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Product Development


Product development strategy.

This is the process of defining the product to be sold; designing it, prototyping & evaluating it; and determine how and where to manufacture it.

Typically, it starts with a marketing effort to define the product. This definition aims to fulfill a need or solve a problem. It includes analysis of the competition and determining the sales price and cost goals. The customer and sales channel should be identified. It may result in a formal marketing document.

Often the marketing document is rewritten by the engineering group as a product requirements document (PRD). Some companies fold these docs into one. You must have a PRD! It tells your designers what the result of their efforts must be. It should specify the end requirements; let the designers determine what techniques to use.

For example, specify "the widget must weigh less than 1lb", not "make the widget out of polypropylene so it is light weight".

In the end, the PRD is the tool used to evaluate your design and prototypes. The design, then the prototypes, then the pilot run, should all match the PRD. The PRD can be a 100 page document or a bulleted list on an email. It can evolve and change during the course of product development. We can help you write it.

You may want to write a Statement of Work. The SOW tells an outside firm or consultant what you want done. Do you want multiple concepts in the form of life-like renderings? Or maybe a conceptual sketch, block diagram, or detailed design and prototypes. Smaller firms tend to communicate this verbally while others formalize it in writing and attach it to a purchase order.

Initial design work will be conceptual, leading up to a preliminary design review. We often offer multiple options at the PDR, but sometimes one idea is proposed. Depending on your SOW, this phase may include industrial design, photorealistic renderings, concept sketches, block diagrams or special component selection. Each custom part will be identified and materials and manufacturing processes will be specified.

The next phase is the detailed design which typically takes the longest and costs the most. This is where 3D computer aided design is done; circuit design is captured in schematic diagrams; and PCB layout is completed. We normally formalize PCB fabrication and assembly drawings but leave mechanical fab and assembly drawings until after the critical design review. Firmware is generated for embedded controllers, FPGA’s, and for graphic user interfaces. Special firmware and software may be required to control touch screens for display and control.The CDR includes a review of the bill of materials and is the checkpoint before spending money on parts and prototypes.

Prototyping is a major milestone in the development process. Knowing when and how comes from years of experience. Prototyping too early wastes money on poor protos; too late means you wasted time & money in the detailed design phase. After the prototypes are evaluated, design files are updated and another round of protos is built. How many times this cycle is repeated is related to the complexity of the product and the type of part. Sheet metal parts are often right the first time; PCBs rarely are. The die-cut parts will be right but half the molded parts will need a re-spin.

When everyone is happy with the working prototype it's time to formalize all the documentation. Mechanical fabrication drawings are completed as are simple assembly drawings. Other data files will included 3D IGES files, PCB artwork files, bills of materials, firmware and possibly assembly instructions. All this is organized for transfer to your manufacturer.

The last part of product development has to do with transferring ownership of the design data to the responsible manufacturing team. This group may be inside your firm or at an outside contract manufacture -maybe overseas. Typical issues involve small changes to injection-molded part designs to facilitate cost-effective tooling fabrication; or missing dimensions on fab drawings; or maybe component changes to address procurement issues. This phase may proceed intermittently over many months.

Product development is difficult and expensive but if a product succeeds in the marketplace it can be very lucrative. Successful products garner profits plus development funds for future products. The following appeared in the LA Times over 20 years ago and is still our favorite product development philosophy: "MiniMed has been profitable from the time it went public in 1995. It is built on a business plan that divides the development of an automated pancreas into smaller, achievable steps - each of which brings new products to market - and additional profits."

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