web counter

Has Product Development Gotten Too Quirky?

October 8, 2015

Folks,

Troubling news emerged from the new product development community in New York last week. A well known crowd funding platform (with an unconventional and offbeat name) that brought interesting consumer products to market filed for bankruptcy. Since it’s founding, they brought almost 400 products to market. Blue chip corporations and venture capital firms had invested more than $185M to tap into the deal flow of new products. 

Were they too quirky for their own good? Perhaps … While early stage companies, start-ups and inventors form a portion of our client base, they don’t represent a majority of the work that we do. We purposefully limit them to less than twenty-five percent of our projects.

Why? For two principal reasons:

  1. There’s a limit to the amount of coaching, hand holding, love and manufacturing therapy that we can provide.
  2. There isn’t an endless supply of money to fund smart pitching machines, Internet enabled makeup compacts and next generation pet food dispensers.

After more then eleven years of doing this for a living, ‘Projects We Love’ (to borrow a term from another crowd funding platform) are fairly rare. About 1/200 new product concepts make us really get excited and think “wow – that’s a great idea – I’d buy that”. 

That leaves 199 projects that occupy the category of “Projects That We Don’t Love, and May Not Even Like”.

 While we’re not the perfect predictor of commercial success – I’m sure that a few good ideas that didn’t make it through our filter ended up being fabulously successful. But not many.

What does this mean for design engineers, industrial designers, UX specialists and business development gurus? The gold rush to chase down, develop, prop up and fund the next great idea may be slowing down. ‘Smart money’ is getting smart again. If you’re willing to roll the dice with an early stage company, make sure that they’re building a cutting edge product that consumers can understand, have a tried and true way to purchase and don’t say ‘yes’ too often.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486

There’s Safety in (Audit) Numbers!

July 24, 2015

Folks,

We recently re-audited a contract manufacturer located in eastern China for a design/build client. The CM was tapped to fabricate complex formed metal and molded plastic sub-assemblies that were to be shipped to the USA for final assembly and testing.

They had selected this CM after meeting with its local representative.

On the first go round, our engineer carried out the on-site general audit and awarded a One… That’s a One on a twenty-two point scorecard. We’ve actually awarded a Zero before, but it’s the first time in our history that we’ve given a One on an audit.

Our client (and the rep) couldn’t accept that the vendor was “that bad”. “You had to have missed something. The local rep said that they’re really good”.

They didn’t have an IQC (Incoming Quality Control) function to confirm the quality of components and materials before putting them on the shop floor. There were only a handful of work instructions on the floor, there was no In-Process Quality Control (IPQC) or record keeping and the instrument and machine calibrations were nonexistent. 1/22. What we saw is what they got.

Well… The local rep was so convinced that the result was the combination of the vendor having a bad day and our auditor not doing his job, he proposed that we re-audit at his expense. So we did.

10/22.

They’d given the factory a quickie makeover, posted a few charts and work instructions and smiled a lot. All meaningless window dressing. We still couldn’t advise our client to place an order there.

Here’s how we rank factories:

>20: Qualified

18~20: Accepted

10~17: Requires review on case by case basis

<10: Unqualified

It doesn’t matter if the supplier is molding rubber, die casting aluminum alloy, providing electronic box build or building dental instruments. Good factories have processes and procedures in place that provide the necessary framework for control and predictability. Our experienced engineers know this and can sniff out a fraud in minutes.

We rely upon and trust the numbers generated during our audits. I recommend that you utilize a similar discipline in qualifying new vendors. If you’d like a copy of our audit template, please drop me a note.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486
www.EB-INTL.com

“Is Your Product Fully Defined?”

July 1, 2015

Folks,

We had a conversation with a potential client last week who wants to produce an automotive aftermarket product. What he described sounded cool, I could visualize how it would be used (cooler still) and I could imagine customers actually buying and using the device. [Way cool as many product concepts that entrepreneurs think are the best thing since canned beer don’t generate a single dollar in sales!]

This guy had gotten started on a crowd funding website and tried to procure a prototype from a broker before getting completely sideways. The campaign was canceled as it didn’t hit its funding target and the prototype was so poorly executed it couldn’t be used as proof of concept to raise funds from other sources.

Now beyond this guy not having a clue on how he was going to sell the product, (the most common downfall for inventors and early stage companies) he had no grasp of the complexity of the task ahead and the costs involved.

Jack: “Do you have a PRD (Product Requirements Document)?”

Entrepreneur: “What’s a PRD?

Jack: “Is the product fully defined?”

