Product development is a complex and risky endeavor. Yet you must come up with new and better products in order to remain in business because you’re in an ongoing race with everyone else on the market and newcomers you may not know are about to revolutionize the industry. Let’s learn more about your options regarding product development.
Product Development Basics: Getting to know your options
In-House Design and Production
This is the traditional method of product development. This is understandable given that you have complete control over the intellectual property, the schedule, and the budget. The problem is that few companies are skilled in the development side of research and development. They’re often limited to the manufacturing methods they have in-house to come up with a way to make their new product, though more efficient or advanced manufacturing methods may exist. A classic case would be designing a frame that is machined in your machine shop when 3D printing would be cheaper and faster. You’re also absorbing the cost of development and initial production runs, when the process may be faster and cheaper if you outsourced it to someone else.
In-House Design and Contracted Manufacturing
A growing number of companies are becoming intellectual property firms instead of manufacturers. They’ll design the electronics that form the core of their new line of electronics and hire a contract manufacturer to build it in volume. They may design and build the prototypes themselves, or they may outsource the prototyping to a third organization. Prototyping houses offer lower costs than dedicating your engineering team to coming up with circuit boards and protective housing for a new speaker.
In-House Initial Design with Contracted Partners
In this business model, your team is coming up with rough ideas for a product. Then you hire experts that can create a variety of prototypes. Each prototype can be tested for compliance with various industry standards, and you can have investors and consumer panels review it, as well. Select a prototype based on form, function, performance and estimated production cost. You could then move from prototype to end product by either hiring the prototyping firm to create the first few hundred units for sale or getting design information from them to be followed by contract manufacturers. Conversely, you could also use that same information yourself to build the final prototype in-house, assuming you have the parts and the capability.
Note that contracted partners could make any or all of the components in your new product. For example, you could have them assemble the complex printed circuit board to which you attach off-the-shelf and internally made components. This can often save you a lot of money because they’re able to offer PCBs at economies of scale well beyond what you’d make in house. They may make millions of PCBs a year whereas you only need 50,000.
Tips for Finding the Right Contract Manufacturer
What factors should you use to select a contract manufacturer? The first would be the location. If they’re located too far from your firm, it may take weeks to send a prototype to you to test and approve. And the prototyping and early production stage are when time is of the essence. The second is the capability. Do they have experience making the type of components you want to be produced? You don’t ask a machine shop to make PCBs. And you shouldn’t ask someone who typically makes small, thin PCBs to create a thick, complex board. It is outside their expertise and will come at a higher cost than a company that makes those items regularly will charge. A third factor would be engineering experience and resources. Can you just give them a drawing with the dimensions of the PCB and a rough outline of the design and they come up with a working prototype? Can they give you a polished set of work instructions and affordable parts list? However, you don’t want to work with a firm that tells you they’re the only source of your critical parts.