NPI – New Product Introduction. This denotes the transfer of a product out of the Development phase and into Production. Its not a single event, but a living and adaptive process.
You’re reading this because you want a fresh perspective on the development – manufacturing production optimisation process. And we have one.
There’s no secret source. It requires an eye for detail, an obsessive approach to detail – and then checking every detail of every detail again.
65% perspiration, and 65% sweat – allowing for the fact that you WILL get 30% wrong and have to iterate. So don’t kick yourself when one of the degrees of freedom doesn’t click into place quite the way you hoped. Just do it again.
There are many ways that Contract Manufacturers, their customers and the blogosphere of advisors describe the process – all arbitrary and tidy, understandable and right enough.
This is how we see it – it’s like a braided river system, tumbling towards the ocean – parallel paths, some backwaters, some rapids. It looks chaotic, when you haven’t travelled its branches – but when you look back, it will make sense. If you do it right, then there’s convergence at the end, the tangle becomes one smooth flow of warrantable, high quality product into market.
Your Contract Manufacturer joins this at the points that make the most sense for YOUR team, YOUR product.
Selecting a Right Contract Manufacturer
This is not a simple task – but if you do this right, you’ll begin building a partnership that will quickly become a foundation stone you can just rely on.
Build a strong relationship, integrate well, communicate regularly and clearly – and visit regularly. Nothing boosts your confidence and theirs more than shared time.
Mapping the flow of your product
Before Production (BP)
Before you cut metal, book production lines, finalise your marketing collateral, and celebrate the your product, you have fundamental boxes to tick;
You must have a specification.
You must confirm that the product is feasible.
You must develop the product concept to the point of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) built.
You must aggressively – and continuously – validate that the product meets the defined need and survives engagement with the market.
You must be ready for pilot build, all the sourcing and logistics ready and primed to succeed – perfection can wait, avoiding serious delays is imperative.
So far so good. Most people advise you to look at Before Production tasks as standalone items – we know, from experience, that they’re an interactive, iterative loop process with multiple outcomes – only frozen by deep and market driven validation.
If your specification remains unchanged from the early development, then you’re exceptional (or wrong).
If your concept passes every feasibility review you can throw at it, you’ve likely missed something.
If your first iteration prototype works you’re doing well. If it doesn’t also show you where your specification was wrong, you are exceptional (or wrong).
Depending on the nature of your team, a skilled Contract Manufacturer can be invaluable in these iterations – offering the greatest impact once you THINK these specification/feasibility/prototype stages are finished!
Your chosen Contract Manufacturer must be an integrated part of your New Product Introduction (NPI) team, if you are to get value from their experienced, knowledgeable services. And you should look at their services as a continuum that can assist where you need support – and they’ll be happy to back off where you say you’ve got it.
You MAY wish to involve your Contract Manufacturer in early versions of the specification, hiring them to provide Engineering Consulting services. This is not common, but can add value. Giving them a later, advisory role in the specification is a wise choice and they’ll be able to assist with;
Feasibility – is your product idea and your approach to manufacture optimal? Practical? Minimal? Workable? Your Contract Manufacturer can often add value, even quite late in the process.
Material choices – key to the real world performance AND profitability of your product, getting early Contract Manufacturer input to detailed material selections can help.
Risk planning – while not strictly part of the specification, the purpose of the spec is to codify and fix the risk mitigations you decide are important.
QA and Validation planning – your specification will grow to include this. It is empowering to get a clear definition of what success is, and know how and when to iterate that definition to strengthen your product and its performance.
These can often be accelerated by involving the Contract Manufacturer – they probably have better services, lower costs and faster turnaround than you’re used to.
DFM (Design For Manufacture) – this is part of the core skill of any manufacturer and their input is likely to save you time, money and heartache. Knowing how to optimise the small and large details, to ease assembly and reduce failures requires skill and experience – and experienced eyes on this task group can help.
