We’ve written about everything from building an MVP to acquiring your first customers, but what we have yet to discuss is preparing your hardware startup for production–perhaps the least fun part about hardware.
The complicated part about making a physical product and getting it to ship on time is that it involves too many suppliers and vendors.
That’s arguably the worst part about having your product manufactured abroad. Working collaboratively and on your timeline is a lot harder.
Of course there’s no right way to preparing your hardware startup for production. There only seems to be a logical sequence of doing so. But even that can vary depending on the hardware startup and its current stage in development.
So how can you prepare for production?
DFM: Preparing Your Hardware Startup for Production
Preparing your hardware startup for production doesn’t mean manufacturing your functional prototype just the way it is. In fact, the chances of any startup being able to produce a prototype without first having to make compatibility changes is slim to none.
This is where design engineers are a huge benefit to startups. They understand the ins and outs of manufacturing and take that into account when your hardware product is still in development.
That’s one step closer to production. Unfortunately, you’re not quite there.
Design for manufacturing really comes down the how your hardware product is designed in comparison to what your manufacturer is capable of making.
The good news it that they’ll offer advice and guidance to help prepare your hardware product for production.
The bad news is that, if that advice or list of recommended changes interfere with how your product functions, then you have to go look for a new manufacturer.
Joe Perrott, the director of Startup Champion at PCH, a brilliant and successful startup incubator that has several specialty offices around the world, made a very powerful statement during a conference about DFM.
He stated, “Don’t count on manufacturers to solve your design problems, they will not. You have to solve your design problems yourself.”
But preparing your hardware startup for production isn’t as simple as taking the advice from manufacturers into account. It’s so much more than that.
The Inner Workings of DFM
So your CM has given you tons of advice on how to adjust your inject molds and tooling to better fit their assembly line.
Put that knowledge to use, make adjustments, and test your product. Before you even put material finishes on it, you need to make sure that your hardware still functions properly.
And that makes sense. Otherwise if you had finishing touches added in too early and you had to go back and make changes, you would have to add in those finishing touches all over again.
This process is commonly referred to as engineering verification.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Process of building product
- The time it takes to build it
- Functionality of the product after it’s built
- Reliability of the product
It’s common that your manufacturer would produce up to 100 units of your product so that you’re able to fully test it.
Perhaps the most important step in the DFM process is to build a product that you would consider ready for shipping.
That’s what design verification is.
All the textures and finishes should be incorporated into this step. That means that you’ll also want a larger sample size.
Since this step is performed on the assembly line, inline, functional, reliability and even regulatory testing occur during this phase.
Especially since this is meant to be a ready to ship product.
Joe Perrott put an incredible amount of emphasize on this phase. He mentioned that,
“Product line setup is done here. The operators are trained. You’re dealing with people who are on the production line that could change jobs potentially every couple of months or at the end of the year. These may not be university educated people but they are putting stuff together. This setup has to be broken down and written in steps that are easy to understand, if you got testing protocols online, don’t have them doing complicated sequences or have them read complicated sentences.”
This is especially true for startups that are manufacturing their product abroad. If your CM is in China, there may be a pretty large language barrier so having paragraphs of testing sequences wouldn’t be efficient or smart.
Then everything from the engineering and design verification has been checked off, you’re able to hit the production phase.
This is the phase where you are able to make sure that your product is coming off the line the right way, in large quantities not just 20 or 30 units, but at least 1000.
All final checks should be handled during this process where you make sure the cosmetics look right, your tooling is reliable, and any mistakes that can be prevented for future runs, are actually taken care of.
Keep in mind that preparing your hardware startup for production doesn’t occur in just a few days. These processes take time. As a rule of thumb, the DFM process should take 2 weeks to a month but the verification processes could take anywhere between 3-5 months.
Because these modifications and verifications are so time consuming, the majority of startup founders that we have spoken to have wished they started the DFM process earlier. And that’s because there will be modifications to your tooling, designs, etc.
Once each of these phases are addressed and completed, your product is primed and prepped for mass production.