Tricks of the Trade – Going from Prototype to Saleable Units

by | Dec 8, 2019

As anyone who has built and shipped a hardware product knows, the road from a handful of prototypes to a scaled production line is a difficult one.

If the below description matches you…
  • You’ve got an awesome product and are eager to see it in the world
  • Your early prototypes have generated excitement from beta testers
  • You know if you could just fast forward to having 10,000 of these products coming off the production line you could sell all of them and make a killing
… then the only wall standing between you and the future you see is DFM (Design for Manufacturing)

Unfortunately DFM is a formidable wall. It’s quite tall, it’s covered with barbed wire, and the higher you climb up it, the farther you have to fall if things slip.

Fortunately, there are routes to climb and get over the DFM wall that are much easier and faster. But they are difficult to see for a first-timer.

Scott Miller, the CEO of Dragon Innovation, outlines the primary challenges you will face in DFM and provides a few simple rules of thumb to get past them.
  1. DFM can be very costly, but there are tricks to help mitigate the working capital needs. Negotiating Net-30 or Net-60 terms with your component suppliers and contract manufacturer goes a long way. Additionally, aim to get customers to pay at time or purchase or, at the latest, upon delivery. Shipping by air, rather than by sea, is slightly more costly, but it will reduce the time that you have inventory sitting on your balance sheet.
  2. If there is an opportunity for the manufacturers at your assemble line to not follow directions and get it wrong, someone will. Therefore, reduce overall part count in your product as much as possible, and design the product so that the parts will only fit together in one way – the correct way.
  3. Manufacturing likes to be in 2.5 dimensions. To remain cost-conscious and leverage standard manufacturing processes, you don’t have the luxury of creating parts in full 3-dimensional glory. Keep this in mind during the design process as small changes in the design can have significant cost implications. Be clever, be creative, and think like a machine!
  4. Screws are bad but glue and tape are worse. Screws are expensive to install, but tape and glue can be very messy when used in a production environment. Lean towards pure mechanical connectors and/or single parts whenever possible. When you have to use screws use Loctite.
  5. The more a product is handled, the more defects get introduced. To combat this, spend time iteratively optimizing the manufacturing process. Where possible, combine multiple assembly steps into one. If not possible to combine certain steps, see if the parts themselves can be combined at the design level.
  6. Things are always easier if you have fewer parts to manage. This point has come up multiple times. The fewer parts in your product, the better.
  7. The best DFM will fail if the process isn’t controlled. Clear articulation of the key success parameters and repeat check-ins of these parameters need to be a part of the ongoing quality control plan.

As with most business initiatives, there are 3 competing factors in DFM – schedule, quality, and cost. Keeping this triangle of factors balanced is the art of DFM.
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