The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing


CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve crafted the finest (and only!) Internet-connected mustache comb. And you’ve managed to put together an awesome prototype that works every time. Then you built three more just to prove you could do it. If you had to, you could probably build twenty of them. But could you build a thousand? How about one hundred thousand?
To reach the low price that consumers have come to expect, you must produce a large quantity of your product in an efficient way so that the individual price becomes low. To set up efficient production you must design your product with care, select the right materials, choose appropriate fabrication processes, and invest in expensive tooling. Is this easy? No, but it is possible.

THE $39 MUSTACHE COMB is your guide to navigating the manufacturing jungle so that you can bring your revolutionary product to life. In this step-by-step guide, you will learn about:

• Manufacturing Processes
• Design for Manufacturing
• Tooling Costs and Budgeting
• 3D Printing and Prototyping
• Schedules and Timeline
• Documentation and Drawings
• Vendor Selection
• And the ridiculous story of the $39 mustache comb


Prototyping: What is it for?


Manufacturing Prototype, straight from a Form Labs 3D printer.  The lattice structure is support material and will be cleaned off.

New product development requires many, and often countless, prototypes.  After all, they are the vehicle for correcting errors and improving the design before you shell out money for tooling and ramp up your production.  The first prototypes often begin with the designer tinkering in the garage or shop.  These cobbled together prototypes, called Proof of Concept prototypes, are often a necessary step in proving out new ideas.  They may not look good, but they can provide a convincing argument for the idea.

An Appearance Model is a kind of prototype that represents the size, shape, colors, and design, but is not functional.  These can be useful for communicating the feel of the product among various department of the business, for testing marketing requirements, attracting investment, and they can even be a stand-in for advertisements, videos, or printed media.

Working Prototype proves the function of the product.  This might be a more refined version of the Proof of Concept prototype, but it still makes little attempt at having the correct appearance, or of using correct production materials.  However, it provides an efficient method for testing the engineering principles of the product and may go through several revisions.

Sooner or later you will need to make prototypes that reflect the as-manufactured design.  These Manufacturing Prototypes are the result of careful engineering of the product in a way that can be efficiently manufactured.

Many projects employ of all these prototype categories.

Some Words on Vendor Selection

We have lost much of the meaning of the words, “quality control”.  It sounds like a good idea, and it is.  To me it sounds like a system that I would want to put in place once the company got big enough to funnel resources towards it.  Then we would get our guy with a clipboard checklist on the factory floor.  This misses the whole point.

Quality control is, simply, control of the supply chain.  This includes control of each of the individual purchased components, custom manufactured parts, assembly processes, and so on.  It begins with the very act of vendor selection.  What does this mean for a business with limited resources?  First, this means vetting all of your suppliers and manufacturers.  Do your key suppliers care that you exist? Are they responsive to questions over the phone and do they address your concerns?  Can you talk to the boss of your contract manufacturer and are you assured that they are committed to success of the project?  Secondly, the manufacturer should have internal quality control measures and they should be able to demonstrate that they work.  Your impressions here matter, even if you are a novice at vendor selection.  It is important that that your vendors and manufacturers are attentive to your business needs and concerns, and conversely, you to theirs.  It is a partner type relationship, and if you get a bad feeling, it probably is not a good fit.

Steve Fridley of Beam Lokr adds to this critical principle, “As a small company or entrepreneur you have to vet twice as hard as large corporations because the corporations have the resources and the money to weather a storm of difficulty whereas the entrepreneur does not.  And the supplier can kill your business right out of the gate.  That’s really critical.  Your margin of error is very small.”

Your insurance  against catastrophe starts at this early stage of manufacturing.  Research the management team and philosophy of potential contract manufacturers.  Ask for references and check those references.  Be sure that they want, and need, your business.  A committed manufacturer will make a difference in your venture’s success.

Where in the World to Manufacture?

As late as the 90s and into the 2000s the conventional wisdom was that to have a competitive product with competitive pricing, it must be produced in China or in other developing areas of the region.  For many products this is still the case.  Why?  Price, and just as importantly, manufacturing infrastructure.  Everything you need to build a bicycle you can find within a small radius on the island of Taiwan for a good price.  You’ll have tougher luck finding that in North America.  Need a specialty screw for your electronic device?  If you are in Shenzhen, China, there’s probably a plant around the corner that will make it for you.  There are massive ecosystems of manufacturing in Asia that make it possible to do things that would be difficult to accomplish elsewhere.

That said, wages (and prices) are rising and communication difficulties can delay schedules and have other costly consequences.  These problems can be mitigated with local or regional manufacturing.  Why?  Manufacturing is not merely a business transaction.  You will be in a relationship with your manufacturer and it is easier to build a successful relationship with a group that is nearby.  Also, lower production volumes may not justify the capital expense of setting up overseas manufacturing.

Have we answered the question yet, where to manufacture?  No, but let’s distill the discussion into some categories that will allow you to make an informed decision.

  1. Production quantity in the hundreds or thousands can tend toward local/regional manufacturing. Tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands can tend toward worldwide manufacturing centers.
  1. Regional manufacturing is advantageous for rapidly changing products and short development cycles. It is faster.  New technology fields can also thrive with regional manufacturing.  Think 3D printing and drones.
  1. Local manufacturing can be less risky, especially for those inexperienced with bringing a product to market.
  1. Some production locations will be dictated by where in the world the expertise, factories, and supplies are located. Garment, textiles, and bicycles are examples of this.
  1. When manufacturing overseas, please retain the services of a sourcing/supply chain/quality agent. It will be money well spent.