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New Product Introduction in Seven Steps – The Beginning

This post kicks off a seven part series on New Product Introduction. Here we will be introducing the concepts.

How many failed Kickstarters are out there that couldn’t raise enough cash to make their project into a shelf-worthy product? How many more failed to deliver or even went bankrupt right after because they couldn’t afford to build a second round?

It’s not just the makers. Even large corporations that attempt to branch out into the hardware space have failed to bring their product to market.

For many, the reason is they do not understand, or they misjudge the requirements needed to make a prototype into a ready to ship product. This process to get from mockup to saleable item is called the New Product Introduction.

New Product Introduction - getting started

What happens after the prototype

Let’s say your company has a cool little prototype that will be a game changer. Your team has proven it can work. The marketing group is so excited that they want to launch it at the next big expo – which is in two months.

To get there, a magic machine needs to take this one prototype and build thousands of them a week. This magic machine is a contract manufacturer, or often just CM (JDMs and ODMs fit too but let’s leave it to one acronym).

As an engineer, we may naively think we have accomplished our work at the functional prototype, and it is the role of the operations group to take it from here. Perhaps at large companies, this is the case, but for most engineers, you will be involved right up to the point product is shipping out the door.

Creating a prototype is hard, but creating a product that can be built the same way, thousands of times, and always meet the requirements set for that product – no tweaking, no white wires, and no last minute whacks with a hammer, has its set of challenges.

The Manufacturer

When a manufacturing company gets started with a new product, they use the term New Product Introduction (NPI). For them, they know they are about to enter a very interactive and intense period with your company. Read that as: ‘high cost and no revenue.’

The NPI is an investment on their part into your company and this new product since they don’t make a profit until products roll off the line. This is why they will have optimized the NPI processes to get the product running while minimizing the hiccups.

While you and your team work through this process with the CM, always remember that they are a partner in this endeavor and are experts in their specialty: producing a product. They are also a business trying to make a profit, which does, in fact, come from your company, but as long as they are providing a valuable service, this is an useful thing.

NPI Overview

As I mentioned at the top, I’ve broken New Product Introduction down into seven steps. I’ll introduce each below but will go into more depth on each of their posts.

  1. DFM/DFT – Design for Manufacturing/Test is where the manufacturing team will evaluate the design for how easy it will be to build and test. This is an important first step because, as we will see through this process, the further along it goes, the harder it will be to change.
  2. Part Availability – Next all the parts will go through an availability analysis to make sure there won’t be any parts that will drag the schedule. Any problem parts will be flagged to find alternatives or the manufacturer may suggest changes to lower price.
  3. Engineering Verification – The first build out of the CM is the Engineering Verification build. This may have additional components or PCB features to enable testing and board verification and may not even fit into any housing. The goal is to ensure the design is sound.
  4. Testing – Now that the CM has actual boards to work with, they will start developing the test systems in earnest. We will go into why testing is so important to both you and the CM, and how the product can get tested.
  5. DV – The second build is usually called the Design Verification. This build is meant to be close to the final production unit but may use 3D printed plastic and other low volume mechanicals to get the look and feel correct before spending money on tooling.
  6. PV – The final build in the NPI process is the Product Validation. This build is essentially a dry run of full production. Housing, mechanical, labels, shipping boxes, everything that a finished product would go through. This is the last gate before releasing the flood.
  7. Full-Scale Production – Now leaving the NPI process, full-scale production is where the product gets built as fast as the CM can make it and shipped to your customers.

Getting Started

After getting past any legal paperwork hurdles, the CM will kick everything off with a request for an ‘assembly package’ that could include:

  • Product Requirements Document (PRD)
  • Detailed Bill of Materials (BoM)
  • Assembly instructions
  • Approved part vendors
  • Schematics
  • PCB files
  • CAD drawings
  • Sales forecast

These files enable them to get an estimate of how much it will cost to build your product and what parts they need to start ordering. It also gives them guidance on the complexity of the project so that they can calculate their budgets. If necessary, they will also assess who they need to bring in to consult.

Thus begins the NPI process and the road from prototype to production. In the next article, we look at Design for Manufacturing and Design for Test.

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