Production Validation – Getting your product across the finish line

by | Jan 2, 2020

When your development initiative gets to the point of production readiness, it is an exciting place to be. Although it seems the case that getting to this point encompasses the bulk of the work (if you haven’t yet checked out the articles on the ideation, design, or engineering phases of product development, check them out!), this unfortunately is generally not the case. As Ben Einstein, previous founder of Bolt Venture Capital, states in the Illustrated Guide to Product Development (article link below), “Validation is a progressively rigorous process to join the design and engineering development and ensure the product can be consistently manufactured at scale.”

Ben highlights the journey of an IoT product company called DipJar as they brought their product through each validation phase gate to mass productions.

Below are the main gates of the validation phase of product development:
  1. Engineering Prototype (EP)

    Often, this is the best time to raise money from investors as the EP represents one of the largest step functions in the product development process. In this phase, the works like and looks like prototypes have to merge together into the creation of 5 or fewer fully saleable products. These prototypes must look as if they are mass manufactured and as such often cost >10x of the production version (as they must be produced without tooling). Final optimizations of performance and cost to the PCB are made here and all plastic parts need to go through extensive DFM processes to account for molding requirements. The EP needs to be repeatedly assembled to verify cable lengths, clearances, and fit.

  2. Engineering Validation Test (EVT)

    The EVT encompasses the final test for all core product engineering and normally approximately 20-50 units. The point of this phase gate is to ensure that the product covers the functional requirements of the spec in detail. Typically, EVT units will be built with the first tooled up parts (called “first shots”) and come with some minor tooling issues that need to be ironed out before larger runs. Production assembly processes are established and all sub-assemblies are put together as if they were on the line. All major tests should be done on these units including power, thermal, EMI, and functional tests as all potential issues need to be accounted (In general, it is good practice to have at least 1 engineer at CM facilities during EVT builds).

  3. Design Validation Test (DVT)

    This is the first time that the production process is the primary focus. Validation test processes are established for verifying saleable units. Typically, DVT builds are around 50-200 units and all of the processes that are run in EVT are done again with the larger unit quantities. Processes are optimized for yield and time and a much larger battery of tests are run, including all regulatory and cosmetic.

  4. Production Validation Test (PVT)

    You’ve made it to your first official production run! This is typically 500+ units and all units are sellable. There are no changes made to the tooling, all production metrics are tracked (yield, volume, time, rework, etc), jigs and fixtures are in place, line training and procedures fully operational and all QA/QC processes are adhered to.. All about production here with no changes to product, unless there are any catastrophic problems. Final kitting for shipping is optimized and products start shipping to actual customers! The rest of this phase is about judging market customer use before mass production.

  5. Mass Production (MP)

    This is full production that will need to meet the minimum order quantity of your contract manufacturer. For consumer products, this can easily be over 5,000 units and all runs will be built on predicted sales volumes. Marketing and distribution work is up utmost importance here and it is critical to focus on customer support as issues arise.

You made it! At this point, if the demand for you product is there, it’s common to work on cost reduction, yield/quality improvement, field failure analysis, and second line prep.

In general, this process (and yes, there should be lots of process!) is much more detailed and complicated than people assume, so don't underestimate the amount of planning required. If you are looking to work with the pros, there are some great firms in the Ioterra ecosystem (like Dragon innovation, A1GH, and Gaviota Global) that specialize in bringing products through this process.
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