by Greg Fisher
Having a great idea for a new product is exciting! When you believe you've stumbled onto something truly unique, you'll be eager to get started turning it into a real product. Before you get too carried away though, sit down and seriously think about the next part of the process, manufacturing. Having the right information and the right partners will improve your chances of success tremendously.
Here is what you will need to communicate to the factory:
Product Requirements Document
Bill of Materials (electrical and mechanical)
Technical Files (3D drawings, Gerber files…)
General details of your order (quantities, timeline…)
The first and most important step in your manufacturing process will be to define your product. In other words, you need to know exactly what it is that you're making in order for the manufacturer to know what to make. This means you need to know the precise materials and how they're going to be assembled.
To start, you will want to produce a product requirements document. This only needs to be a word document, but the basic idea is that you're going to describe all of the tangibles and intangibles in as succinct a manner as possible. This might mean saying how long you want your battery to last, or how waterproof you want it to be. Who is it for? What should the user interface be?
Here are some examples, but each product varies greatly in this regard and whatever is important to your product should be included:
You often don’t have to provide this document to get a quote, but unless you have a lot of experience manufacturing the product you’ve designed, there will be a lot of information that you probably haven’t included that is necessary to make the product to your expectations. Providing this document will help your partners fill in those gaps to avoid costly changes later. It is also an important part of defining your own expectations that will help with your overall business strategy.
The Bill of Materials (BOM) is a complete list of all the materials and components needed to create your product. For those making electrical products, you will need a separate electrical BOM, with part numbers, too.
The technical files are the blueprints which you will create using software. For plastic parts, you'll want to use CAD (computer aided design) software to create a 3D image file. For board layouts, you'll want to use a Gerber file. Other simpler parts that involve fabric or metal, often only need a 2D line drawing. Research what the industry tools are for those aspects of your product that require more detail.
The prototype is like a real-world 'beta' that you can use to check that the end product looks, feels and functions as intended. It is also an invaluable tool to communicating all of the subtle details that can’t be communicated in words and documents. If at all possible, you should send a prototype (or a sample if you’ve already manufactured the product) to the manufacturer. Lots of prototype shops are opening up these days with tools like 3D printers to facilitate this.
You'll also want to include the quantities you would like quoted and the rough timeline for your order and when you would like delivery. It’s good to get quotes for multiple quantities so that you can see how the price scales down with order size. Starting the timeline conversation earlier rather than later will help fine tune your go-to-market strategy and perhaps identify some of the longer lead time items that you can focus on reducing.
So there you have it, everything you need to get your product made and to take it from an idea to a reality! Getting quotes with insufficient information will lead to quotes that require the factory to make guesses. Those guesses will generally be towards lower quality and lower cost so they can provide the most attractive quote. But, when it comes to placing your order, the factory will either make a lower quality product than you expect, or will raise the price to match the higher requirements you establish later on, so it’s critical to put together a complete package for quote initially.
Greg Fisher is the founder of Hardware Massive and CEO of Berkeley Sourcing Group. Greg is a serial entrepreneur with 10+ years’ experience helping over 700 hardware startups manufacture innovative ideas in China at costs and quality that can help them compete with larger, established businesses. Visit www.berkeleysg.com for more information.