Entrepreneur: “Yup… It might have Bluetooth. It will definitely have a switch on the dashboard. It will probably have video. I think that it will work with your smart phone. We’ll probably need an app.”

Jack: “How much have you paid the broker?”

Entrepreneur: “$40K for the development and the prototypes.”

Jack: “Does that include NRE and tooling?”

Entrepreneur: “What’s NRE and tooling?”

Ugh… A lamb being led to the slaughter.

This poor fellow believed that without design or direction, an offshore CM could cobble together off the shelf parts including sensors, Bluetooth modules, wire harnesses, switches, adhesives, PCBs, aluminum extrusions (and a long list of items that he had no knowledge of) and come up with a finished product.

Jack: “You’re way too early for us. You need to hire an electronic/industrial design firm to generate a solid design and prototypes. Someone nearby that you can work with closely while the product is being defined.”

Entrepreneur: “Will that cost more than $4OK?”

Jack: “Way more…”

Moral of the story: make sure that your product is defined and the design is “in the can” before you consider manufacturing onshore or offshore.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486

 

Making a New Product is Like Making an Omelet…

June 5, 2015

Folks,

I’m sure that many of you read the recent New York Times article “ZPM Espresso and the Rage of the Jilted Crowdfunder” published on April 30th. Beyond the well written narrative that described the maker movement and the travails of building a new product on a crowd funded shoestring, I gleaned a powerful and resonant takeaway “You sort of have to make 2,000 of something to find out if you can make 2,000 of something.”

This clear and direct language expresses what we’ve shared with many early stage and startup companies: the learning curve associated with building a new product is painful and costly. While you (the entrepreneur, garage genius, maker, hacker, etc.) can hand craft one to five units on a limited budget, a contract manufacturer cannot.

Even after the tooling is made and paid for (and yes, once we get past the modeling and prototype phase, tooling is a must) the CM must use conventional and real industrial manufacturing techniques to make retail-ready products. This is an essential stage in the new product development cycle.

There are very few products that are a “drop-in” fit in most factories. Until the fabricator develops the methods to make your product and then adjusts their processes to suit it, it’s a learning process.

The industrial pump needs to be primed by making many units… Sometimes hundreds and in some cases thousands are consumed in this process. And these aren’t shippable or saleable. They can end up in the Dumpster.
There’s obviously a financial cost to this. There’s also the emotional cost of seeing components that you specified and purchased replaced with a better fit. Or T1, T2 and T3 molded plastic housings tossed in the trash can.

A well-crafted turnover package will minimize the cost, effort and stress associated with making a new product. It won’t eliminate it. So – get your emotions and checkbook ready to be exercised.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486

Lower End of the BOM: Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing Baby!

April 8, 2015

Folks,

With respect and proper attribution, I make reference to the great R&B hit “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing (Baby). Sung by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and written by the extraordinary Ashford and Simpson, it peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1968.

How could this possibly connect to our work in strategic sourcing and new product manufacturing you ask?

Most covers of this classic (IMHO) don’t hold a candle to the original. Give a listen to the versions recorded by Aretha Franklin, Elton John & Marcella Detroit or even Donnie & Marie Osmond… No comparison.

In the same manner, materials and components that are the “technical equivalent” or “easily substituted” don’t always hold up well in the field (or in your all-in-one printer). We’ve experienced major problems when seemingly low risk or ancillary materials & parts are used in production builds.

New product design teams go to great lengths to define key components and sub systems. This extends to printed circuit board materials, continuous duty motors and pumps, active electronic components, specialty grades of metals, etc.

Second or third tier components and materials such as adhesives, gasket & seal substrates, cable jacket materials, molding compound, tapes and stainless steel tubing usually aren’t explicitly called out and defined in the BOM or specification.

In some cases this is fine. Most standard “B grade” fasteners are going to work in your device. Adhesives that don’t bond effectively to the mating surfaces in a plastic housing won’t.

When you built your first units, the law of “positive unintended consequences” worked in your favor. The multitude of materials and their properties, many knowable, many not, combined to yield functioning prototypes. In the transition to mass production, the law of “negative unintended consequences” can often trip up your supplier. They and we would prefer not to be forced into the role of materials interaction detective.

We ask our customers to clearly define all of the “low risk” materials in their BOM. We’ll probably find reasonable substitutes for many of them, and can move forward in an organized approach, changing one or two variables at a time. It may be necessary to stick with the original and avoid the “cover” versions.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
1.617.285.2486
www.EB-INTL.com

What’s More Difficult to Source & Build: Toys or High Tech Devices?

