As you complete the development of your hardware product, you are starting to prepare for manufacturing. Here are 5 things that need to be done before you are ready for manufacturing:
- Have your specifications done
If you need to tweak your design in production, it is far more expensive in money and time than during prototypes. All of your design files should be finalized including your 3D models, detailed drawings, Gerber files, and Bill of Materials (BOM), but be sure to leave enough room should your manufacturer need to request changes or make recommendations to make it faster, easier, and/or with better yields that result in lower costs. In completing your design content, think of it as the primary means of your contract with your manufacturer; leaving things open to interpretation or assumption is not in your favor!
2. Know what and how it needs to be tested before shipment
You’re going to do a lot of testing to validate your design, but that isn’t the end of your test development presuming you don’t want your customers to do your product testing. During manufacturing, the design will be manufactured within a process window – how wide this process window is depends on a number of variables. As each of the features ‘float’ within this process window some (hopefully most) of the parts will end up working and others will not – this can be caused by defects or tolerance interferences. You will want to catch those that don’t work or those that won’t work for as long as you expect them to before they leave the manufacturer. If you aren’t sure what should be tested look at your failures during development or consider the weakest areas within the design or a requirement that can’t be violated without legal ramifications. You also need to balance how much you test with how long it takes, because when it comes to production test, time is money!
3. Draft assembly instructions
You’ve put your design together and taken it apart more times than you can count – you might be able to assemble it with your eyes closed and only 2 fingers, but your manufacturing partner hasn't ever seen it before. They don’t know which parts need to go in first or the special way a cable has to be installed to wrap without getting pinched. Unlike your design documents, you don’t need to have every detail written down, but at a minimum provide your manufacturing partner a high-level overview of how it goes together and any special tricks or tools you’ve developed. As you get closer to finalizing your design, start writing down how it goes together or take pictures and add arrows or circles because it might just save you 1000 words!
4. Know your 3-5 year minimum and maximum forecasts
You’ve done the market research and you know how big your market could be and how much market share you expect to have, but I don’t think I’ve seen an initial forecast that didn’t look like an exponential growth curve over the first 5 years. While it is important to be sure your manufacturing partner can handle the upside growth curve, you need to be sure that they are still interested in your business if you only grow 20% year over year for 10 years. Don’t promise them the moon in your forecast, but only deliver a bottle of glitter in actual orders - much like your investors, they are looking to make profit with you.
5. Mental preparedness & project stamina
There are 2 key areas where the complexity of manufacturing is underestimated: how long it will take and how much it will cost. Every time I meet a new inventor who has spent the last several years of their lives designing, developing, testing, and iterating their product and is finally ready to take it to market, there’s a sense that the hard part is over and it is all downhill through manufacturing; nothing could be farther from the truth. Starting production is like starting over because it has its own innate iterations and development cycle. Think of it – the product had to go through design iterations to get to the point it is at, now the manufacturing process has to be developed to make this new product. Manufacturing is its own project within the project. If it wasn’t bad enough that it takes longer than expected, frustration can set in when there are ever-rising costs associated with the delays. While iterations can be costly in production, so can underestimating initial yields. The initial production run will not likely have yields above 90%, in fact, numerous projects I’ve worked on didn’t have yields over 40% on the first production run. After the battle needed to complete your design, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for another struggle until your design is finally birthed and sitting in inventory to fulfill your initial customer orders – then the end is in sight!