PLH Product Prototypes: When is the Right Time to Prototype It | Product Prototyping

Prototyping involves design, engineering, early quoting, sampling, iterations, and a host of other factors that need to get done with the right team for optimal results. You need to make a product prototype or do product sampling after proving, planning, and pricing your model so you can have something tangible to show your investors, to make sure it has the right functions, look or feel, and that you can really sell it in mass market retail. As seasoned product designers, we know that there are a lot of unknowns and alternative ways to make an original product that are not included in the traditional manufacturing process. This is why you have to get the right manufacturers whom you trust, at the right rate and the right time. If you are not hitting your target market, have no core capabilities required in your product category, or doing the product design and engineering is distracting you from running your business, you definitely need to hire a consultant, an engineer or designer who can do the job for you. As an importer or brand owner, you have the higher responsibility to make sure that your product is up to par with your claims to avoid costly and time consuming mistakes– prototyping is a part of the process, and we can help you get it right.

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This is Prototype It. I’m going to use a general term. Prototyping involves a whole host of things that you might do; design, development, engineering. It might even be early quoting, factory finding, factory sourcing. Sampling and iterations is definitely a part of this. Why do you need to make a sample of your idea? Why do you need to make a prototype? When you’re going through the process of proofing it and planning it and pricing it and all of those things that we’re talking about, sometimes you need to finally get to a physical product. You need to finally get something you can hold in your hand, something you can show to others, something you can show to your investors. Also, you need to prove out all of the ideas you have and make sure they physically can work, make sure they can be cost effectively made. Sometimes you have to make a sample to find that out. That’s where we’re going here.

If you are in a private label versus an original product, in private label, you don’t need a designer or an engineer if you’re going to just make a minor change. Maybe you’re going to change a color, maybe you’re going to ask for a different material, but you can pretty much work with a factory to do that directly. There are not a lot of changes in things. This process, you would consider it sampling, not prototyping. Prototyping involves a lot of unknowns, things you’ve never made before, alternative ways to make it that are not in the traditional manufacturing process. We have a client who makes backpacks. Making a new sample of a backpack in a different material or adding a different clip on it, those things are not prototyping. Those things are sampling because you could still sign off on that final sample and go into production immediately. There’s nothing new created.

PLH Product Prototypes: When is the Right Time to Prototype It | Product Prototyping

Product Prototyping: Prototyping involves things you’ve never made before, alternative ways to make it that are not in the traditional manufacturing process.

I want you to think about that in terms of this. We’re talking about anything here that requires original product invention, innovation, or other things that require actual prototyping creation by someone else than the final manufacturer. Sometimes though, we do use the manufacturer to do our prototyping for us, it depends on the materials. Metal stamping, if we’re going to cut something out of metal, you might as well use the manufacturer to do that, and you’ll usually get a better price on them doing that. Typically prototyping, you do have to pay for sampling with private labeling and other things. As long as you’ve done business with the factory before, you don’t have to pay for sampling. How are you going to decide if you need a designer or an engineer involved? This is the case of if you’re not hitting your market targets, if you don’t have core capabilities in that areas, and/or if doing the design and engineering is distracting you from building your business, then it’s time to hire a consultant, hire a design firm, hire an engineer.

Those are some things though, thinking about making special features that you’ve never made before or you don’t have core capability in, get a designer or an engineer to help you with those things. We also specialize in design for manufacturing. In other words, we want to make sure we get something designed so it can be manufactured at the right price point and get it designed so that it will be highly efficient through the manufacturer’s process, whatever that might be, whatever their core competence is. We want to make sure that we’re designing with that in mind. With all of our years of experience and all the factories we have access to, this is really critically important. We found in the process of speeding up the time to market, a lot of iterations happen and a lot of changes, product revisions, and time lost in getting to market happens because it wasn’t designed well to begin with. High costs are designed in or engineered in from the get go, and so we dumped that and designed straight for getting the best manufacturing. It doesn’t mean we compromise in innovative or inventive features. We sometimes have to recognize that maybe the market price we thought isn’t possible and we need to go back and rethink that and see if we can accept the higher commanded price.

Also, if you have high sourcing and development time, if there are a lot of things to manage in terms of the development process, lots of different sourcing, in other words, maybe you have multiple components that you’re assembling together into one or bundling various features together and into a new product, anything that has batteries nowadays, high liability requires any kind of special testing and/or compliance labeling. Those are things that you ought to get a consultant in to help you, at least with the sourcing and development side, if not on the design and engineering side of things. You need to make sure that you are not putting your business and your brand at risk with all of those items. That’s another time at which you might want a consultant.

Let’s talk about those Hazzard Rules of Hiring. We say that you should hire someone product category experience. We’ve seen this goes so wrong for us. Back in our T-tools days of stylus pens, we had pens that exploded. We went with an injection molding factory that was a couple of miles away from us. We thought we can have oversight over them and all of that. They have small injection molding machines. They’re willing to do smaller runs for us, they’re going to make the tool and they’re going to do all of this. They handled a part of the tooling engineering. At the end of the day though, they didn’t make pens. When we went to pull our first run and we distributed them out to all of our customers, we started to get returns and complaints back because the pens would pop apart. They would start to unscrew as you were writing and then eventually the top would fly off. We were like, “What’s going on here?” It turns out that they didn’t engineer the threads properly, so as you were writing it was actually causing the threads to unscrew. They should have gone the opposite direction.

[Tweet “Critical speed to market requires prior experience in your product category.”]

This is a case of they were rookie to the product category. At the end, it cost us a lot of lost time and having to re-engineer that tooling and redo that and refunding all those customers and replacing their product. It was very costly and a lot of time loss. If you have a critical speed to market or time, then you need to have somebody who already is in your product category experience. This is especially important if there’s any liability or any electronics associated with your product. The other thing is that you should visit the factories. You should visit multiple times. You should build relationships with that. Your consultants should visit you. These are all things that you should have face time, whether it’s via Skype and other things. You should have an email relationship with any of these people that you hire. Then you want to trust but verify it. Let’s say you hire a factory and you get them making these things, or you hire a design engineer and they engineer a circuit board for you. We always have a double check on that.

We’ve seen it go wrong at the mass market retail level with batteries that were leaking out. You’ve seen products that are exploding all over the market today. The retailer has this bigger responsibility to do that, but you as the importer and/or the brand have the face of that and you have a higher responsibility to make sure of that. You trust them to do it right but then you verify any of those results and you do outside testing and/or quality control. Hire that, spend the money on it, and then make sure that you do due diligence, meaning that you call the references, check them, ask them. If they say they’ve made these products, check with the other brands. Call around and do some background checks on them.

The last thing I just want to point out to you is that in the group, in our membership site, Product Launch Hazzards, there are some inexpensive fast ways to make samples or ideas or prototyping. A lot of that revolves around our 3D print prototyping and our 3D print podcast that we have, WTFFF, which stands for What The Fuse Filament Fabrication, which is a geeky term for 3D printing. You don’t have to listen to the podcast, but we have put up into the resources area many different relevant and basic podcast that might be useful to you to understand the 3D print prototype process. We want to present that out to you because it’s one of the best and fastest way to make prototypes today and there are tons of service bureaus and resources everywhere. We have a whole section on that on the membership group, so please check that out. If you have any questions at any time, there’s a Q&A there as well.

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