Choosing a good product development company is essential to having a quality, cost effective design that you can bring to market in a reasonable amount of time. Once you have your three essential components in place for inventing a new design, you can begin choosing a company to engineer your new product. In our experience there are four elements to focus on when choosing a product development company.
Trust begins with the first phone call. Are they responsive to your needs? Do they understand the product? Are you given the run around before speaking with someone? Are you able to speak with anyone at all or are you sent directly to a voicemail box, never to be heard from again? When you speak with one of their engineers are you bogged down in unpronounceable nomenclature and complicated acronyms? A good design firm will have a solid understanding of the product development process and will be able to break it down into easy to understand steps and milestones applicable to your specific needs. This not only confirms you are speaking the same language, but also conveys to how much more effort is possible beyond the current scope. It also improves communication to other stake holders not present in initial meetings. This leads to a minimization of possible disconnects between yourself and the product design company. A low pressure, educational based approach with detailed fixed-fee proposals, listed out deliverables, and a manageable timeline and cost, builds trust.
Typically, in even the most experienced and well-versed design firms, there is not an exact project that mimics a your new idea. As the client, you want to ask yourself how much experience do they have designing similar projects? Do they outsource most of the work or can they handle it in house? Do they have the resources and experience needed to see your idea through the entire process including product design, prototyping, and manufacturing? A competent product development company will have extensive years of experience in multiple disciplines of engineering, giving them a complete portfolio of design projects that can be applied to any client’s needs.
- Documentation & Communication
Critical to any project is the communication and documentation of the effort. Projects stop and start all the time depending on a client’s decision making timeline, their cash flow, and major design changes. Keeping a history on how the design arrived to where it is, is critical. This design history file or DHF includes weekly updates, meeting minutes, test reports and all the quality documentation associated with your project. Ask the design firm how they handle documentation. Are they ISO certified or compliant? How are you kept up to date on your design’s process? Can you call and speak with the team at any time? Most importantly get referrals from previous clients.
Discuss the documentation and communication process. How robust are the procedures in place and are they followed. This seems trivial, however, failure to execute good communication and documentation results in a project that is a complete waste of time and money. We have seen it time and again where a client will bring what they believe to be a completed design, but will have none of the documentation to go with it. Without the required documentation you are left with two choices: reverse engineer the design, or start from the beginning. To circumvent miscommunication weekly meetings with your engineering team are a must. Team members should be available to discuss your design at any time. DHF files should meticulously kept in accordance with our rigorous quality guidelines, ensuring everything you need is in one location available at a moment’s notice.
Websites today can make a one-man design company appear significant. Taking the time to visit the product development company, meet the team, and take a tour will quickly separate and distinguish one firm from one another. Not only will you see the infrastructure, but also potential resources that can be utilized for your current project as well as future endeavors. Typical one-man shops can create CAD models, but do they have a quality system? Can they build and test prototypes? Can they simulate on the bench the environment that the product will be used? Are they equipped to handle pilot production of your finished product?
A good comprehensive engineering firm will offer a fully functioning machine shop on site, 3D printing capabilities, and testing facilities. Bigger firms should be able to transfer your design to their new product introduction spaces for pilot and low volume production of your design. The ones that you want to look for are companies that can take your design from start to contract manufacturing, so there is no potential for finger pointing after hand-off.
As demonstrated above, choosing a design firm is a big decision. Avoid committing to a big project and instead opt for a small project where you can add on additional scopes and phases as you become more comfortable with the team. Small projects allow you to dip your toes in before diving headfirst into a commitment with a design firm and provide an escape route if things go south once the honeymoon period is over. Good companies understand this and will want to build a long-term development relationship one proposal at a time.