By Bob Beckman PE, C.E.M., Missouri Enterprise Project Manager
The highly technical product design and development skills that your manufacturing company needs to succeed in today’s fast paced marketplace may often exceed your everyday, on-staff capacities. And, that may be holding you back from any number of activities that can grow your sales and your bottom line profitability. You’re not alone.
Frequently companies find they have a new design concept, but don’t have the internal expertise and engineering support staff to bring the idea to reality. While many smaller companies may not even know where to start, some larger companies may just need a hand to get through a few months when the workload is high, but not substantial enough to justify a new employee.
Either way, it’s important for manufacturers to know and understand Product Life Cycles, so they can push innovation to continuously grow the company.
Product Life Cycle
Take a moment and think of where your product fits in the standard Product Life Cycle curve…
If you are enjoying the profits associated with phases I, II or III then things are going well and the sky seems to be the limit. But then one day the sky fills with dark clouds as the sales drop off and competition is at your doorstep. What then?
Sorry to tell you this, but if you are into phase IV it may almost be too late. The time to think about new or improved products is when sales are increasing and profits are plentiful. The most successful companies are always looking at product development, because there’s truth to the adage that says: “If you’re not growing, you’re most likely treading water or sinking fast.”
There is a reason the words “New and Improved” show up so often on packaging. This is the company working to extend the growth stage or maturity stage of a product.
The most successful companies are fanatical about coming up with a specific number of new products every year, and while that may seem to be a bit of overkill, all it takes is for one of those products to be successful and then suddenly, a whole new product line is born and the cycle starts over again.
This isn’t ancient history either. This isn’t about the buggy whip manufacturers. Just think about all the companies that made instamatic cameras just a decade or two ago. And the entire floppy disk industry. Those that did not innovate are now just displays at a museum for baby boomers to point at and reminisce. There is a reason Apple keeps introducing more and more new and/or improved products, the next new product may be the iPod of the 21st Century.
Skills and Disciplines Needed for Successful Product Development
As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult for even the best of companies to have all the proper skills in house to do product development. The best outside experts will have experience in expertise in areas such as:
- Product Development Process Assessment
- Concept Generation
- Concept Evaluation
- Mechanical/Electrical Design
- Design for Manufacturing
- Design for Assembly and Serviceability
- CAD – 3D Parts, Assemblies and Details
- Product Design Review/Testing
- Product Certification Support
- Rapid Prototyping / 3D Printing
- Reverse Design
- Machine Design
- Test Equipment Design
- Jigs and Fixture Design
- Design/Material Strength Analysis
- Plant/Facility Layout
In and Out, or Long Term
Some tasks in the product development process are clearly defined, short term items that form a critical part of the overall process, but may not require that you have full time in house staff. For example, a set of CAD drawings for a new concept is a common need, but that doesn’t necessarily justify having a staffer on board who can create them. This might be a perfect place to take advantage of an outside partner.
For those longer-term product development assignments, some larger companies can justify the expense of having the skills and expertise they need in house. But for most companies, especially those that are running lean and mean, it doesn’t make sense to have in house staff for functions like design or project management when the company is engaged in product development strategies.
In these cases, it’s often far more effective to seek outside expertise to help your company drive successfully through the process.
Some Real-Life Examples
In my years working as a Project Manager and Product Development Specialist, I can cite numerous examples of Missouri manufacturers who’ve effectively utilized our outside product development services.
For example, we regularly work with a large manufacturer of outdoor furnishing and fixtures for recreational areas. The company doesn’t have an internal design department, but by working with us as needed on a project by project basis, they cost-effectively and efficiently fill that role.
We enable the company to bring new products to market, and to implement improvements to their existing line rapidly and efficiently.
In the world of new and emerging companies, Missouri Enterprise recently began working with a medical start-up company, acting as their entire design department.
Their designs went from concept to prototype to preproduction and finally to production. Along the way, designers were added to the company staff and by the time production was reached, the handoff to the new design department went off without a hitch.
In another case, a manufacturer of custom equipment for the food service, medical and pharmaceutical industries have a large and highly skilled engineering department. But, occasionally, the company has more work than they can handle.
Here’s where an outside product development expert like those at Missouri Enterprise can step in to help. Our product development team virtually becomes an extension of the company’s staff, transparently working with their customers to meet deadlines and generate new business.
Partnering for Success
Whether your manufacturing company is big or small, or something in between, there are times when bringing in outside expertise to assist through the product development process is an effective, cost-effective alternative.
If you want to think “out of the box”, it makes sense to go outside the box of your day-to-day workforce and gain value from an outside perspective. Missouri Enterprise has decades of experience helping Missouri manufacturers succeed, and product development services are important part of our expertise.