We regularly work with entrepreneurs and businesses who have a product idea and want to launch it on the market. Despite many years of cooperation on a huge variety of electro-mechanical products from all kinds of niches, we tend to see a common mismatch between expectations and reality when it comes to new product development (also referred to as new product introduction) and the time it requires.

Clarifying why new product development takes so long, hopefully, makes the reality of the situation an easier pill to swallow, even if you are understandably eager to get to market.

 

What unrealistic expectations look like

new product development expectations

You can see what is a simplified view of the NPD process, and many entrepreneurs and startups feel that this is how it should go. What they underestimate is that there are lots of potential speed bumps to slow your progress to market, and also the resources involved at each stage. Many projects end up overrunning their initial ‘optimistic’ timeline estimates, showing that expectations about speed can be unrealistic.

A more realistic view of new product development

realistic new product development process

This isn’t such a rosy picture, but it’s more representative of the reality of bringing a new electro-mechanical product to market. New product development (or new product introduction if you prefer) is a complex process involving people from different teams and steps that can often overlap each other. Each stage of the NPD (or NPI process) from the initial specifications of the product through to mass production has many opportunities to cause delays or increase costs.

As you can see, NPD/NPI has many elements that you need to get right to reduce the risks of quality and reliability issues once you reach mass production.

Here are some of the risks of being slowed down or facing unexpected costs:

Potential causes of time and cost overruns

Funding and Prototyping

Without a functioning prototype, it’s harder to secure funding from investors and crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, but there is a lot of work to be done just to reach the milestone of having a prototype in hand, such as designing it. While you design the product you consider looks, but also UX, DFM, and functionality. This can be a lengthy process because each iteration of the product design can throw up more challenges to fix that can delay you:

In an iterative process such as design thinking, the results generated are often used to redefine one or more further problems. This increased level of understanding may help you investigate the conditions of use and how people think, behave and feel towards the product, and even lead you to loop back to a previous stage in the design thinking process. (Interaction Design Foundation)

Engineering and Iteration

Now product engineers will be busy developing the electronic, mechanical, and software sides of the product. At this point, many sample prototypes will be required for validation and testing, and as the product is iterated and issues are fixed, more problems might commonly be found, almost like whack-a-mole.

Also, for devices with an app or software, changes to the hardware probably require changes to the software at the same time and vice versa. Creating many prototypes and making changes during this development period is by necessity time-consuming.

The Last Mile

Even though the last stages of NPD are sometimes called “the last 10%,” don’t be surprised if they consume far more than 10% of your resources and time. Here’s where you keep honing the product design and ensuring that it is reliable and safe which will also require many prototypes for testing. We’ve all heard the story about Dyson who made thousands of proof-of-concept prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before he was happy to move into production.

Transition to Production

Moving on to production after you’re done with prototype development can also be complex. The more innovative and complex your product, the more time and resources this will necessitate.

It typically includes numerous activities required to ensure that production is ready for your product and no reliability and quality issues will be caused by the manufacturing side. These include defining your quality standard and manufacturing processes, training operators, creating testing stations in the right positions of the assembly line, and, not least of all, designing and fabricating plastic injection mold tooling for your plastic parts or enclosure (if any). Fabricating the tooling alone could take a month or more, have you accounted for that?

Certifications and Pre-Production Testing

Electro-mechanical products usually must pass some kind of regulatory compliance tseting. You just can’t risk your product being deemed non-compliant with, say, FCC part 15 or some CE directives, and then being barred from sale in the USA or Europe. So the testing usually takes a few weeks, but it may also require revisions to the product design if issues are found and it fails the testing.

Manufacturing and Assembly

Mass production can go ahead if everything else is complete, but it’s still prone to disruptions from inside and outside forces. You can slow it down by making last-minute changes to the product design (which necessitate going back to earlier phases and re-validating the design, so not recommended).

There might also be problems with materials and components coming in from a supplier that require rework or replacement that you didn’t expect, and we all remember the disruption to supply chains that Covid caused (especially in China) and that, at least partially, resulted in the Global chip shortage of the past few years.

 

Conclusion

This post has given you just a taste of what’s involved in new product development & NPI to temper overenthusiastic expectations about making it to market in double-quick time! It’s so complex, yet missing NPI steps either by mistake or through haste can be exceptionally damaging to your product.

Be flexible, be patient, and leave a time buffer in your estimates for unexpected speedbumps. As the old saying goes: ‘Haste makes waste,’ and when it comes to launching new electro-mechanical products, we can confirm that this is true!

Listen to a discussion about NPI’s complexity here.

About Renaud Anjoran

Our founder and CEO, Renaud Anjoran, is a recognised expert in quality, reliability, and supply chain issues. He is also an ASQ-Certified ‘Quality Engineer’, ‘Reliability Engineer’, and ‘Quality Manager’, and a certified ISO 9001, 13485, and 14001 Lead Auditor.

His key experiences are in electronics, textiles, plastic injection, die casting, eyewear, furniture, oil & gas, and paint.

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