You’ve started the development process for your electronic product that has long been a concept in your head. It’s now gone down a dark hole, into an abyss of uncharted territory with vendors, complicated regulations, and any number of yet-to-be-known manufacturing challenges. You know you’re going to need some help, at least in getting it manufactured, and need to make sure it goes right.
At ACDi, we have been through this process many times, and we’ve seen a lot of things done right, and a lot of things done wrong. We will work with you to make sure you not only understand the new product introduction process (NPI), but also that you understand and buy into each step. We take pride in providing the best customer service possible, and we are always available to answer your questions and concerns at any stage.
Below, we’ve provided a flowchart so you will know what to expect from ideation to production, as well as some information around each step so you can feel comfortable and confident with the process. To download the chart, click here.
You have a great idea – now what? Put together a team that can start to turn that idea into reality, and have a kick off meeting. This team should include people who can objectively look at the idea and help to develop it, come up with an early estimate for its cost and schedule, and a technical team to evaluate its feasibility. Try to make this team people who are likely to stay with the product, but it’s just as important at this stage to get honest feedback, even if it will be the only meeting for some.
This is one of the most important phases of the NPI process. The more accurately and detailed you can get to the deliverables and specifications right now, the faster and cheaper it will be when it’s complete. The product plan and preliminary specifications will define what you envision the product to be in great detail. How many prototypes do you need? The marketing requirements will make you think about how this great product will actually be sold – too many great products have died because of not developing a go-to-market strategy. The program plan will make you think about the funding and in general if this product is feasible. Will you do field trials? Focus groups? If you cannot come up with a plan that is feasible, and economically viable, revisit everything in this phase until it is. It is better to kill a product early than to spend a lot of money to see it go nowhere.
Electrical & Mechanical Design
Once you move into the design stage, you should create a block diagram showing how the major components of your product will work, and be put together. Make a rough bill of materials (BOM) – the critical parts will have verifiable costs, other parts should be estimated. This will be an initial unit cost estimate for you to check against your goals and see if any changes are needed. If your product needs software, a similar block diagram for software needs to be developed. Now is a good time to have a design review by your contract manufacturer. Have you missed anything? Have you overdesigned anything, driving up the costs? Is the cost in line with what you initially estimated? Does the product still make sense? What can be changed to bring the costs down – combine PCBs, simplify mechanical design? Make any changes that you team agrees to, then you’re ready to move onto the hardware development.
Up until this point, it’s probably been a lot of PowerPoints and meetings, but not a lot of real, tangible outputs. That’s about to change. You will fully develop the BOM, schematic, PCB layout, and mechanical parts in this stage. When the manufacturing package is ready, build a few prototypes and assess the outcome to the desired results. As part of hardware development, electronic components should be checked for their expected lifespan. It’s much better to know you have to make a change at this stage then a year down the road. Build some breadboard circuits to test functionality.
Some products need software, this can be anything from programming simple microcontrollers, to full packages, including embedded firmware, user interfaces, and software modules working together to give life to the hardware. Software development really needs a solid plan – you need to start with a minimum software package, test it, and add features to it, testing each one as you go. It really needs to be built on a strong foundation or maintaining it will get expensive fast. Your ACDi team is on top of the always-changing, always-evolving development of technology and can often provide recommendations for established software programs – including GUI and app solutions and templates – that will help you maximize efficiency. If there are not existing programs, we can help create one that meets your needs.
Documentation is often an overlooked requirement. What do you need for your product? At a minimum, you should have documentation about the design so that it can be maintained. Do you need an operator’s manual, start-up guide, programming manual, maintenance manual? Is any documentation needed for any certifications, such as FCC, UL, FIPS, or others? You should keep the design documentation current throughout the project. You will need to make a decision on the rest, whether to keep the documentation current throughout the job, or create it at the end. Usually somewhere in the middle is the most efficient answer.
Procurement of components is a potentially dangerous rabbit hole if you don’t have a team of experts who can help you navigate the waters. It’s tempting to find low-cost solutions here, but there are much tighter restrictions than ever before around using fraudulent and counterfeit components, and it’s difficult to detect when those are being used. Our team works with vendors we know and trust to make sure you are compliant in every aspect. This is one phase that unless you are going to build the products yourself, is best to turn over to your contract manufacturer, like ACDi.
ACDi will work with you through this important stage for each step. We will check PCB assembly where we will inspect each board to make sure there are no short circuits, broken circuits, or other quality issues. We will check the box build to make sure everything fits as expected. We will also work with you to test the units to whatever level is appropriate. Many times, the test is co-developed between you and ACDi.
DVT & Field Testing
Design and Verification Testing (DVT) is the quantitative testing that should be performed to make sure that everything works like it was designed to work. Do the functions work? Does it work over the intended temperature range or other environmental conditions? If you stress the product to its limits, what happens? Field testing is the equally important qualitative testing that needs to be done. Give it to an interested group of people and just let them use the product (be sure to let them know if anything isn’t finished yet). Did it work ? Do they like it? What else would they like it to do? Would they buy it over similar products and if so, why not?
Once you have the results of both the DVT testing and field testing, the team should get together and decide if any changes need to be made. Sometimes the answer is release and build now, sometimes it will highlight that changes have to be made before going to production. Sometimes, it may be release now, and release an update soon.
What regulations or certifications do you need or want to release your product? Some of the common ones are FCC, UL, Intrinsic Safe, RoHS, FIPS, FAA, Environmental, and there are so many others. Each of these usually requires a third-party lab to sign off. You will need to provide the documentation and support to the labs for them to get started. ACDi can help to develop the required documentation or provide assistance to the labs as required.
You’ve made it to the final stage. It is time to start cranking out your product and possibly testing it prior to delivery. Similar to the procurement stage, it’s time to hand off the production to your experienced contract manufacturer like ACDi, who has the track record of helping OEMs turn their ideas into functional products. Creating, developing, and manufacturing a product is not an easy or a short process. But rest assured, ACDi has the experts who can make it a smoother process. Contact us today to get started.