This is a multi-part series.
To Read Part 1 – Vaporware Wars – Go here.
To Read Part 2 – How Products are Chosen for Development – Go here.
To Read Part 3 – Product Development – Investigation – Go here.
To Read Part 4 – Product Design, Part 1 – Go here.
To Read Part 5 – Product Design, Part 2 – Go here.
To Read Part 6 – Safety Certifications – Go here.
Now we have a product designed and ready to build. Electrical and mechanical designs are finished; software is completed (as far as we know). Now we just start building, right?
Hopefully by now the Product Manager has a forecast from the sales department. Without that, he/she doesn’t know how many to build, or when they need to be available. Quantities to be built and the schedule for delivery will impact the cost. Higher volumes mean lower costs and that can be passed on to the customer which means higher sales. Often, products are introduced with pricing that doesn’t meet the company’s margin requirements until well into the product’s life cycle, when volumes are higher. This is a delicate balancing act – price it too high to cover initial costs and sales will suffer. Price it too low to increase sales volumes and margin suffers. If volumes never reach expected levels, the product may never pay back the development costs.
The life cycle of parts that are to be used need to be analyzed. There’s nothing worse than introducing a new product only to learn that a key component is being discontinued 6 months after product introduction. Also, many parts may not be stocked in normal inventories, requiring long lead times – sometimes as much as several months. These parts must be ordered well in advance to keep production on schedule.
Tooling needs to be designed and built: Injection molding tools for plastic parts, stamping tools for metal parts, jigs and fixtures for assemblies, etc. Every single piece and part must be documented in a drawing that includes the quality criteria for determining if a finished part is acceptable.
Test plans must be specified and documented. Will there be testing of each sub-assembly? What is included in the final functional test of the product? Will there be a burn-in period? What constitutes a failure? In volume production, the testing must be accomplished as quickly as possible. Sometimes the test fixtures and plans can rival the complexity of the product itself. As an example, we were once building a six-channel multi-room amplifier. We designed a test fixture that would link to all the connectors on the back with the pull of one lever. This fixture was tied to a PC that sent an audio signal through every signal path in the amplifier, determining functionality and measuring the audio performance of each one. This all happened in less than 60 seconds and provided a printed report of that amplifier’s deviation from acceptable specifications.
With production underway, there are still several things to accomplish before a new product can ship. Next week we will discuss those.