What are the steps in a typical product development project?
In this segment we’ll talk about product development from a large scale and cover those portions that are not only design related but also those that encompass the entire process of getting your product ready for the market.
We’ll assume that you have defined a need for your product. In doing so you have a good idea of the features, functions and environment in which your product must excel. Ideally you would have done this taking input from potential customers and product users. But, wait……..how can I talk with these folks and make sure that I do not lose my idea? Will one of these people take my idea and run with it? We feel it is better safe than sorry in this instance and suggest you obtain a provisional patent. Any patent attorney can set this up for you and it is cheap insurance. It will cost less than $2,000 in most cases. It is valid for one year. Once you have that in your hands, you are good to go. However, if you don’t proceed with the full scale utility patent within that one year period, then you wasted your money on the provisional and anyone can grab your idea.
So, the first thing you will do is get this provisional patent filed. Next you have the freedom to do some basic market research with provisional in hand. From this market research your product will fill out and may take on some new features or functions. Make sure that these are covered in your provisional unless you determine that they will not be a part of your product.
We mentioned environment above. Let’s cover that for a moment. I have seen more than one product fail because it was not designed to function in the environment or application that it ended up in. Environment includes such things as external temperature, moisture, impact and so on. Application means how will the buyer use it? Despite the fact that you intended it to be used as a pet food can opener, might someone also want to use it to pound nails? Make certain that you have done your best to cover these issues.
Now you know what the product will do and what environment it will function in and you have a good idea of how your customer will use it. How do you get it made? Here is where the engineer comes into play. We gave some good guidelines that an engineer should meet in our previous blog submission. Obviously the engineer should have education and experience in the field of application that your product will exist in. Remember that there are several different area of engineering expertise, so make sure you pick the right one.
Together with the engineer you will go through these steps:
- Concept design: This is a basic design of your product as you see it. It should include all of the critical features. If your product has a significant aesthetic component, this concept model should take a first cut at that appearance. This is also the stage at which you and the engineer should get a good handle on the manufacturing methods. As we said in your previous installment, if your engineer does not have a good background in manufacturing and if he does not incorporate that knowledge into the design, go forth and seek out another engineer! It is also very helpful at this point to consult with your potential manufacturers.
- After digesting what you have learned from the concept model, you will move on to a detailed model which should be an exact representation of your final product.
- From this final model, you will want to have a prototype built. Depending on the type of product and its characteristics the method used to prototype could be anything from welded steel to a computer generated rapid prototype.
- Having the prototype in hand will let you see many things that you may not have anticipated. Expect to make changes to your product after you have seen the prototype. This prototype can also be used to show customers.
- The engineer at this point should (1) Prepare a DFMEA (Design Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) (2) based on the DFMEA, make changes as appropriate to the design. You may feel at this point that a second prototype is necessary.
- The engineer should now prepare the piece part drawings. This is done for two reasons. One, it documents all of the dimensional details and other product specific requirements. And two, many of your piece part subcontractors may need drawings to work from.
- With these drawings in hand, you should visit your manufacturers and verify the manufacturing processes (your engineer should be party to these discussions).
- Now, it is time to cut your manufacturers loose, assuming that you have a good contract with them. You should have your manufacturers make a first article assembly for you. This first article should be compared against your parts drawings to ensure that they are made to your requirements. The topic of contracts and conformance to them by your suppliers is a whole subject unto itself and is critical to the success of your product and/or company.
OK, your manufacturers have done their jobs. The parts are all made to your specifications. They all fit together and the product works as you had wanted. Now, you get to do your job and get these products to your customers.
ARTICLE 2: STEPS IN A PROJECT
ARTICLE 3: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD PRODUCT DESIGN
ARTICLE 4: WHY IS THE MANUFACTURING METHOD SO IMPORTANT AND HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST METHOD
ARTICLE 5:HOW DO I GET A PROTOTYPE MADE AND WHY DO I NEED ONE?
ARTICLE 6: HOW TO CHOOSE A MANUFACTURER AND WHAT TO EXPECT
ARTICLE 7: PRODUCT TESTING OR HOW DO I MAKE SURE THE PRODUCT WILL DO WHAT I WANT?
ARTICLE 7: WHAT MEANS SHOULD I USE TO ASSEMBLE MY PRODUCT?
ARTICLE 8: HOW WILL I KNOW THAT MY PRODUCT IS READY FOR THE CUSTOMER?