Ideas morph into tangible products on the daily, but if you haven't been a player in -- or a witness to -- this process, it may seem like a mind-numbingly abstract concept. How does a contract manufacturer turn your initial design idea into a functioning, quality product?
While we can't speak for all manufacturers, our business model is built on the ability to manage the product lifecycle from start to finish. This often means beginning with a product that is still in the early prototype stage. Killer design doesn't equal sound manufacturability, and that's where we come in. Our sourcing, engineering and sales teams have the skills to determine if a concept is merely strong in theory or actually translates into a scalable production opportunity. Although each product has its own set of factors to consider, a few key milestones exist for all projects that come across our desks.
The entire process typically kicks off when we receive a request for quotation (RFQ) from a prospective customer. If the project seems to be a good fit for our team and we're confident we can produce a high-quality product for the customer, we'll then ask for a drawing package and/or prototype. The goal of this phase is to provide the customer with a detailed quotation and a project proposal for moving into mass production.
East West and our subsidiary units in Asia will review the design to determine the best combination of capability and pricing and outline any tooling requirements. The sourcing team will assess raw material and component availability. In some cases, certain components used in the original prototype may need to be substituted based on local availability. The result is a quotation and project approach based on the most efficient options for the customer.
Once approved by the customer, the product enters into the tooling + sampling phase, also called non-production release (NPR). During this stage, documentation is finalized for both control and translation into manufacturing. A preliminary quality procedure (QP) is outlined against product specifications -- this is a living document which is continually updated. The quality procedure covers all form, fit and functional requirements the customer may have, including any in-process documentation, third-party certifications or raw material specs.
The goal of this phase is to complete tooling and transform the product design into physical samples which meet specifications and can be consistently replicated. Although we'd love everything to be perfect on the first go, this is a truly iterative process, meaning initial samples will often need tweaking. Additional design changes may be required and will be implemented with additional sample batches prior to the launch of full production.
After sample qualification, the product is ready for mass production. This is initiated with a pilot production run, which is a short-term run of a small batch (usually around 200-500 pieces depending on the complexity, size and volume of the product).
The goals of this phase are to:
The first samples ship to East West's Atlanta HQ, are tested against the QP and undergo lifecycle testing. Concurrently, quality control (QC) at the Asian business unit monitors factory production and reports any significant quality issues that arise. During production review, a few critical analyses occur, including:
Upon production completion, QC in Asia will inspect the final product against both the quality procedure and preivously approved customer samples. QC will provide a formal inspection report to East West HQ for review and shipment approval. Every shipment is inspected and approved prior to being released to the customer. This protocol effectively creates a closed-loop process conducive to continuous improvement for each subsequent production run.
Transforming a product from a mere concept into a manufacturable, high-quality item requires a thorough and persistent approach. As the process progresses, issues may rear their ugly heads, sometimes causing a need to backtrack and fine-tine the initial idea or even adjust the scope of the project altogether. The ability to adapt to such changes on the fly and see the project through to completion is easier said than done, but the guidance of a seasoned contract manufacturer can certainly alleviate pressure and get you closer to that finish line a bit faster.
13 Questions to Expect After Submitting a Drawing Package
How to De sign Sustainable Products for Recycling by the End User
The Most Common Product De sign Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Top 10 Startup Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
5 Things to Know Before Submitting a Product for a Certification Mark
5 Ways to Guarantee Brand Protection in a World of Counterfeit Goods