Many innovators are more entrepreneurial than they are practical. Consider Steve Jobs, the man who laid the groundwork for the world’s first trillion-dollar company. When he started Apple out of a garage in the late 70s, he had a dream and a loose concept of a home computer. It took Steve Wozniak’s technical skills to bring it to life. Without those skills, it’s possible the world may never have heard of Apple. Instead, Steve Jobs would have found himself stymied by one of the most common project engineering challenges: underestimating the scope.
Turning an idea into a product is never a straight line. People often find themselves overwhelmed with the decisions needed to make their concept a reality. That’s why creative types who want to innovate go the route that Steve Jobs took; they partner with technical experts.
Critical Decisions in Product Development
There is a lot more to consider in the development of a new product than the basic design, the target market, and the price point. Most individuals are very surprised to find out how many decisions they’re expected to make to bring their product to life. Specifically, they need to consider:
- Materials: There are virtually millions of materials to consider in the creation of a product, from standard plastics and polymers to glass, carbon fibers, thermoplastics and more. In some cases, entirely new materials will need to be created using a combination of options.
- Finishes and colors: The material provides the base while the finish creates aesthetic appeal. Paints, dyes, oils, lacquers, and varnishes are just a few examples. Also, finishes will need to be compatible with underlying materials, which complicates matters.
- Engineering: The creator must decide how the device is powered and how motion is actuated. Hydraulics, pneumatics and other functional options must be considered. Also, all of this may change based on the materials, finish, and other aesthetic decisions made.
- Tooling: Creators don’t just need to create their products. In some cases, they must also develop the tools to make them. This includes creating cutting equipment, patterns, molds, fixtures, hardware and more. Improper tooling will cause the failure of the entire project, so this step warrants careful consideration.
- Quality acceptance criteria: This is the minimum acceptable standard for product creation and is far more complex than “is it functional?” It’s the maximum number of allowable product defects as well as the definition of “defects” as related to the product. Entrepreneurs need to not only understand these standards but also need to determine a process for rigorous and consistent testing to ensure continuous compliance.
One major product engineering challenge that arises as a result of all these decisions is how they build upon each other. Materials and finishes will limit how items can be engineered and what tools can be used. All of this will impact the final quality and potential for defects. A bad decision in any step will have a domino effect. That’s why a partnership with someone experienced in product development is absolutely vital.
Collaborating to Eliminate Product Engineering Challenges
Collaborative engineering is combining a Jobs and a Wozniak. One is the idea person, and the other manages the technical details. This works well for individuals who are more entrepreneurial than technical, as it gives them the benefit of a technical person’s knowledge. That technical person can help guide them to what will work, what won’t, what’s cost-effective, what’s not, and above all, how to turn a concept into reality.
Product engineering challenges often result from the creator underestimating the scope of decision making in the process. Everything from the type of screw that will hold the product together, to the touchscreens and microprocessors in use will need to be reviewed and approved. But whether or not you’ve yet found that one business partner who is the Wozniak to your Jobs, you can partner with a manufacturing company and leverage their expertise to bring your concepts to production. By working with a company experienced in the development of a wide range of products, hopeful entrepreneurs can successfully bring their creations to life.
PRL’s engineers have dozens of manufacturing options available to help you solve any challenge facing your product: CNC machining, custom tooling, 3D printing, thermoplastic molding, reverse engineering, and more. No matter what stage your product is currently at, we can create it and optimize it for manufacturing.