The Product Development Process – Step 6 – Production
The Product Development Process — Production
Step 6 – Production Details and Production
When the design is ready to go out to the world — Design done, Testing complete, Requirements satisfied, Business Plan and Marketing Analysis thumbs up — it is ready for production. For many products — and especially for inventors — this is where the real work begins. The Production phase is usually, by far, the most expensive.
Documents like the Business Plan and Marketing Analysis, if done honestly, will tell you if production is feasible long before you complete the earlier steps. This is the big money step, so make sure you’re ready for it — long before it comes.
The first step into production is thorough documentation of the design. This means full engineering drawings for the applicable parts and complete 3D computer models for others. It includes final design optimization with an eye to minimizing costs and maximizing ease of assembly in manufacturing. And of course, documentation for assembly (where appropriate) including bolt torque specs, adhesives application, painting, labeling, packaging, assembly order, etc..
Production documentation is usually a combination of:
- Part detail drawings;
- Final CAD models;
- Component specifications – materials, processing, colors, textures, etc.;
- Assembly drawings;
- Assembly process drawings;
- Special instructions for assembly;
- Product specifications – Bill of Materials, assembly techniques, purchased parts, packaging, etc.;
- Manufacturing specifications;
Much of the documentation process can be done in parallel with the long lead manufacturing items like mold making, dies or pattern making. Also, more or less detail may be needed depending on the product, the manufacturing facilities, company records requirements, etc.. Choose your manufacturing partners early, then work with them on the needed documentation.
The final production processes usually include the following steps, yet detail for these steps will differ with each product and schedule.
- Final production quotes.
- Vendor selection and kick-off.
- Design of special tools and/or fixtures (where needed).
- Inclusion of final design input from manufacturers.
- First article component verification and sign-off.
- First assembly validation and sign-off.
- Launch of production.
- Sell, distribution, (??) of Products
The production processes and costs will differ widely for each product, for each manufacturing process and for each location. Some items (like plastic injection molds or casting patterns or dies) can take months to make and are very expensive. Some items require special tooling or fixtures that are designed and validated along the way. In any case, the production process is always involved and is usually time consuming. It is also (usually) quite costly.
Choosing the right production process for the specific needs and quantities of each product is key to success. Truly there is far more involved than we will cover in this article, and perhaps more importantly, the specifics change with every unique application. For more generalized information, see the Process Notes.
The Cost/Volume Continuum
Typically, the more pieces you make the cheaper they are, but more NRE is involved. (NRE is Non-Recoverable Expense, which is things like the expense of molds or other tooling.) Each type of production process (like molding, stamping, casting, machining) has a different level of NRE depending on a bunch of factors. See the discussion in our Notes Section for more information.
There is a continuum, like a graph, of Cost and Quantity. As you move from low quantity to high quantity the cost per produced part goes down. But, NRE goes up.
It is not our purpose here to discuss all the variations of manufacturing processes. Suffice it to say that there are many ways to make a part — some adapted better for low volume and some for higher volume. Some processes can adapt to best use in cooperation with other processes. For example, in low quantity a machined part is cost effective. With higher quantity, forging or casting the net shape, then machining the details is faster and cheaper. For even higher production, automated machines with dedicated heads and such can have very high throughput.
Before moving forward, learn what processes there are, then evaluate available processes as they pertain to your product. Finally, be willing to think outside the box to achieve your goals.
Choosing Manufacturing Partners
Along with defining the processes, comes the choices for manufacturing vendors. Choosing vendors is tricky and time consuming, because so many companies in almost every country are willing to make “stuff” for you. Some have more expertise, some offer a lower price. Some understand quality, while others don’t. Perhaps more important, some companies respect the customer (you) and will work with you to achieve the goals, yet others just want the work and will build things the way they think regardless of your instructions. Your choices for vendors (I like to think of them as partners) will have an enormous effect on the headaches you deal with later.
A Note About Off-Shore Manufacturing:
The term “Off Shore” really has nothing to do with oceans as it implies, it really has more to do with the country of origin being different than the country where the manufacturing is done. There has been a trend in the last many years (especially in the USA) to do a lot of manufacturing in other countries where regulations are relaxed or where labor is cheap. There are dozens of arguments about whether this is good or not, but in the end it is your decision for your products.
In our experience we’ve seen successes and we’ve seen disasters. Here are some things to consider in making that decision:
- First, it is never as easy to go off-shore as they say.
- There are always more costs than anticipated — shipping, tariffs, import fees, export fees, government extras, travel, brokers, etc…
- There is always more to it than anticipated — finding a reliable shipper, unraveling government regulations, timing, delays, etc…
- How well do you speak the foreign language? How well do you know the customs? Who do you know that can bridge these gaps? Can you find a fair and reliable agent to handle these things for you? If so, what will they cost?
- What resources do you have to assure quality? (What happens when you get a container load of widgets that are not right?)
- How much control do you wish to have over the final product?
And, On The Moral Side:
- Do you have moral values regarding the way a potential vendor manufacturers? Pollution? Child labor? Working conditions? (Not all of these apply, but you need to think about what does.)
- Would you run your factory the same way in your city? If not, can you negotiate ways to change that?
- Do you claim a strong allegiance to your country and decry others that take jobs off shore?
Again, from our experience, if you have high enough quantities, along with time and resources to deal with all the little things that come up, off-shore manufacturing can be a real boon. If not, it can be a big headache. Learn before you buy.
A Second Note
In more recent times, some of the companies that were first to push their manufacturing off shore are now re-thinking and bringing some back. Labor rates overseas have risen, and quality concerns (in some cases) have caused some companies to think again about what goes out, and what stays home. Since this is a big decision, it might be a good exercise to learn WHY as it pertains to your new product.
There is nothing magic about China, Mexico, Indonesia, the USA or any other country. There are wonderful, helpful, honest people in all of these places that are ready to help. We have done cost comparisons with USA vs. China, for instance, and some comparisons come in favor of a USA manufacturer, then others come in favor of the off-shore company. There are too many variables to properly address the topic here, so just note that decisions are not as easy as it seems.
For more detail, please see the expanded discussion on Pros & Cons of Foreign Manufacturing.
These choices require some knowledge on your part, like it or not. Please read our Who Makes This Stuff? Page for a lot more information on this topic.
Production (our Speaker Example)
This example with our speaker did not go to production in the classic sense. It was not our purpose to build and sell the complete speakers, but rather make them available as a do-it-yourself project for others to build.
Like most software products, distribution of the final code is a substitute. From that perspective, all the launch details with drawings and such are complete. Plans have been sold, so I assume others have been built, but that is not really part of manufacturing as discussed above.
Concluding Thoughts . . .
The production phase is fraught with numerous variables, and it will take some time to sort through the possibilities. Start the research early with input from potential vendors. This is will enhance the transition from design to production, and make it easier for everyone. Of course, this is a very general statement because the particulars of any given product will certainly drive the path to production in its own unique way.
The most important advise I can give is get some help. If you are not familiar with manufacturing and with choosing production vendors, get some help. Talk with more than one “expert”, and Read This.
Be cautious, yet optimistic as you progress. Ask lots of questions and find experts that can help guide the process, because it is very satisfying to see your widget in production.
Next Up: Process Notes – Time, Cost, and other Considerations
Steps in the Process: