How to Get your Products Made
Have you ever found yourself looking at all the products on the shelves, wondering how they all got there? Does it boggle your mind to imagine how something is designed, produced, packaged and delivered?
Or, if you are industrial designer or a product designer, chances are you've been to a few manufacturing facilities, and you have a good idea of all the steps.
Whether you’ve spent any factory time or not, you likely get design-nerd chills seeing a product come to life like I do. Even more amazing is seeing your own design work on the factory floor. From idea to completion, or sketch to shelf as it were, it's an invigorating part of the process.
I’m a maker. I love working with my hands and building something out of nothing. Nothing makes me happier than cutting, bending, sewing, painting and assembling materials. I’m pretty good at it too, but there’s definitely people better than me.
It’s exciting to see my designs built at factories. The combination of their skill, machinery and access to materials is above and beyond anything I could do on my own.
Regardless of your experience, you know that your product has to get made. Even if it’s a virtual product, there is some production involved. (For this post, I’ll just assume we’re working in the physical world.)
Who can make it?
It’s simple really - there’s only two options here: You make it or someone else does. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and it all depends on your skills, goals and finances.
Self-production can be fantastic for people that love to make. If you enjoy the hands-on process of creating something and selling it, then this is for you. You probably already know this about yourself and it’s the direction you’re planning on heading in. The biggest advantage here is that you control everything - quality, timing, quantity.
Outsourcing production, whether to an individual or a factory has it’s advantages as well. Outsourcing will free up your time to work in other areas of the business. It will allow you to scale and have more products built than you’d ever be able to make on your own. Scaling is huge. If you have certain financial goals, then scalability may be your only option. Of course, you do lose some amount of control over quality, timing, and quantity.
How to begin.
If you’re not a designer and have never had a product produced, this may seem like the scariest part of starting a new company. Chances are, though, that you’ve at least sketched up your product idea and made some kind of rough prototype. (if not, stop reading and start making!)
Though the scale of production can vary greatly, there are some similarities in the way things are made. By figuring out how to make your prototype, you’ll be going though the same process as a factory, just with different tools, materials and techniques. The big picture of making products is getting the concepts out of your head and into a physical form.
The steps to getting your product made are:
- Develop your concept.
- Make a prototype to test your concept.
- Find a manufacturer that can make your product.
- Get samples made by the manufacturer.
- Start production of multiple units.
This is the most basic of overviews and there’s about 3 million steps in between. Luckily, You can get someone to help with every stage of the process. Whether it’s you, or a designer that you’ve hired, someone will still have to work with the person making your goods. Here’s some tips to consider:
You have to get your idea out of your head and documented in a way that someone else can understand your design. I start with loose sketches and then move to full size 2D technical drawings. Some designs are better built in a 3D program like Solidworks. I draw all the views to fully communicate the design to the person building it. Think of it like a story - you want to tell them every single detail so that they don’t make up their own story if any parts are missing.
Speak the language of design - I've been to hundreds of factories around the globe, and most times I ran into problems with the execution of my design, I solved the problem by talking directly to the floor manager or technical person running production. Even if they didn't speak english or I didn't speak their language, the language of design drawings and numbers is universal.
This series of drawings is put together with info about materials, colors, packaging or any other details that you have. This document is sometimes called a Spec Pack or a Tech Pack, and serves as a guide for the manufacturer.
Before handing over your Specs, check and recheck your drawings - your information is critical. Be sure your callouts are clear, you have all the correct info, and you are using proper copyrights.
Would you take your car to get fixed at a bakery? Of course not - they have nothing to do with each other. Having a clear understanding of your production partner’s (guy next door, or factory in China) abilities is paramount. Knowing what their capabilities are is essential to understanding what they can do for you.
Know your partner - make sure you research who is making your stuff. Ask to see their previous work. Ask for references. Be sure you understand payment terms and delivery terms, and plan for possible resolutions for late or incorrect work.
If possible, visit the factory before beginning any work. Is the production floor clean? Are the workers operating in satisfactory conditions?
One of my collaborators had a month where her production, which is done in Bali, was super slow and she found out that the air conditioners broke and the team was working in 105 degree heat. Firing torches, and grinding metal are not the idea tasks in the heat! Thus, the pace was slower than normal and she had to address getting the AC fixed. A small investment on her part, but well worth it in terms of the time and productivity she gained.
Understand how things are made - Products are fabricated, cast, molded, etc. If you didn't learn it in design school, I suggest you spend time reading everything you can at our friend’s site Core77.com - the best site for Industrial Designers. I also suggest you go to a few production facilities and see how things are done. A small artisan making tea cups probably uses similar techniques as a large factory, just on a smaller scale. If you know how things are made, it arms you with the options to creatively problem solve when the people making your product run up against a brick wall.
Expect the unexpected - things will go wrong. Sometimes there are happy accidents, leading to an even better way to make your product. And sometimes there are disasters, and you have to trash a whole production run and star over.. know how to work around problems and become a good value engineer-er
What stage are you at now? Drop me a note with any questions!
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