Going through a lean manufacturing process is always an exciting time for any product. I personally love this stage! This is when you go from the engineering and design phases to seeing hundreds of thousands of your products making their way down the production line ready for shipment to your customers. It can also be one of the riskiest parts of getting a product to market. As volumes increase, so do the costs and risks in buying components, assembling and testing your product – and after manufacture – the number of possible product returns should the quality not be up to spec. Ouch.
With all that in mind, here are 10 tips to ensure a lean manufacturing process to run smoothly:
1. Get some experience in your team
If you haven’t manufactured a tech product before, find someone who has. Their experience will make the process a whole lot quicker, smoother and far less stressful.
2. Visit the manufacturing site and complete an audit.
There is nothing more enlightening than visiting a manufacturing site in person. You will be able to see whether they have a focus on quality and care, an eye for detail, the cleanliness of the site, how they implement security, their quality processes, how they engage with you. The small things matter, so go and see them and take it all in. Chances are that you will have multiple manufacturers, one for electronics, another for plastics and others supplying critical components so leave a full week to travel around and meet your supply chain. If they are the right partners they will love to show you around and talk about their work.
3. Select a manufacturer with a good track record of bringing similar products to market.
Chances are that if they’ve manufactured a similar product they have already worked through some of the issues you are going to face. Use their experience to your advantage.
4, Don’t compromise on components.
To ensure your product behaves as designed, only use components specified in your design – don’t accept substitutes without testing first! This is especially important for medical products where you need to control design traceability. It’s a legal requirement.
5. Focus on quality and what testing you need to complete.
This is to satisfy you that the lean manufacturing process results in a product you ship of the highest quality. Cost is obviously a factor – more testing equals more cost. But you generally find there is a happy balance between test coverage, quality and cost.
6. Be there from the start.
Your trial production run is one of the most important steps in progressing to high volumes – it provides you with the opportunity to work through any production issues while the volumes are still manageable. Being onsite during the trial run with the necessary test equipment and key people is essential to getting production up and running with limited delays. Plan to be there for a week and take some work to do while waiting, there can be a fair bit of hanging around.
7. Don’t leave anything to chance.
Component lead-times, test jigs, quality processes, assembly guidelines, incoming inspections, packaging, batch testing – make sure you are across all aspects of the lean manufacturing process – don’t leave this up to your manufacturer. Ultimately it is your responsibility, so grab hold of it.
8. The lean manufacturing process doesn’t stop at manufacturing.
Product support is critical in monitoring the quality of your product and identifying if any issues escaped your manufacturing test process. Small quality issues are unavoidable for any new product – there will be some minor issues that are missed as you refine the testing processes, and new issues will occur as volumes ramp up into the millions per year. The key is to be proactive and resolve any issues quickly.
9. Understand your volumes and plan.
This is especially hard for new businesses to calculate given it’s a new product in an untested market. Volumes drive a number of considerations so it is important to have at least a volume prediction over a 12 month period. You don’t need to get to an exact number – but certainly an indication will be helpful in selecting the right manufacturing partner so they can start to plan production costs and likely lead-times. Remember, components lead-times can be up to 18 weeks!
10. Negotiate on commercial terms and understand your liabilities.
There are many commercial models – work with your supply chain to come up with a commercial model that works for both of you. Remember, as volumes increase the component and material holding cost start to grow – you need to understand your liabilities should you not achieve your manufacturing volumes, as your liabilities could be soon grow to well over a $1 million.
There is a lot to think about but don’t get me wrong, it is exciting – there is no other buzz than seeing all your hard work payoff as you see the first shipment leave the manufacturing process and head to your distributor. When manufacturing either domestically or internationally – your first, second and third focus should always be on quality – nothing else is more important and I can’t stress this enough. Hopefully the tips above help you to have an exciting, stress free, lean manufacturing journey.