Prototyping – You can speed up your performance, durability and HALT testing by means of high functioning prototypes and fast iterations that build confidence.
Design iteration – a natural part of this cyclic process is to refine design details – and these are often about fundamental function and product refinement – and you’ll benefit from considering all options, even if you don’t adopt them.
None of this effort means much if you’re not testing, testing, testing. More prototypes, more time in test, more criteria evaluated. There is no limit to what you COULD do – but of course there must be a point where you move on and congratulate yourself on a product well done.
Performance testing – from basic to advanced, depending on the complexity of the product.
RF emissions and susceptibility – many product classes NEED this, many more benefit from it. Making the users cell phone crackle is not a way to win the heart and mind of the market.
QA evaluation tools – how will the factory measure a successful outcome, quickly and easily?
Record keeing – are you going to serial number and link products back into the QA system? As a way of evaluating real market performance (and particularly customer returns) this can be very powerful.
Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT) – knowing where your product fails in long term use can be SO valuable. Knowing that it fails after 6 months is VERY different from knowing how it fails at 2x the warranty period. Expert support in ‘accelerating’ time is a MUST, and your Contract Manufacturer is very likely to have all of these skills in easy reach.
Pilot and mass production preparation
Sourcing is the area where the Contract Manufacturer can bring greatest skill to your product to the point where you may well choose to put them in the driving seat (while you thoughtfully navigate from the back seat, of course!).
Indented Bill of Materials – know your parts are all correct, know your suppliers and purchasing details are orderly and clear. Know how this relates to your own and your Contract manufacturers Enterprise Software – you need your product to slide seamlessly into a purchasing and production planning system.
SOPs – you will need to write these in close conjunction with the Contract Manufacturer. While You know your product, THEY know their process, so the SOPs must converge all of that knowledge in clear terms that require minimum training.
Test processes and equipment – this might be as little as a set of Vernier callipers and a drawing – all the way up to programming jigs, self test software, hydraulic/RF/wireless testing and more. Neglect a detail here, and trouble will follow. If you planned all of this in concert with the Contract Manufacturer then you’ve got it covered.
During Production (DP)
Once your pilot or Pre-Production build starts, the learning accelerates
Evolve the process – you WILL discover the shortcomings in your component specifications and SOPs, so make sure that your team – your production engineers, the Contract Manufacturer, the R&D team, the Sourcing team and the Quality team are all live and involved, so the learning results in iteration and optimisation.
Stay alert to the opportunities that the pilot build presents – it will likely result in potential design iterations and you’ll have the hard decision to make – do you iterate in series (i.e. stop and review) or parallel (i.e. proceed but make component adjustments on the fly, formally revising as and when possible to produce a ‘new’ version).
Will you get enough ‘good’ product to satisfy all stakeholders – market, QA, R&D and more? Can you achieve more output by grading (i.e. low cosmetic product for R&D, non functioning product for display etc?
Keep good records – being able to go back and see what went right and what went wrong is very useful.
After Production (AP)
Finally, your product is real and in your hands. This is a big achievement – and you need to use every aspect as evaluation tools to inform what follows.
Review, review, review – you cannot get too many eyes on the outcome and you should aim to nurture a whole-team discussion about strengths and yet to be addressed weaknesses.
Get market feedback into this review process – nothing informs more than the customer if you ask the right questions.
Document EVERYTHING – the ideal manufacturing setup in one that can be thrown over a wall, picked up by strangers and result in the same or better outcomes.
Is your production data package portable? If your Contract Manufacturer is too small, you require a second source, do you have INDEPENDENT control of everything, ready to do it again – but using the hard learned knowledge you spent money acquiring?
The New Product Introduction process is an intricate set of relatively simple tasks – and an experienced Contract Manufacturer is a powerful ally for you.
Do it well enough, with the right support and partners, and you’ll navigate the obstacle course and MAKE YOUR PRODUCT right.