A Beginner’s Guide to Working with your Manufacturer

(What you need to know to make the process go smoothly)

If you are in the business of building hardware products, you know that there are lots of parts and pieces that all have to work together, both literally and figuratively for a new design to be a success.

Two constants face every program, schedule, and budget. The pressure to cut both can be immense. While there are things you can do to conserve these critical resources, such as short-cutting the process by skipping steps, or focusing on a specific unit price, regardless of the design features or the unit volume, these won’t work. We wish it did….but they don’t. Using the proven process that has consistently resulted in success is actually faster. Following the proper process reduces the need to go back and fix mistakes, make design changes or remake faulty parts. Do not gamble with your program by skipping steps. The risks are too great.

What winds up happening when critical steps are skipped or unrealistic price goals are put into place? Teams experience lots of anger, frustration, and finger pointing when the finished manufactured product is delayed, doesn’t work properly, or meet expectations.

Here are some critical steps that need to happen so your product can make it through the manufacturing process unscathed, have the quality and performance you desire, and be the best possible price it can be.

Finding The Right Manufacturer

You have a design concept; you may even know what manufacturing process you want to use, but have not picked a specific manufacturer or where in the world you might manufacture your product. Choosing the right manufacturer for your specific product can be the difference between success and failure. Will your manufacturer operate from integrity, telling you truthfully what you need? Will they give you the quality you need at a fair price? Will they make material or component substitutions that compromise your design and not tell you?

For many years the general consensus has been that it is best to choose your manufacturer(s) early in the design process. Doing this is not enough to ensure success. It is critical that your manufacturer understands what is truly important in your product design. In order for this to happen, you need to know what is most important to the success of your design. If the answer to this is everything, expect things to be expensive. It is important to rank the areas of your product that are most important for success, nice to have, and low priority. For example, low cost, fast turnaround, high quality, and low volume don’t necessarily work well together. Find a manufacturer that understands your goals and wants to work with you to achieve your success.

Always Build a Prototype

Always build a prototype of your design. The prototype build is a small test run of the product design to see if the design works as intended. A prototype can be built from materials and manufacturing processes that are not the final intended processes. The goal is to prove that that design concept is sound.

Make sure that what you have designed is what you want; that it actually works as intended. If you do not prove out your design in the prototype stage you will most likely find major mistakes in the subsequent builds that will be much more costly and time-consuming to fix. If your product is complex, it is a good idea to build your prototype physically close to where you engineered the product. That way you can easily troubleshoot the design and create that first “gold standard version.” Having a prototype that accurately shows what you ultimately want to build is a great tool to show to the manufacturer. It allows them to physically see the product concept.

You Need a Complete CAD Model Of Your Design

A CAD database of your design with every part and component in it is required for your prototype. If you leave anything out, even the most seemly insignificant parts, it may cause big problems. You may have to go through multiple prototypes to get the confidence you need to move to the next step.

It is a good idea to have your manufacturer chosen by the time you build your first prototype and to share your CAD database with them for any feedback. Many times your manufacturer will not be set up to build a prototype and you will be going to prototype shops.

Once you have built your prototype and believe your product is ready for production, it is a good idea to get production quotes. You can get production quotes from your CAD database before the prototype, but every change you make to your design during the prototype stage will change your unit price, so ultimately it may wind up providing less value than you think.

The first thing a manufacturer will do is look at your product idea. They need to understand what will be required to build it and if it is a job they want to take. Good quality manufacturers do not take every program that comes to them. They choose the ones that they believe to have the greatest chance for success. Every manufacturer has a sweet spot in terms of the type and quantity of product they can produce.

Finding the right manufacturer for your product is no small task. Manufactures should be vetted early in the process, so time is available to ask the right questions and get the right answers.

In order for any manufacturer to assess your product design they need your final CAD file, a Bill of Materials, and 2D parts drawings that call out materials, tolerances and surface finishes. They may even need assembly documents to fully understand the design objectives.

The EVT Build

The next stage after the prototype build is the EVT or (Engineering Validation Test) build. The EVT build is the first time the design will be built with materials and manufacturing processes as close to production as possible. During this process, the manufacturer lists the areas that cannot be made as currently designed. They usually provide the solution they would like to see you adopt. If you accept that solution, update the CAD database and resubmit the files. If the manufacturer’s solution is unacceptable to you, your team will have to find another solution and get the manufacturer to agree.

The goal is to identify any final engineering issues and any possible manufacturing issues. Typical unit quantities for EVT build are in the 50 to 100 unit range. Depending on what issues are discovered, multiple rounds may be needed, called EVT1, EVT2, etc.

The DVT Build

Next is DVT, or Design Validation Test. At this point the design should be complete, meaning no more changes. No substituting components for lower cost components. Really, no more changes. If cost-cutting is needed, the design is still in EVT.

The DVT build uses production materials and production processes. Hard tooling should be used if that will be required for production. This is the build that has to pass all testing and certification requirements. Typical quantities for DVT build are approximately 300 up to 1,000.

The PVT Build

The last step in the process is PVT or (Production Validation Test). This is the first mass production build. These units are meant to be sold to customers. Any production issues that arise are to be fixed.

Quantities for this stage are typically whatever is required to satisfy the customer. Usually, this is under 20,000 units.

Learn How Manufacturing Pricing Works

Understanding how manufacturing pricing works is important. If you are looking to build a quality product for the best possible price it is important to know what features you have designed into your product and how complex or costly they are to manufacture. You can demand whatever price you want, but if it is unreasonable, you are most likely not going to get it. If you do, beware of part substitutions or lower quality that may not be immediately visible but will cause big problems with your customers.

Your production cost is directly related to the design you have created. If you absolutely must hit a certain manufactured price, having experienced manufacturing people guiding you is important. If you are unsure about the cost associated with the product you are creating and do not consult manufacturing experts, you most likely will design a product that costs more than your target cost.

The steps listed in this article are required to get a product successfully to mass production. These steps have been put in place because they have been proven to get the best results. A product can either be tested and validated using the steps above in order to get it right, or your customer will discover the problems during use. If you skip steps and release a product with issues you will have your product returned or suffer brand damage. These are far worse than spending the time and money required to correctly prove out your product design.

The PopFoam Team Is Here To Help You

If you plan, have a team of experienced product specialists, pick a high-quality manufacturer and follow the proven process, that great idea can be brought successfully to market on the quickest timeline and for the best possible price.

The PopFoam team has technical and design resources, as well as many decades of experience to help you get your product manufactured successfully. If you think that your next product could benefit from injection molded EVA foam, reach out to us and let us help you realize your product vision.