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NPI in Seven Steps – Engineering Verification

This is part three of our dive into New Product Introduction, this time with a look at the Engineering Verification stage. If you missed the previous articles, get caught up here.

To this point in the New Product Introduction process, you don’t really have much to show for all the hard work. A couple of reports, pretty renderings of the mechanicals, and lots of hand-waving around the prototype.

Get ready to change all of that. In fact, get ready to become the most popular team in the company, everybody will soon ‘be in the area.’ Why? Because you are about to get the first prototypes from the manufacturer that almost look like a product.

NPI Engineering Verification

Engineering Verification Run

So now that your manufacturer has reviewed the design, helped you make some changes, and gave their best estimate of the final cost, now it’s time to build something to show for all the hard work.

The very first build at the manufacturer is the Engineering Verification build or EV. Depending on how much money your company wants to spend, this could be as little as 10 units, or as many as a hundred, but it will be a very small number compared to full production – and much more expensive.

Why so little? The manufacturer wants to make sure that after building everything to your specification, that it actually works and is what you wanted before building (and wasting) tons of broken boards.

Even for local manufacturers, where there is no language barrier, interpretations and assumptions between the two teams can cause changes that were unexpected. By actually building a few units, the manufacturer and your team can come to a full agreement by actually being able to touch and hold the tangible product of the assembly.

The First Products

The EV run is probably also the first time the engineering staff have had enough units to test and get user feedback. Marketing and sales inevitably want some to show off, and management will take a few more to present upwards.

This is the first ‘real’ units of your cool new thing, so expect everyone to suddenly get excited about it. For some, seeing renderings of what the product will look like and hold hacked together prototypes really doesn’t sink in for them. But once you place that first, real product in front of them, the light bulb goes off and they get fired up.

While this does contradict the earlier statement that the EV run is fairly small, it does need to be big enough for this sudden demand. So if the engineering team needs 15 boards, make sure you order 30 – and lock up those 15.

What to do with Engineering Units

So beyond verifying with the manufacturer that the build works and providing show-and-tell items, what do you do with the EV units?

Obviously it varies greatly depending on the product and how fast your team is moving, but a handful of items to check off with an Engineering Verification build are:

  • Verify changes between prototype and EV builds still work. You likely modified a few things from the dev kits so this is to make sure things still work.
  • Test that manufacturing variations don’t disrupt functionality. A manufacturer’s process has a margin for errors so this is a good first look at how they will affect the performance and look of the product.
  • Test larger populations communicating to servers. Having one or two devices running is one thing, but now you could have dozens trying to all communicate, adding a bit more stress on the whole system.
  • Abuse with firmware updates and temperature cycling. Now that there are a couple “extras,” a few might get abused to test to make sure firmware updates will be reliable and temperature doesn’t effect anything.
  • Initial FCC or other regulatory scans. Because certifications can be a process, the soon the product can be checked, the easier the process will be. You can’t do the full certifications here but you can catch issues early.
  • Ensure connections and attachments align properly. Comes back to the manufacturing tolerances, but if the product is supposed to connect with other devices you can now ensure everything will connect correctly.

Basically, the Engineering Verification build is to make sure that everything works before taking the next step.

What Happens if it Fails?

Every step of the NPI process is a traffic light. Before moving past the EV build, everyone must sign off. Build or design failures are reasons to cause the project to halt.

If the EV units don’t pass inspection or need design changes everything must be re-analyzed. Not something anyone wants, but it is part of the process and ensures everything moves forward smoothly.

Small changes (switching components) can just be swapped in for the next build and everything can continue. Major changes (like re-spinning the PCB) may cause the project to go back through DFM and EV builds again – delaying the process and causing additional expenses.

But don’t just ignore problems to keep the schedule! It’s much better to find things now than in the next builds. You’ve only built 10 or a hundred boards, it’s nothing compared to the millions everyone wants to build.

So hit the EV units hard and be very confident with the design before moving forward.

Importance of EV for the Manufacturer

Your team isn’t the only group to get value out of the EV build. For the manufacturer, they usually build a couple extra sets for their own uses.

While you are verifying the product is working and showing it off to the CEO, they are preparing their system for the next steps of the NPI process.

Namely, they use these boards for:

  • Internal documentation and process evaluation
  • Design test tools and setups (more in the next article)
  • Debug issues from their end
  • Have product on hand to help communication

For the manufacturer, having boards in hand is just as critical to their process as it is to yours. So when they request a few more, make sure they get them.

The End Result

At the end of the Engineering Verification stage of the NPI process, your team will have working boards that are functionally close to the final product.

Everyone will be able to hold the actual device and give their opinions, but most of all, get excited that this idea is becoming reality.

In the next article, we will look at how the manufacturer will test and verify the product is built correctly before moving on to the next big build. If you want to get notified of the next articles and get our free Handbook to NPI, add your email below.