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The Product Development Process

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For most, but not all projects, we typical follow a process similar to the one listed below. This is a general outline of getting a product idea from concept to market. It is a time tested formula and used in many companies across many industries. There are several variants of this formula, all of them are good as they fit different situations and types of product development. Oftentimes, we have experienced clients that come to us who are already partly through this process and looking for us to complete it. This is something we are also happy to do. Below is the process broken into the phases we normally use.

Concept Phase

This is the initial phase where the idea for the new product is generated and documented. The idea here is to flush out the idea as much as possible and assess if it is worth pursuing. To some degree, this is always done by an inventor or client before coming to us, for why else would someone hire a product design and development company unless they already have an idea they want to pursue.

Discovery Phase

This is an added phase in our process where a customer shares their idea with us so we can bid on it. It's common practice to sign a non-disclosure agreement up front with the customer to keep what is discussed confidential (keeping a customer's information confidential is something we do even without the agreement in place, unless agreed to by the customer). We also work with the customer to flush out the idea, this usually stems naturally from our need to have a a good specification to create our quote and this process can range from a short phone call for a simple design to a couple of weeks of talks if the design is complicated or requires a lot of detail. We do not charge for this. At the end of this phase we usually deliver a proposal to the customer with a firm quote for the preliminary phase and estimates for the other phases beyond that.

Preliminary Design Phase

In this phase, we create a preliminary design based on the specifications agreed upon in the discovery phase. We create an engineering model and do any other engineering and design that is necessary to flush out the product so that there is a high level of confidence that the design will work before proceeding to detailing the parts and creating engineering drawings and documents.

This phase is really where the bulk of the product design & development is done. At the end of this phase the work is summarized and delivered to the customer at a Preliminary Design Review (PDR). A written report is also delivered detailing the work done in this phase. After this phase, it should be very clear to all parties what the final product will look like and what its features will be. If, after the review, the customer believes parts of the design need to be tweaked or they decide they want modification or new features added this will be incorporated into the next phase. Mechanical Engineering Professionals, will then update the original proposal and give a firm quote to our customers for the next phase before proceeding.

Critical Design Phase

Most of this phase is for detailing the design and creating engineering drawings and documents of the design presented at the Preliminary Design Review. Any changes or modifications to the design requested by the customer at the Preliminary Design Review are also incorporated before drawings are made. Once drawings and necessary documents are completed, these are sent out to manufacting houses for quote so that the customer will have a detailed price for the building of the product. We are happy to work with manufacturers specified by the customer if they have a particular vendor that they prefer. At the end of this phase the work is summarized and delivered to the customer at a Critical Design Review (CDR). A written report is also delivered detailing everything done in this phase. Again, at the end of this phase we will update the proposal and give firm costs for the next phase before proceeding.

Build Phase

In this phase, all the parts for the assembly are ordered, received and the product is assembled. Any kinks in the assembly process are ironed out and debugged. Bugs are sometimes surprising to many people who are new to product development because most people hear about software bugs but rarely do people hear about it being associated with mechanical or other types of projects. Most often, these are trivial and come from all sorts of areas such as a part just not being made correctly or a press fit being too tight etc. Overcoming bugs is large part of development and the reason why most major companies will do several revisions of a design before releasing a product to the public (alpha, beta, and release designs); especially those companies wishing to release high quality products. There should always be a buffer in an initial build of a product to allow for debugging during the build. Also in this phase, the initial manufacturing procedures are worked out and any necessary manufacturing documentation is created. Higher end or higher volume assemblies may also require specialty tools to do such things as fine alignments or to just speed up the assembly process. This would also be addressed here. At the end of this phase, fully built prototypes would be delivered to the customer.

Testing Phase

On simple projects this phase is often wrapped in with the build phase and we always do some testing of a product in the build phase before shipping a prototype to a customer. The testing can be as simple as "does it work or not?" but with more intricate assemblies this can become much more complicated as you are not just testing if it works but how well or how long it works. Tests vary tremendously on the type of product and level of quality the customer wants to achieve. These can also involve market research testing to see how well the product would be received. We work hand in hand with many customers on this phase as they usually want to be intimately involved in the testing to see for themselves how well the product works. Many times the customer takes over this phase completely. The amount of testing is most often limited by time and budget constraints.

Beta Build Phase / Release Build Phase

Often the product development cycle listed above is repeated several times mainly to iron out bugs or fix problems that were discovered in testing. The beta and release phases aren't really phases so much as a shortened iteration of the entire product development cycle. Of course, in the beta and release, the design and build phases are much cheaper and quicker to complete since one is building on a design already created instead of starting from scratch. The goal of the beta phase is usually to create a short run of prototypes that are as close to release as possible and get them into the hands of key testers, select customers or others to do some final testing before a full product launch. The release build phase is usually just to get the final bugs out of the design as production is ramped up for the initial product launch.