Tips to Improve Your Chances for a Triumphant Launch
Product development typically is the spring board for businesses to generate new revenue streams and ultimately profits. There are numerous decisions during development that affect how far and high a business can be vaulted. However, the switch from development to execution (manufacturing) is the first opportunity to observe how well things will really go.
During launch, several outcomes are possible ranging anywhere from exceeding initial revenue targets to missing the mark. It is extremely difficult to change momentum or direction during launch if initial performance is falling short. Ensuring initial revenue meets targets does not just consist of having a great product, but also great business planning by avoiding schedule delays, excessive capital investment, and high scrap rates.
But We Don’t Have a Crystal Ball
Fortunately, a business doesn’t have to wait until the product launch is underway to understand how it will go. While they don’t hold a crystal ball, a manufacturing engineer’s involvement early on offers important information into the future of your product’s success and ultimate profitability.
Manufacturing engineers’ scope and responsibility goes beyond just facilitating the nuts and bolts of product launch. They are also responsible for pulling critical business requirements into early phases of the development process. These engineers identify important questions that are addressable early, but are increasingly constrained as projects progress.
Without guidance and involvement of manufacturing engineers, businesses can be left with underwhelming product performance and numerous challenges ahead. Manufacturing engineers prepare the business to hit the ground running as products reach the shelves when included in the process from product inception.
Often, resource constraints or company culture exclude manufacturing engineers from being a part of the product development team. A common justification for this is that the team assumes they are capable of addressing any concerns a manufacturing engineer might have.
Ask yourself: if a development team doesn’t have a project manager to focus on schedule, will the team consistently achieve milestones? Most likely not. This question also applies to the manufacturing engineers in product development. An engineer focused on business needs can apply the appropriate checks and balances on the product design to achieve revenue success.
Here are a couple of examples of issues we’ve identified as common short-comings, where involvement of manufacturing engineering would have had a direct positive impact to project outcomes:
Practical Example: Scrap Rate
A common business objective in product development is either keeping material costs in check or reducing them. The lack of manufacturing engineering involvement can lead to businesses accepting high scrap rates from suppliers. Often, a different or new fabrication method for a component or sub-assembly can reduce complexity and ultimately cost.
Although the new approach required greater capital investment, a project team determined the potential piece part cost savings justified the increased investment. Unbeknownst to the team, this new approach required lengthy process development activities to produce acceptable components.
As could be anticipated, the initial production run did not fully meet design specifications resulting in 10% fallout and negating the piece part savings that the team was expecting. Due to the lack of a manufacturing engineer on the project from the beginning, the process capability was not evaluated until the product was released to market. At that point it was infeasible to implement any corrective actions immediately, forcing the business to maintain production at the supplier and accept the high scrap rate.
The project plan focused on technical risk mitigation while business risks were not considered or evaluated. Unique solutions and different approaches emerge by considering technical and business risks in tandem. For this example, one strategy may have involved developing this sub-assembly on an accelerated schedule.
The quicker development timeline provides sufficient time for manufacturing iterations and achieves better yields by product launch. Another strategy may have involved pursuing parallel development of two manufacturing methods; a low-risk ‘back-up’ method to the primary development path. Multiple tactics are possible that balance technical and business needs to achieve greater project success as long as both are considered from the beginning. Involving manufacturing engineering from the beginning of the program ensures that the design team isn’t solving an issue for engineering sake without considering the impact on the business.
Practical Example: Capital Investment
A business is comprised of several departments ranging from R&D to operations to marketing. Each department performs a critical function of managing different constraints and requirements to maintain success. Opportunities arise where multiple departments’ objectives are addressable in a new product, program or process.
Capitalizing on these opportunities is an efficient business practice but there is potential for unpleasant surprises along the way. Manufacturing engineers can help eliminate these hurdles by understanding and planning how the requirements of other departments will affect the overall outcome.
For instance, a new program incorporated a key supply chain objective, unintentionally causing excessive capital investments. The business had previously selected a supplier to meet all their needs for a particular component category. Supplier performance was not meeting expectations on previous projects creating a push for identifying a new source.
The new product program was viewed as an opportunity to assess potential suppliers. Although this is a good approach, the program objectives didn’t align with this supplier assessment strategy. The project was intended to assess technical feasibility of the new concept and features, not launch a new product.
Therefore, tooling didn’t have stringent requirements beyond fabricating high quality prototypes. Tooling and supply chain requirements were misaligned causing unnecessary capital investment. The supplier didn’t specialize in low-cost, prototype tooling, so higher quality production tooling was developed. Product feasibility was successfully verified with the expense of longer lead time and greater capital investment. Most unfortunately, the tooling was no longer valuable to the business or program and it was shelved.
Identifying long-term supply chain partners is critical but every development program cannot be burdened with that activity. The adage ‘there is a time and place for everything’ is very appropriate in this situation. In this example, a short-term objective was tied to a long-term objective causing unnecessary waste (time and money). Instead, evaluate supply chain requirements as any product feature or requirement would. If a requirement does not add value, it is removed to maintain focus on the appropriate scope.
Putting it into Practice
There are numerous ways manufacturing engineers close the gap between business and product development. Maximizing their impact first requires that manufacturing engineers participate and contribute in the early planning phases of a project. When they do so, their role on the project is to make sure that their unique perspective is considered when marrying product development and business success.
The type of questions a manufacturing engineer might raise that are not typically considered by the design team are:
- Are these manufacturing / supply chain objectives addressable a year or two after product launch?
- Has the product demand curve been defined for launch through year 2 or 3?
- What is the expected life cycle for the new product?
- Are there other products in the development pipeline that can affect the current one under development?
- Has a capital investment target been established in addition to COGS targets?
Obviously, these questions are not exhaustive or always applicable. However, these types of questions should kindle the necessary conversation about the business needs during product development and lead to deeper questions that have significant implications to the design, launch and ultimate profitability of the business.
OK, OK, we know there’s no magic wand to ensure profitability of your product, but we do know that excluding manufacturing engineering from the early stages of development can have very costly consequences.
Don’t wait until the final phase of product development to bring the manufacturing engineers’ voice to the table. Their perspective is a key ingredient to launching ones’ product on the best possible trajectory. Otherwise, the business may use unnecessary capital and waste precious time placing an unnecessarily expensive product on the market. Avoid that burden and stress – put your product development on the path to ultimate business success by involving manufacturing engineering early on.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping