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How To Manage Your Contract Manufacturer Part 2: Schedule

The following post is the fifth in a series of guest posts for GrabCADOnce the MSA is signed by both parties, it’s time to start the steps leading up to production.  A good place to start is the schedule.

When creating a production schedule, consider the following:

  • Many consumer schedules are driven by Christmas (which has a fixed date).  You will most likely be able to sell many more units leading up to the holiday, but also it’s important to be realistic with your schedule and not ship a product of low quality.  Often, if you miss Christmas, you can use CES.
  • Plan contingency in your schedule. Things never go according to plan.
  • Allow several prototype cycles and enough time between cycles so you can fix issues that are found during testing.
  • Your manufacturing partner is unlikely to be as optimistic or aggressive as you (and this is good).
  • Have an onsite presence in the factory.  This is especially critical for complex or time critical products.
  • Track the schedule closely and take corrective actions early. Don’t expect to make up the time in the end.
  • In almost all cases, shipping known bad product is worse than shipping late product. Large numbers of returns can kill your business and reputation.
  • Avoid: “There’s never enough time to do it right the first time, but always enough time to do it again.”

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The major milestones for production that will determine your schedule include:

  • Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFM)
    • Project Kick-Off / Knowledge Transfer
    • Preproduction Engineering
    • Tool Release
  • Pre-Production
    • Tool Start (TS)
    • First Shots (FS)
    • Tool Mods
    • Engineering Pilot 1 (EP1)
    • Regulatory Testing
    • Engineering Pilot 2 (EP2) / Customer Use Test (CUT)
    • Final Engineering Pilot (FEP)
    • Production Pilot (PP)
  • Production
    • Production Start (PS)
    • First Inspection
    • First Batch Ex-Factory

While every run is different, on average the above steps usually require 6 months.  Prior to getting excited about making Christmas, don’t forget that the lead-in time for selecting the factory (RFQ), negotiating the MSA, and shipping your product would add up to two additional months to the schedule. Shipping can add another few weeks to a month depending on whether you go via air or water.

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