Turning Product Ideas into Reality: The Product Development Process

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From idea generation to a finished product ready for sale – the product development process is the journey in which every successful product undergoes to become a tangible reality with opportunity for monetization. A series of steps, this cycle includes conceptualization, design, development and marketing of new or rebranded goods. By understanding the product development process you’ll be able to gain a better understanding of the manufacturing process and therefore be able to accurately calculate your product’s arrival in the market place.

The product development process can be broken down into five steps:

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Good concept development is pivotal. If poorly done can undermine the entire effort. During this stage, the needs of the target market are identified, competitive products are reviewed, product specifications are defined, a product concept is selected, market and financial feasibility analysis is conducted, and the project development outline is created. This stage provides the foundation for the entire development process.

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In prior stages, the team was focused on the core product idea, and the prospective design was largely based on overviews rather than in-depth design and engineering. Once the development plan is approved, marketing may begin to develop ideas for addtional product options and add-ons, or perhaps an extedned product family. Designers and engineers develop the product architecture in detail, and manufacturing determines which components should be made and which should be purchased, and identifies the necessary suppliers.

According to product design and development expert, Robert Q. Riley, The product’s architecture determines how the primary functional systems and subsystems are designed and engineered, and how those systems will be arranged to work as a complete unit. For example, a computer consists of the central processing unit (CPU), power supply unit (PSU), a motherboard, memory, video card, and cooling fans. The architecture of the computer design determines the platform layout, whether the computer is a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone computer. The architecture may determine the layout of the system, but it would not provide the detailed engineering needed to determine the dimensions of the speakers, the detailed design of the keyboard, or the engineering of the operating software. All of this impacts important attributes such as standardization of components, modularity, options for future changes, ease of manufacture, and how the project is divided into manageable tasks and expenses. If a family of products or upgrades and add-ons are planned, the architecture of the product determines the commonality of components and the ease with which upgrades and add-ons can be installed.

Development, tooling, and manufacturing costs will be economized on when a system or subsystem is used from another product line from the company. As the design stage matures, detailed design is done for every component of the product. During this phase, every component is identified and engineered. Tolerances, materials, and finishes are defined, and the design is implemented with drawings or computer files. Once developed, prototype components are rapidly built with computerized machines such as fused deposition modeling devices, CNC mills, or stereo lithography systems.

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During the testing and refinement stage, a number of prototypes are built and tested. Prototypes emulate production products as closely as possible. Prototypes are necessary to determine whether the performance of the product matches the specifications, and to uncover design shortfalls and gain in-the-field experience with the product in use. Later, beta prototypes are built from the first production components received from suppliers.

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Pilot manufacturing can also be thought of as ‘almost manufacturing.’ During production ramp-up, the work force is trained as the first products are being assembled. The comparatively slow product build provides time to work out any remaining problems with supplier components, fabrication, and assembly procedures. The staff and supervisory team is organized, beginning with a core team, and line workers are trained by assembling production units.

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As the company is comfortable moving forward from its success in the pilot manufacturing stage, the next and final phase of the product development cycle is full manufacturing production. As full manufacturing kicks off, typically a review team including representatives from strategic sourcing, engineering, quality assurance, and operations monitor for any final flaws or failures. Once the review is passed and the design has been fully approved, final units begin to be manufactured.

Whether a business plans to outsource manufacturing or not, the transition from conceptualization to full manufacturing can be either a path to success or a long road with many delays to final product launch . Getting products to market on time and within budget is dependent on the speed and fluidity of each transition throughout the various manufacturing phases. Those with the ability to react fast to errors and quickly adapt to each phase may reap the benefits of a consolidated product development cycle. The end result – larger profit margins for everybody.

 

Michelle Scheblein is China Business Analyst at BaySource Global. She has a B.A. in international business from the University of South Florida and has studied abroad, worked, and traveled throughout China between 2011-2014. She can be reached at mscheblein@gmail.com

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