When we’re launching into a new manufacturing launch project, our customers will very reasonably ask “How long will it take to get products that we can ship”? We review the 2D and 3D drawings, their BOM, specifications, Product Requirements Document ,etc., and based upon our experience offer a good faith time line.
If we use the example of a mid level technology product, say an automotive aftermarket electronic module that installs in the diagnostic port under the dashboard, the short answer is “Five months. . . If everything goes perfectly”.
Our time estimate is often met with head shaking, looks of disbelief, and utterances of “That’s crazy! It can’t possibly take that long.” Well, guess what? It can and does. We’re not hacking prototypes, we’re building retail ready products and that takes time.
The beginning of the process looks something like this:
- Review the product documentation: one week
- Ask questions/resolve BOM and design issues/recommend DFM tweaks: one week
- Identify suitable manufacturers and send out RFQs: one week
- Respond to the candidate manufacturers’ questions, requests for design relief, component or material substitutions, etc.: one week
- Share the above requests with our customer and negotiate buy-offs: one week
- Update the manufacturers and receive their quotations: one week
That’s six weeks to get to the point where we have a budgetary quotation. If we’re doing our job (and not forcing a guesstimate rather than an estimate through the pipeline) it can take longer. And the delays are unavoidable. If the CM has suggested an alternate component because the one you designed around has an eleven week lead time, it’s necessary to review the data sheet, order a few samples and test them in your prototype.
More significant design changes or finding alternate sub systems, electronic modules and active components takes longer still. And that’s all before we can order and build the tooling for the enclosure (four to six weeks), shoot the first articles (one week), tweak the molds through T1, T2 and maybe T3 changes (a couple more weeks) and spin out bare PCBs (one week minimum). And if we need to apply for FCC, UL or other international certifications, work around various holiday shutdowns, more time still.
If the product development gods are with us, we’ll hit the five month estimate. They rarely are.
We know that you did all of the heavy lifting through the brainstorming, design and prototyping phase and your product looks “finished”. It’s not. The messy and somewhat unpredictable transition into mass production is part of the process. Please budget time in your launch plan and treat your manufacturer gently while this is all happening.