April 1, 2015

Folks,

We were recently approached by a new customer who asked for assistance with qualifying suppliers of toys, some designed from scratch, some modified standard products an then guiding the build cycle.

Knowing that we source many high tech products, he asked if EastBridge was interested in supporting their offshore procurement activities.

This got me to thinking, what’s more difficult: manufacturing high tech products or “low end” consumer products, such as toys?

Please see a comparison of the process below:

PARAMETER TOYS HIGH TECH DEVICES
Well Written Specifications Usually Not Yes
Detailed Design Files Sometimes Always
Sophisticated Vendor Base Rarely Usually
Culture of Quality Occasionally Mostly
Product Risk High Moderate

 

When we’re tasked with building a high tech products, we generally can depend on the vendors, our customers and us speaking a common (engineering oriented) language, being able to mutually follow understandable specifications and applying well defined & proven manufacturing methods and quality standards to the process.

For fast moving/low cost consumer products (think something you’ll find in a big box retailer or at the local dollar store) the process isn’t quite so well pinned down. Even if the vendor is mid sized, it’s unlikely that they’ll have much process engineering depth, well written SOPs, quality infrastructure or significant control of their supply chain.

This segment is characterized by mom & pop proprietors… Long on gumption, short on discipline.

While it’s bad for strain gauges, printed circuit board assemblies and peristaltic pumps to be defective or fail in the field, it’s really (REALLY!) bad when a low cost baby or juvenile product hurts a kid.

This all translates into high tech products being “easy” to build and consumer products being a “challenge”. If you’re in this market, best to expect a bumpy ride.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486

The Unwritten Specification — Where Common Sense Can Go To Die

March 5, 2015

Folks,

I’ve recently experienced two examples (one professionally and one personally) where the concept of the ‘Unwritten Specification’ has become brutally evident.

When we manufacture technically complex products, a fair amount of effort goes into drafting a well written and comprehensive specification. These documents include critical, major and minor features to verify, AQL (Acceptable Quality Level), inspection techniques, photographs of the product, packaging format, international standards, etc.

Our specifications help a great deal in defining product acceptance standards and assist in making the “tough calls”.

What the spec doesn’t do is help with the common sense aspects, or the “easy calls” when clear thinking should rule.

So, when we inspected a lot of urinary catheters and found a raised burr on the business end (YEOW!) we immediately rejected the lot. The manufacturer (not one that was selected by EastBridge) protested, stating that “The specification doesn’t mention anything about burrs on the tip of the catheter. It’s not a rejectable defect”. Our team offered the option of field testing several of the discrepant catheters on the factory owner to confirm acceptability.

On the personal front, we purchased a car last August and recently discovered that it rolls backwards on hills when you take your foot off the brake. Not an inch or two, but all the way down the hill. And yes, it’s an automatic transmission. And yes, it’s in ‘D’ when this happens. The car dealer told me that “That’s what this model does. You should have asked when you bought the car”.

Beyond the absurdity of the dealership saying that it’s my responsibility to inquire about a safety hazard that no experienced driver has ever encountered, this reinforces that not everything can be captured in a written specification.

At EastBridge, we put a lot of effort into selecting vendors where common sense has not died. We believe in forming personal relationships with the management team, embedding our engineers on site and maintaining a dialog that allows us to understand production techniques, material characteristics and the unwritten spec. This is more work, but we feel that it’s needed and makes a difference for our customers. We think that you should do the same.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486

Top Five Mistakes Made By Hardware Start-ups

November 3, 2014

Folks,

While we serve clients of all sizes, from small industrial goods providers to Fortune 500 consumer products companies, we have a special place in our hearts for early stage start-ups. While they often require a lot of hand holding on our part, and they all certainly don’t make it, how can’t you not be swept up by the energy and spirit of a start-up?

These companies are driven by the vision of the founder (it’s usually one guy or gal, occasionally it can be a small team). She has invented a unique product and won’t let anything get between her and the goal. We get just as excited as the founder, climb on the bus and throw our energy and experience into getting the new hardware built.

Having done this many times, we’ve learned that there are a number of mistakes or pitfalls that early stage companies repeat again and again. We’ve drawn up a list of the “Top Five Mistakes Made By Hardware Start-Ups’ and it’s shown below in the form of “The Most Important Things To Remember in a Hardware Start-Up’..

