The product design process can be a seemingly endless cycle. You create a design, execute it in a prototype, test it in real-world applications, and garner feedback. From that feedback you develop new improvements, then repeat the entire process again.
But at some point, your product design process must move from the metaphorical ‘in-process’ basket to the ‘ready’ basket. So how do you know when your product is ready for the manufacturing stage?
At Beyond Design, we deal with this question frequently. Our clients can sometimes be eager to move their product to manufacturing, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, making your product available to the market is the goal for almost any inventor, company, or product designer. But rushing a product to manufacturing before it’s ready can bring a whole host of costly issues.
On the other hand, some designers become stuck in the cycle of iteration that they have a hard time seeing when it’s time to believe in the current status of their product. After all, no product is flawless—great customer experiences come from minimizing design failures, not completely eliminating them. Eventually, you have to have faith in the quality of your product design enough to move to manufacturing— once it’s as close to perfection as can be achieved.
What to Consider When Designing a Product for Manufacturing
Every product designer, inventor, and creator has experienced the reality check that comes from moving out of the dreamlike phase of imagining a product and its features to the concrete steps of actually building it for mass consumption. This is when certain limitations and realities set in, but it doesn’t mean that you have to limit your vision. By knowing what to expect and what you’ll need before beginning the manufacturing process, you can enter the process equipped for a successful mass production that leads to a successful product release.
Here are some of the key pieces to consider when preparing a product for manufacturing.
Electronic and Mechanical BOM
A bill of materials (BOM) is your official list of everything required for the manufacturing to manufacture your product. This includes the raw materials themselves as well as parts, sub-components, assemblies, and sub-assemblies. Your BOM should also include the quantities of each necessary material or component required for the finished product.
A well-executed BOM doesn’t just help ensure your product is manufactured correctly, but also helps access competitive pricing, reduce lead time, and help bring down the number revision cycles needed to get your product to a place you’re happy with for release.
Manufacturing Cost Estimate
Your manufacturer should provide you with a suggested retail price, and you need to make sure that your product is a profitable one by covering production costs and then some. The ideal ratio for cost estimate to target MSRP is 50%. If your cost to produce is half of your MSRP or less, you’re in a good place.
The more information you can make available and easily accessible for your manufacturer, the more empowered they’ll be to get that information when they need it. Creating a documentation package that includes BOMs, CMF (color, material, finish), product requirements and even information designed to be customer-facing. This isn’t an exhaustive list— based on your unique product, there may be other documentation specific to what you’re manufacturing.
How will you help guarantee that your product is high quality once it’s produced? The best products begin their life with a quality plan, which goes into both the specific requirements of manufacturing and the bird’s eye view of the project. It might include yield targets, MRB (material review board) flow, ongoing reliability needs, and cosmetic requirements.
Testing is an essential part of any production, and having a plan in place for how you plan to ensure your product is functional and safe for your customers is essential. This should include plans for the initial testing phase as well as ongoing testing to provide for continued performance.
Your product will need to be packaged for purchase, and having that packaging ready before the manufacturing process is essential. Delays in creating your packaging can lead to longer lead times, so integrating the packaging design process into your production cycle is essential.
Selecting Materials for Your Product
The process of selecting the right materials for your product will be unique for each product, type, and manufacturing process. But there are some general ways that you can ensure you pick the right materials and source them effectively.
Our recommendation is to bring material considerations into your process as early as possible, even before beginning the prototyping process. Understanding how your product requirements (structural integrity, flexibility, etc.) will affect its production materials early will help you design and prototype with the end in mind— helping avoid costly and frustrating roadblocks later on.
It’s also vital that you understand the properties of various materials, and how they’ll impact how they function within your product. Material property sheets are a great way to get information on different materials, compare them, and choose the right ones for testing and prototyping.
Finally, developing a BOM will get all of your engineers, manufacturers, and (most importantly at this phase) procurers in alignment on the exact materials you’ll need to create your product. After all, you can only track down the best materials when you know what materials you need.
How to Ensure Quality in Mass Production
Many companies, product designers, and inventors ask the same question— how do we make sure that our manufacturer is dependable and will deliver a quality result in mass production?
Here are a few of the signs of a good manufacturer to help ensure you select the right manufacturer for your project and ensure quality at every step of the production line.
Look at the portfolio and history of manufacturers you’re considering. They should not only have a long list of successful productions, but successful productions similar to the product you’re creating.
This is particularly important if you’ve designed a product that’s particularly complex, designed to operate in specific, high-stakes environments (medical equipment, aerospace products).
References can be an effective way to hear from real customers about the experience of a manufacturer. If you’re willing to insist on this from the manufacturer, they’ll be likely to provide them.
Whenever possible, you should conduct an in-person audit of the manufacturer’s facilities to ensure that they’re high quality. The more complete your audit, the more informed you’ll be about whether your manufacturer is up to the task. Things to look out for in general include dependable supply of electricity and backup, the proper machinery for delivering your product (and testing it, in some cases), enough space to store necessary materials and finished products on-site, and a strong internet connection to ensure consistent communication between devices and teams.
How does your manufacturer handle specific issues as they arise? Do they simply address things on a case-by-case basis, or are their established parameters that help them solve problems efficiently, quickly, and without waste? Having a strong quality control process in place is essential when choosing your manufacturer.
They should also have procedures in place for how they communicate with you. How often can you expect reports from them? What information will they include? Ask these questions early in the vetting process.
The product design and manufacturing process can be complicated, but educating yourself is the first step to a successful mass production and product launch.