Peter Heuss, P.Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
I need to start this post with the admission that I am a mechanical engineer and I’ve been as guilty of this as most. I’ve had a good career that has included a fair amount of component and system design and I have learned my lesson; I just wish that I could have learned the lesson sooner.
Designing a new product takes a great amount of creativity and ingenuity. A designer, or team of designers, will develop great new product ideas, often under very short time frames, using what is quick and convenient. And these first samples can be amazing. But making a small number of units is not production.
Taking that prototype into production requires a significant amount of additional input.
The problem often is that we designers (this is where I’m guilty as well) are smart people and believe we can solve all the problems. If we don’t know something, of course we can learn it. I’ve heard many designers say that they want to have the journey, to learn as they develop the product. There’s a personal pride in being able to deliver a final working product. BUT, there’s no way that any one person, or team, can have all the experience or current knowledge to adequately plan and design for all of the factors that go into successful production.
When planning for production, every aspect of the design has to be questioned and weighed against producing in the required volumes, at that right time, and at the right price. It has been my experience that one of the major considerations that gets ignored is that, in production, manufacturing won’t be done by the design team. Everything must be available and go together as simply as possible, the same way every time. The end product can’t need to be ‘tweaked’.
There will be long list of stakeholders in production, and they all need to have a say to make the product a success. The design team needs to understand:
And the list goes on.
To successfully plan and execute taking a product into production any team is going to have solicit information from elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with asking what will be required, or for bringing in outside resources to provide all of the specialty functions that are only required during NPI.
The right time to start asking for help is from the start. The earlier you get input, the quicker you have a viable production plan.
The team that developed the product are going to be smart people and could likely learn everything required (given enough time and resources). However, that is very rarely the right answer for a company trying to launch a new product and make a profit.
The gaming industry is a dynamic landscape of constantly changing and improving technology. When competing digitally, success can hinge on laser focus and split-second reaction time. Brink Bionics wanted to help gamers achieve their best, and have developed the Impulse Neuro-Controller to improve click speed.
The Impulse Neuro-Controller is a fingerless glove with sensors that detect the first neural impulse that goes into the finger. This detection then reduces the time between intent to act and execution. Brink Bionics had a 3D-printed proof of concept and were beginning to plan for production when they were introduced to Berlin KraftWorks (BKW). As a new company they were advised to have a design review, and review of their electronics to set themselves up for scalable manufacturing.
Peter Heuss, P.Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
New Product Introduction (NPI), bringing a new idea to market, is often a much more complex process than expected. In previous blogs, I’ve talked about aspects of taking a product into production like writing a business plan, design for supply chain and design for assembly. The common thread is that this is a multi-disciplinary process. There are lots of stakeholders and to have a successful product, all of the stakeholders must be considered throughout.
The ultimate stakeholder of course, is the customer. This is something that many of us will forget, it’s natural that the engineers, designers, and craftsmen who developed an idea will take pride in their work. But, if customers aren’t willing to buy your product, you don’t have a product.
Taking your product into production can often be the first point where the project becomes truly multi-disciplinary. And I don’t mean different types of engineering. NPI is the first time that all the groups in a company must be involved. It’s good practice to include all the stakeholders during ideation and design, that will allow a company to develop better products quicker. But when taking an idea into production, involving everyone in the company is critical.
There are a lot of different stakeholders that have a wide array of skill sets (and opinions) and they all need to effectively contribute. finance, sales and marketing, purchasing, logistics, assembly, service, QA/QC all have input to a successful product and must be part of the development process.
Managing all of the stakeholders means that the one key role in the NPI process will be the project manager. They may not have that title, but someone needs to consider the entire cross-functional scope of the project while balancing budget, timeline, as well as the needs and capabilities of all of the stakeholders. This is not a skill set that everyone has and randomly assigning the role to part of the team, or worse, dividing the project management responsibilities across the team, can severely jeopardize the project.
Early stage companies may not have the multi-disciplinary staff or experience required for a NPI project. Engineers will rarely be good at sourcing, there may not be a purchasing department yet, or they may not have experience with negotiating longer term volume-based supply contracts. The list goes on. NPI is one point where a company should not try to learn by trying.
NPI is time sensitive and expensive. It is also not a core function, most companies don’t continually develop products, NPI will be an occasional activity and not something that requires full time staff (and the associated long term cost). Finding external support for missing experience is not a failing, but often the best way to effectively get to the company’s real goal, to get that new product into production.
An external firm may be the best option for project management where experienced NPI people can provide support just for the duration of the project. Providing guidance on requirements and timing they can also assist in building internal teams and processes to support production shortening the overall development time and helping to set the company up for success.
NPI is all about getting your concept to market as quickly and effectively as possible. For most companies, NPI will be a periodic necessity, and not a core function. Therefore, it is important to consider the current team and establish if there is already a team member who can take on the critical role of project manager for this new product. If not, finding budget to bring on an external firm who can manage the NPI process and allow the team to focus on what they know best – the product and its potential customer – can save money, time, and get that product into production much more efficiently.