  1. Know how much your customers will pay for the product. Don’t guess – do your market research. Invest in photo realistic renderings and models and hold voice of the customer sessions to really learn what your market wants and the effective price point.
  2. Talk with an IP attorney before you start manufacturing and protect your device, copyright and trade marks. Don’t wait to “test the market”. IP protection represents money well spent.
  3. Finish the design. Going out to contract manufacturers with a partial design that doesn’t include a complete BOM, CAD files, tolerance & surface finishes and Product Requirements Document (PRD) is paving your path forward with bottle caps, broken glass and thumb tacks. Manufacturers won’t “get it” and fill in the blanks in such a way as to support your product vision.
  4. Plan for more time than you imagine is necessary… There are thousands of details associated with a hardware start-up. Some you can imagine, some you can’t. Not all of them can be tackled by the founder. Be prepared to ask for help.
  5. Budget enough money to fund the entire launch effort. It’s more than you can believe. Most simple consumer products require at least $375K to get to the cusp of commercialization. Vendors won’t fund the project no matter how cool the design may be.

We think that elements on our fall into the category of common sense… Pay attention to these items and that rocky path will look more like a freshly paved stretch of interstate.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.401.7373

News for Immediate Release» Eastbridge Engineering Coordinates Offshore Production for Kittyo

July 9, 2014

BOSTON, MA, USA – July 9, 2014 – EastBridge Engineering has announced the launch of production for the Kittyo, Kittyo’s family of unique cat products. Kittyo will allow the more than 36.1 million U.S. cat parents, as well as those around the world, to connect and interact with their furry companions while they’re away from home no matter the distance.

EastBridge has implemented a specialized turnkey program to coordinate vendor qualification, design transfer, sourcing, manufacture, quality assurance and logistics of Kittyo’s designs.  The initial steps in this development project included reviewing the designs for manufacturability, coordinating the final manufacturing review (EMR), building tooling, coordinating production on-site at plastics molders and assemblers in the Asia-Pacific region. Prototyping and scale-up to volume production is now underway.

Jack Daniels, EastBridge Engineering’s president stated: “We are excited to provide be working with Kittyo in launching their family of cat products. We’re providing a comprehensive set of manufacturing management services and ongoing support for Kittyo in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Their unique designs and cutting edge technologies are a great fit for our manufacturing engineers and international trade specialists. Identifying, auditing and then managing a corps of talented suppliers shortened production time and accelerated time to market of their specialized cat products.”

According to Lee Miller, president of Kittyo: “From the start, our mission was to establish reliable and high quality production in Greater China in the shortest amount of time possible. EastBridge helped us identify top notch vendors and effectively transferred our designs to volume production. They understand the importance of our patent pending products as well as the challenges and opportunities of working with an early stage company. They leveraged their unique technical capabilities with Asian manufacturers. Working with EastBridge allowed us to quickly begin production and start selling our products.”

Kittyo, LLC

New York-based Kittyo, LLC (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kittyo/kittyo-play-with-your-cat-even-when-youre-not-home) specializes in revolutionary electromechanical cat products that lets you watch, speak to, play with, and record your cat when you’re away. The Kittyo also allows you to dispense treats.

EastBridge Engineering

Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, USA with offices throughout Asia, EastBridge Engineering (www.EB-INTL.com) was founded in 2003 to provide North American and European original equipment manufacturers, product designers and entrepreneurs with on-the-ground manufacturing management vendor development and supply chain management services in the Asia-Pacific region. We guide manufacturing projects in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Viet Nam and many other locations in Asia.

$107.23 and $12.63… Valid Prices for the Same Part?

June 21, 2014

Folks,

We recently sourced a complex machined part, which is integrated into an even more complex medical device. Difficult-to-source tungsten alloy, five axis machining, very tight tolerances and granular testing requirements.

We reviewed the drawings and specification and sent the requirements (ten piece sample order, followed by a one hundred piece proof of concept order and then volume breaks at 20K, 50K and 100K) to five high end machine shops that we know well.

We expected that the quotations would be grouped in a +/-5% range… We were wrong.

The highest price was $285.00 per unit. Then we received two quotes around $125.00, one more at $107.23 and the last quotation at $12.63.

We tossed out the first quote as a prime example of ‘The Stupid Price’. A typical response would lead many of us to throw out the ‘low ball’ price and select one of the prices and vendors in the middle of the pack.

We dug deeper and learned that the low cost supplier is vertically integrated. They control everything from mining, to smelting, to casting and all the way on to machining and finishing. As tungsten is a strategic material, the market for the metal and related alloys is often fragmented and difficult to understand.

Identifying a machining vendor that had their own source of supply took an enormous amount of cost out of the equation.

The takeaway is that responsible sourcing directs us to always get more than one quote and not to throw out the lowest price.

Cheers,

Jack Daniels
+1.617.285.2486
www.EB-INTL.com

©2014 Eastbridge