Product ramp
5 Things for Better PROGRAM TRANSFER from Prototype to Volume
Is manufacturing at scale a building block of your development plan? by PAUL ROBERTSON, IAN HARDY and MATHIEU KURY
Beyond conception, bringing a new product to life is a challenge. From the saying that “hardware is hard” to the number of failed product launches and missed deadlines (behind the scenes of all major consumer products we use today), we’ve compiled a few important lessons learned to help founders and engineers on their product development and manufacturing adventures. Too many design projects go to waste or must restart from scratch because manufacturing at scale wasn’t a building block of the development plan. Here are five things OEMs and EMS companies should do to better ensure a seamless transfer of programs from proto to volume:

1. Ensure the build priorities are thought-out and communicated to the team. Don’t assume the team should know your project’s priorities. We like to start development builds by explaining we are not building things: PCBA, subassemblies, or finished units. Rather, we are building information, developing the process, and solving problems. The units being built will never be sold and are not useful on their own; they are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. Do we want to solve problems 10 at a time or 10,000 at a time? When the team asks if they can move forward, even though the MES system is not set up to collect data, or asks why Lean matters in a build of 40, we ask if their solution meets the stated goals or is just a shortcut to get the units out.

Image of Manufacturing at scale
Figure 1. Do you scrap designs because manufacturing at scale wasn’t planned?
2. Look at designs and determine what is easy and what is hard. What hasn’t been done before, either at your facility or at all? What parts of the design have been done before? If the solution is known and just takes work to complete, then move on and focus on areas for which the solution is unknown. We call these areas knowledge gaps. Focus on closing these knowledge gaps early. If the team guesses at the solution to a knowledge gap, it will likely be wrong and can have big impacts on quality, schedule and cost. Use designed experiments to methodically fill in the unknowns until the process is stable.

3. Seamless transfer to manufacturing doesn’t happen without a lot of planning and effort. Telling clients and project teams it can happen without this work sets a project up for failure. We tell clients and project teams we are confident we can transfer on the quality, time and cost planned, but we never use the term seamless transfer. We like to compare it to a magic trick; when done well it looks effortless and easy. The reality is there is a lot of practice, preparing the props, planning and learning. The magic can’t happen without the planning and prep.

Image of Hardware development
Figure 2. Hardware development is about designing the process.
“We are not building things. We are building information.”
Figure 2. Hardware development is about designing the process.
4. Think about the strategic relationship, not the revenue forecast over the next six to 12 months. Being a partner that is integral to a client’s success story generates future business and spurs organic growth. The best way to not be a commodity is to treat each client as a strategic partner. If you treat a client as a commodity, expect the client to do the same.

5. Execute. Nothing shakes client confidence faster than repeatedly slipping dates on a ramp-up action plan your team has created. It communicates that either you don’t know what it takes to ramp to volume, or they just aren’t your most important client. If an action is important enough to commit to schedule, it’s important enough to complete on time. That’s not to say that everything will go smoothly and as planned, but committing to the plan and the client means being flexible and finding a way to recover and hold schedule at all costs. Eventually, be it in-house or through outside engineering resources (product development firms, independent contractors, or joint-design manufacturers (JDM/ODM)), engaging with partners early is instrumental to the overall success of your project. Tackling design challenges upfront is overall a much cheaper approach than dealing with them on a production line or when all your products are returned, causing immeasurable damages to your bottom line and, more important, your brand.

Paul Robertson is global head of new product introduction and manufacturing, Ian Hardy is senior NPI Engineer, and Mathieu Kury is director of business development at Synapse (synapse.com), a product development and consultancy firm; mathieu.kury@synapse.com.