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10 Key Pieces of Information You Need Before Handing Your Product Over to a Factory

The process of going from one-to-many for your consumer electronic product can be a complex journey. The first time you are launching a product particularly, it can feel like “one step forward, two steps back.” Although, when you see a delighted customer using your product in the wild, it all becomes worth it. While we know the journey does not follow a linear path, there are milestones you need to hit along the way. In order to manufacture your product in high volume with a contract manufacturer, these are 10 key pieces of information you need before handing your product over to a factory:

 

  1. Functioning Prototype - Looks-Like, Works Like

    This prototype is often broken down into two components. The “Works Like” (WL) demonstrates the basic functionality of the product, but not the aesthetics. It may not even fit in the final form factory. The “Looks Like” (LL) does embody the final aesthetics, but is often not functional.  Following a split approach allows companies to iterate more quickly. Of course, before actually manufacturing the product you’ll need to combine the two into a “Works Like / Looks Like” model.
  2. Bill of Materials (BOM)

    The BOM is effectively the complete list of ingredients that are required to build your product. This includes not only the electronics and mechanical components, but also the packaging, tape, master carton, stickers, instruction manuals, etc. Basically, anything with atoms that needs to be purchased or fabricated to create your product.
  3. Engineering Files - MCAD and ECAD

    These files contain the information required to fabricate the components for your product. The MCAD (mechanical computer-aided design) is typically in the native format of Onshape, SolidWorks, Creo, Inventor, etc. It is also possible to handover files without the feature tree such as STEP or IGES. The ECAD (electronic computer-aided design) is often in the format of Eagle, KiCad, Altium, etc which contain the schematic and layout. It is also standard to handover the Gerber files which contain information necessary to fabricate the PCBA.
  4. Pricing 

    You should have target prices for the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), Sell-In (i.e the price you will sell the product to a channel partner) and Sell-Through (i.e. the price the product is sold to the end-customer). We don’t recommend sharing these with the Contract Manufacturer (CM), but for your own business model, it’s critical to have estimates.
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  5. Countries of Sale

    Depending on the type of product you’re building, it may require safety and environmental compliance ratings (UL, CE, etc). Often, each country has its own regulations. As you engage with a CM, it’s important to let them know where you’ll be selling the product so they can help ensure the product will pass all of the required regulations.  It’s also often helpful to bring in a compliance consultant to navigate this process for products that are more complex from a regulator standpoint.
  6. Production Volumes

    In order to get the right impedance match with your CM, one of the key criteria to consider is your annual production volume (i.e. how many units do you need to build in the first year, second year, and so on). Partnering with a factory that makes iPhones is probably not going to be a good fit if you need to build 5k units a year. Likewise, if you do need to build high volumes (1M+ a year), you’ll need a partner that can handle this scale (think of just the working capital requirements alone!)
  7. Quality Control Plan

    While you don’t need to have everything fleshed out, you should have a baseline for functionality tests, AQL levels (used in final shipment inspection), MTBF (mean time between failures, which relates to the overall product life), In Warranty Exchange Rate, and so on.
  8. Aesthetics - Color, Material, Finish (CMF)

    For the CM to be able to evaluate your product and generate a quote and schedule, they will need to understand the CMF for each part. What material is it made from, what color is it (usually specified as a Pantone number) and what is the surface finish (sandblasted, glossy, alligator skin pattern).
  9. Packaging Specification

    How are you going to ship the product to the customer? The packaging provides protection, and for products sold through a channel, marketing.  Is the gift box made via four-color offset printing with a UV spot to create a glossy section? Is there a lift flap, does it need corner braces because the product is heavy? All of these decisions impact the cost and schedule.
  10.  Sustainability Plan

    Nobody wants to live in a garbage dump, drowning in old products. How are you designing your product to be reused, repaired, or recycled after the initial customer is done with it? Are you considering compostable materials, a design that can be disassembled so the base components can easily be recycled?

 

 

Since this is a fluid process, it’s good to have most of this close to 100% ready before starting the request for quote (RFQ) process. You’ll definitely need this information when you are ready to kick off the project with your chosen factory partner. The more prep work you do, the smoother the process will be. This approach will help prevent unexpected costs, questions about quality and address any schedule delays up front, helping you and the factory navigate the journey more smoothly.

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