You’ve taken the necessary steps; you’ve designed, tested, iterated, prototyped, and now you stand with a great-looking, perfectly-functioning device looking confidently towards your first production run. But the waters look a little different in the production realm, don’t they?
If prototyping is the kids end of the swimming pool, the production environment is most certainly the deep end, except filled with sharks, whales, and everything in-between. It can certainly be a daunting sight, but with the right navigation you’ll be through and swimming seamlessly in no time.
So how do you make a clean transition when moving a prototype to production runs? Let’s explore three steps you can take to make it as smooth as possible.
1. Pre-Production Validation
This will be the most repeated piece of advice in most articles that you’ll explore, but for good reason. We shouldn’t even consider production runs if we haven’t validated our product. This doesn’t just mean validation on the prototyping front.
Of the common validation stages, you’ll take your product through, you’ve likely already passed the engineering and design validation stages and emerging with a stellar prototype. Two additional stages should be accounted for well before considering production:
Market Validation: Again this is nothing new, but pulling the trigger and stocking up on 1,000 units of something that might only sell 10 will turn you into shark bait quicker than you would have otherwise hoped. Ensure you can show data to support that the market will support the coming production runs.
Design for Manufacturing (DFM) Validation: This step is often overlooked when transitioning from prototyping to the manufacturing phase. This is where design engineers’ form factors get picked apart by a manufacturing rep, ultimately requiring a whole new design iteration. This will eat at your time and your budget. Come to the table prepared, or at least close to it. Understanding manufacturer’s capabilities early on will help you accelerate this process.
Once you show that folks will buy the thing and manufacturers can very likely build the thing, you can move on to the exciting part!
Finding a manufacturer might send you through a series of mixed emotions. Choose wisely.
2. Finding Your Manufacturer
During the search for your manufacturing partner, you might experience symptoms similar to that of dating someone. It’ll take time to get to know them – you might get disappointed, frustrated at times, and during other times you might fall in love. But that’s just the nature of the beast.
Breaking down the process, the following are some general tips that will ensure you find your manufacturing soulmate:
Check References: You might easily be impressed by their initial qualifications, capabilities, or general appearance, but be sure to verify by asking and following up with references prior to engagement.
Shop Around: The truth of the world is that sometimes things don’t work out. Things might be going great with one manufacturer and they get a whiff of a larger contract which leaves you stranded. This is what makes the deep end a shark eat shark environment. Don’t hesitate to set up multiple agreements with a handful of carefully selected manufacturers in the event of unexpected breakups.
Baby Steps: Moving quickly through anything increases risk of long-term failure, let alone in manufacturing partnerships. Start small, even if that means asking for a first piece to be produced and inspected prior to production run. Making sure you are happy all along the way is key to a healthy partnership down the road.
Build Your Relationship: As stated before, these manufacturing partnerships you are aiming to make should be treated like any other personal relationship you have in your life. You are giving this person a (potentially) large sum of your money, know the team that is handling your investment and you’ll feel more confident conducting business with them.
After you’ve found your soulmate, it’s time to press on the gas and ramp up production, but not too quickly.
Planning out your scaling efforts can save you from making big production moves too soon.
3. Scale Wisely
You’ve validated your design with a rockstar manufacturer and your foot is on the pedal. Like anyone in your position, especially when seeing early sales numbers, you’ll be tempted to floor it, pumping out plenty of inventory for customers all around the world. This is one way to do it, another way would be to ease off on the thoughts of zero to mass production in sixty seconds, and account for proper budget for proper scaling.
Referencing back to a previous production article, we discussed the 2×2 rule. Essentially, the budget for production runs two months from now will come from revenue from 2 months ago.
Although a guideline, you’ll notice that the more you press on the production gas pedal and ramp up the less cash you’ll have on hand. This is an easy way to budget properly and to not run yourself dead in the water.
The path towards your first production run is a roller coaster. From the excitement of holding your first valid prototype to the fear of taking your first laps in the deep end of the manufacturing production environment, you’ll experience what nearly every hardware start-up-preneur will go through.
Keeping your wits about you will surely save you from making avoidable mistakes. Ensure your product is market and manufacturing ready, carefully seek out your manufacturing soulmate, then wisely pump the production pedal.
As the dust settles from the long production journey, keeping up with design variations, part changes, and production ready file outputs will be your new daily grind. Utilizing unified software ready to handle these new challenges will make your life that much easier.
The Altium community has a long-standing history of producing software for circuit design that helps handle an array of production level complexities. They also produce great resources and to help with design for manufacturing so you can make the most from your production process.
Editor’s note: this is a contributed post written by the fabulous team at Altium. For more information on the company and their products, please visit their site at altium.com.