In this series we'll focus on the New Product Introduction (NPI) process and how to successfully go from a “napkin sketch” all the way through high-volume production. We’ll break this journey into three distinct phases: Proof of Concept / Prototype, New Product Introduction (NPI) and Sustaining Manufacturing.
There are many steps that go into successfully launching a new hardware product, especially in the overall New Product Introduction (NPI) process. This can range from hardware product development to prototyping, all the way to infrastructure and overall business goals. Broken down in a comprehensive list these initiatives can include:
- The product
- Product-market fit
- Business model
- Go-to-market strategy
- Capitalization / fund raising
- Team building
- Infrastructure (incorporation, payroll, office, financial, etc).
Two Key Decision Types
To start off, we can break down the key decisions in the New Product Introduction (NPI) process into two types:
- Critical decisions - Ones you need to get right the first time because they are very expensive to change later.
- Expedient decisions - Ones that you can make quickly to keep things moving forward and fix later if they turn out to be incorrect.
New teams often don’t fully understand which type of decision they are making and frequently end up paying a dear price later to unwind costly mistakes that could have been avoided with a little bit of extra effort up front.
An example of a critical decision is what material you’ll make an injection molded part from. As a resin goes through the injection molding process, it will shrink slightly. To compensate for this material shrinkage, tools are cut slightly larger as a function of the particular resin that was selected to make the part. Due to its complexity, tooling can take up to 8 weeks to produce and may cost five figures or more. If a company was to make a mistake and select Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), for example, instead of Acetal for a gear, then it would be necessary to start all over again with a new set of tools due to the difference in resin shrinkage rates. This mistake would cost precious time and money that could have been avoided with a little extra effort up front researching the proper resin for gears (Acetal has a lower coefficient of friction, so it’s better suited for the sliding of gear teeth as they mesh).
An example of an expedient decision that can be made quickly and changed fairly easily later is the selection of the resin for a standard part housing. ABS is the typical choice - it’s strong, easy to mold, and cost-effective. If the part breaks during a drop test, then it is possible to use a mix of ABS + impact resistant Polycarbonate (PC) because they have the same shrinkage rate (both resins are in the Styrene family). PC has a lower melt flow index, so ultimately you’d want to enlarge the molds runners, but this modification can be done later.
As you make the hundreds of decisions that will ultimately determine whether your product succeeds or fails, think through whether it’s one that you need to get right the first time, or one that you can make quickly and change later.