You’ve tinkered with your design for the last few months, and finally had the courage to move on to the next steps. But are you really ready for what is about to come at you? The ocean of manufacturers located in all corners of the world, the wide array of material selection, the foreign business cultural differences, the daunting fear of losing your precious IP, are all just the surface of what will scratch your mind. Today we want to explore checkmarks to know your designs are ready for mass production.
1: You have all your design & schematic files ready
Before getting into this stage of your product development cycle, hopefully you have all your designs edited and finalized through generations of prototyping and refinement. The most basic files that is necessary to move forward would include a finalized version of everything below.
o Bill of Material
o 3D and 2D CAD
o Industrial Product Design Maps
· If including electronics
o Bill of Material
o Gerber File
2: You have gone through different iterations of a prototype
Prototypes should have been completed however many times until the manufacturable prototype is established. Many people who go through one or two iterations of prototyping decide to put that into production, and often run into production failure after implementation. Prototyping should be thorough and endure numerous testings. Building the right prototype is like building the foundation of a building, the more complex, the higher you want to go, the stronger the foundation must be.
Most people go through three to five versions of prototype before settling on a finalized exterior design, as well as internal functionality. Costs will also be a main driver to your finalized prototype functionality and can paint a pretty accurate estimation on how much your manufacturing will cost. In order to accurately predict the outcome of the project, it is much cheaper to make pivotal changes at the prototyping level than at the manufacturing level. Be patient, the reward of having a strong foundation will pay off when you do start mass manufacturing your product.
Prototyping could have been done in many different ways. Technologies like 3D printing or additive materials have made the process a lot easier and allowed for more room for experimentation. No matter however way you chose to do your prototyping, don’t settle for a half-assed prototype. Get a few iterations done, go through testing, and get more done, it will always be a process of trial and error.
3: Proper strategies developed for the manufacturing landscape
It is really critical to have a strategy in place for your manufacturing options laid out prior to signing any formal contracts. There are many things that should be considered when working with a manufacturer to ensure lower possibility of failure. Below are a list of considerations for situating and selecting your manufacturing solutions.
· Foreign or local?
Manufacturing locally could be easier to manage, great for the local economy, and easier to negotiate and make changes. However, such luxury comes with a higher price tag and at times limited expertise given the location you are in. Going off-shore is a good idea when you know what to expect and when you have done your research. Good manufacturing partners will assist the growth in all stages of your product, while the not-so-good ones will slow you down, if not hurt your process. Evaluate all options before settling, speak to industry professionals, speak to friends or colleagues who have done it before. Experience is king.
· Does your manufacturer have prior experience with your product?
This becomes particularly important if your product have some domain expertise that needs specialization. Alot of times, inventors approach smaller manufacturers to save costs, only to realize that they lack the ability to complete the production to the standard that was expected of them. Prior experience is great, and the majority of the time will serve you well if you work with someone who has worked on projects that are similar to yours in the past.
If you are out of luck and can’t find anyone like that (don’t feel bad, many don’t), then the level of monitoring and cooperation with their engineering team needs to be on a close and high level.
· What’s the standard business practice of the country?
This matters more than you think, and is an area where alot of people fail at building trusting relationships with their manufacturers and suppliers. Many people assume the way to do business is universal or every international business should adopt a certain way. This is not true to any extent, different cultures in the East are prevalent and influence the way they do business. Many cultures value respect to those who are more experienced and older, and may come off as insensitive and disrespectful through certain practices. Many cultures also value a personal relationship when doing business, many want to care about your personal lives and often cut the greatest deals to those who connect with them on a personal level as well. Without having taken these things into consideration, many startups approach manufacturers with the wrong method and get off to a rocky start.
· Does your manufacturer respect your IP?
This is an area that 99% of you all care about, is natural to care about and you should care about. We have all heard horror stories about manufacturers in the East stealing their design, and went to market faster, cheaper, than the start-up who invented the product. IP is a controversial topic especially in China, with alot of leeway to allow them to argue against the inventor, often times by focusing on the minimal changes to the original product.
Having your idea stolen sucks, and we all want to work towards not letting that happen. However it is better to be prepared and overly cautious in this area than not. The most basic things you can do is vet every person you work with through their online presence, their references, and previous customers. To dig deeper, it is up to you to observe small interactions between you and the manufacturer and make your call on whether if their words are really going to match their actions. You could find out more than you think through being more detailed
· How transparent is and will the process of working with them be?
After discussing with a few potential manufacturers, evaluate your experience working with them thus far. Have they been cooperative, quick to respond and honest with their capabilities, or are they all talk? This will be especially important when you begin to narrow your options down because you want people who will represent you to help you develop your products. If your manufacturer only makes the mechanical parts while guaranteeing you the electrical components are doable as well, while outsourcing such efforts, that is an extra layer of risk that you have to bare and an extra layer of people that may not share the same guarantees as the manufacturer you’re working with. Having a transparent manufacturer will allow you to make more informed decisions, and can actually benefit the development process in the long run.
·What is the extent to the service being provided to you and what is outsourced?
As stated above, many manufacturers will offer a “one stop shop” or a “total solution” of the product development cycle when in reality most of them are not what they claim they are. They are typically comprised of a service that they do in-house, and the remainder of the services will be outsourced. What is bad about this practice is you as the entrepreneur don’t know about this until something is going wrong with development. Outsourced services are harder to manage as well, both on the IP level as well as the quality control level. When there are more people involved, the risk of failure increases and becomes harder to pinpoint and troubleshoot if something does go wrong.
The upside to this is that it is often times cheaper than finding your own solution, due to the frequent collaboration and partnerships these manufacturers have with each other. However if this method is chosen, make sure to understand the manufacturer’s tolerance on accepting low volume production to when scaling is necessary. If this is not considered, at times the supply will not be able to cope with the growth, and product will either become more expensive, or drop in quality. But it is up to you to decide whether if that upside is worth the risks.
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Brandon Lu is the Founder of LYNKD, a new age product development and sourcing management firm that focuses on manufacturing and go-to market strategies.