So you’ve skipped on sleeping, spent money you don’t have, and, finally, your prototype works and is ready for the market. Now you’re ready to commercialize. But before you get started, here are three simple tips that will help you get off on the right foot with your manufacturing partners (and potentially save you a headache or two).
1. Learn to talk like a manufacturer (or find someone who can).
If you’re like most startups, you will need to work with a contract manufacturer to scaleup your product or technology. Yet your team may lack in-depth technical expertise about how large-scale manufacturers work and what is needed to work with them. This can send a lot of static down the line when it comes to communicating your product design requirements, resulting in a product that doesn’t meet your expectations.
Lack of readiness for production scaleup typically results in multiple iterations, which can quickly drain a company’s resources. Avoid this common pitfall by making sure your prototype design is in a format that makes sense to a manufacturer. You can avoid a lot of frustration by having an experienced manufacturing engineer review it first.
2. Know every way your product could fail.
Nobody likes epic fails. But the best way to avoid a really expensive one is by first studying every possible way in which your product could fail. This is called “failure mode analysis.” Commercializing a product or technology without this step can lead to disastrous consequences for a company big or small. (General Motors learned this the hard way.)
Two common tools for analyzing failure modes within a product or process are the cause and effect fishbone model and the failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA) model. The fishbone model allows engineers and designers to outline all the possible ways that a process or product could fail. This method can help a team to see a potentially major issue, even if it seems insignificant or minor on its own. The FMEA tool is used to identify, define, and eliminate known or potential failures from a product’s performance. It is useful because it allows engineers to rank different failure modes in terms of priority.
3. Make sure your manufacturer understands what quality you expect.
Your quality story will end with what the customer thinks about your product. For that reason, the customer is the right place to start. When it comes to manufacturing, the challenge is turning the voice of the customer into a process that consistently delivers quality. And that means thinking about quality like an engineer. It can seem counterintuitive, but variation is inherent to any manufacturing process. The job of an engineer is to figure out how much variation your customer will tolerate before giving you a one-star review online.
Manufacturers control variation by defining what’s known as “process capability.” To do this, they use the design specification you provide them. The design should set the “spec limits” (or tolerances) that reflect your standards of quality. The manufacturer builds a process using those limits. Typically, the manufacturing process limits are tighter than the design specs in order to further reduce the potential for defects and, ultimately, the cost of production.
Well thought out design spec limits and tolerances are critical to ensuring the performance of your product. They also help your manufacturer better understand what you think are the most important features of your design. However, don’t be surprised if the manufacturing engineer suggests that you make changes to your design—they want to work with you to make build a process that is as efficient as possible.
Remember, it’s a conversation. You may be able to make the change or you may not. In either case, it’s your decision based on what you think will best guarantee that your product will perform to your customers’ expectations.
Found these tips useful? Learn more about commercialization at Hardware Scaleup, a New York State program created to help startups bring clean technology innovations to market.