that does not have thirty years of development already behind it.
Q. What is the average cost of development?
A. What does the average new bullet look like? There is no average new bullet. They are all different. If not, they would not be new ideas. So it is with the cost. We have spent as little as half an hour developing a little change in a standard tool that worked perfectly the first try. We have spent as long as six months experimenting to make a difficult project come to a successful completion.
You will know the development cost, after the Feasibility Study has been completed. So will we. Until then, no one knows. Once we have dissected your new idea from a manufacturing standpoint, and have studied the tooling requirements and devised a plan of attack on the potential problems, then we have a much better idea of what it will cost to win the battle.
Q. How long does it take to complete the development stage?
A. With some bullet ideas, we can estimate very closely how long the actual development will take because we have a very good idea what we need to do to solve any potential problems. With other ideas, there may be issues about which we can only guess until we are into the actual testing and experimenting. The usual development stage takes a few days at most.
But some take much longer. We can make no promise of completion before any specified time or upon any certain date. If you want guarantees at this stage, stick with products we have already developed and built for years, and put them on the rush overtime basis, which guarantees delivery within 30 days (and usually gets most orders done within 2 weeks, although this is not a guarantee).
Q. What happens if development costs less than the fee paid?
A. Corbin gives you a detailed accounting of the time and material costs used in developing your new bullet concept. Any funds left from this stage are available in your account, either for refund or to apply to the purchase of production tooling. It is not unusual for some of the funds to be left after development. The development fee is, after all, only an estimate of the actual time and material cost.
Q. What happens if the fee is not enough to finish development?
A. Unless you have made changes in the design or manufacturing criteria that affect the outcome of the feasibility study, Corbin will normally continue to work on our own time to complete your project if we under-estimate the time, and feel that a solution is within reach.
If we have greatly under-estimated the development time and material costs, because of unforeseen problems with manufacturing the new design of bullet, then we may be forced to stop work and present our findings, along with any tooling or experimental work done to this point, and let you make the decision of whether we should continue at time and material rate, or stop.
Q. What is the final stage?
A. The final stage in development of a new bullet is the decision to purchase production tooling and supplies to build it. You do not have to take this final step, of course. Knowing how it can be done, and for what cost, may be all you desired to learn. Perhaps you will market the ideas as a business opportunity to someone else, now that you have solid evidence that it can be done.
If you decide to purchase equipment for production, the cost is spelled out clearly in the development report, in the form of a price quotation. The equipment quoted is guaranteed to make the bullet within the parameters detailed in the design and manufacturing criteria. The bullet is not guaranteed to perform to any specifications of accuracy, ballistics, or marketability, but if made with reasonable care according to instructions, will have the potential for superior performance when loaded and fired in the proper firearm, with the correct load, and at an appropriate target (all of which are outside the control of the tool maker).