One of the most exciting milestones in product development is the receipt of first samples. At this point, the ideas that have traveled through your mind, napkin sketches and technical drawings now rest in your hands. While it may feel like you have summited the challenges that exist in navigating the product development life cycle, it is essential that you use this time to closely evaluate the first samples with a critical eye and communicate your findings to your contract manufacturer.
A good manufacturing partner should be working through the development of a comprehensive quality plan including key documents like the Control Plan and Inspection Procedure. The Control Plan is a detailed document giving clear instructions to teammates on the production line regarding quality checks that should be employed on various components and subassemblies to ensure the finished product will meet your expectations.
For plastic injection molded parts, the plan might identify key dimensions that will be measured on every part coming out of the machine before it’s accepted and passed on to the final assembly later in the manufacturing process. For an electronic assembly, the Control Plan makes sure the functional test fixture is configured or the in-circuit testing jig is set up.
Similarly, the Inspection Procedure is a detailed document which defines the checks that an independent quality organization should apply on a random sampling of finished goods prior to the shipment leaving the factory. This procedure will ensure that all aspects of the product are sampled and evaluated using a battery of visual, dimensional and functional tests to guarantee customers are satisfied when the products arrive.
Providing feedback on pre-production samples is one of the most important steps of product development. That’s a strong statement but think about it: you’ve taken this thing from idea to something you can hold in your hand. You know what it should look like, how it should feel and move. If any of those features isn’t right, it’s imperative to speak up. Feedback isn’t just information that’s nice to have; it’s the basis for improvements. It’s crucial that you give the best, most accurate feedback to your contract manufacturer during the pre-production run.
To get the best samples, of course, it’s essential to have communicated during early discussion exactly what you’re willing to accept — the absolute must-haves — and the places where you can be a little more flexible.
Let’s say you receive 10 samples. You look at one and it’s nearly perfect. On the other end of the spectrum, you find one that’s barely acceptable. Don’t stop there. It’s essential to inspect the other eight samples carefully, looking for places where the sample is right. Decide for yourself: What is acceptable? What can you tolerate? Everyone wants perfection, but that’s not realistic. If you were to say, ‘I must have this perfect part,’ you can expect the per part costs to be revisited and probably revised.
After looking over the samples, customers should provide photos and samples with the problem areas clearly marked and described. The photos/samples are given back to the factory so they know the acceptable limits of the part. A problem can occur when the customer approves the samples without a thorough examination. It’s a set up for delays and disappointed, and ain’t nobody got time for that!
The product development process is a true collaborative effort that requires attention to detail, transparency and good communication on both sides. Carefully inspecting your samples, noting what’s acceptable and what is not, and communicating that to the manufacturer, will nip that type of problem in the bud.