Product Development Process
I have an idea, now what?
Throughout our years working as product developers, we get asked this question all the time, along with questions like: How do you invent something? What is involved in the product development process? What should my product development strategy be?
These are all great questions, and like all great questions, they do not have one particular answer. However, there are a few fundamentals of the product development process that can be applied to your situation no matter what idea, invention, or strategy you may have.
At Synectic we break down our process into six main steps or phases which are then broken down further depending on your project requirements. This allows us to tailor our product development process to your project needs and goals. Together, we come up with a straight forward manageable process that guides your design forward.
The Product Development Process
Product Development Process Phase 0
- Get a patent
This phase technically is not included in the product development process, but is still a very important step before you get started. Patents protect your intellectual property and it is a good idea to get the patent process started before beginning any new design project, no matter how small. If you haven't gotten a patent yet, head on over to our patent help page to learn how to patent your idea.
- Project start-up
This phase starts with a formal kick-off meeting between yourself and Synectic where the proposal is reviewed and a game plan put into place for how the project will proceed. In some cases your project may require a competitive patent or product review that outlines the current product features available on the market. By reviewing the patents we can highlight any pros or cons of each feature that you may or may not want to use in your design. Similarly if your invention idea happens to be a medical device, you may also want to opt for a clinician feedback review as to what features or issues clinicians may have with current products on the market. Lastly, once we have all the relevant information, we write up the Product Development Specification (PDS). This essential document describes in detail what your invention is and what it needs to do. Throughout the product development process, we may have several iterations of the PDS as the design grows and evolves, however the initial PDS gives us a baseline that guides the design process forward.
- Concept design & development
This is the part in the product development process where the fun begins. Starting with a brainstorming session, we come up with a few concepts that align with the requirements outlined within the product development specification written in project start up phase. These concepts are laid out to you in a concept design presentation and, using our proprietary process, we conjointly select the strongest design that conforms with the product development specification. Once a concept path has been selected, the concept design process begins. Using computer-aided design (CAD) software, detailed drawings are created on each part and component of your invention. Early stage breadboard prototypes are fabricated at this time to test proof of concept. From there, the first alpha prototype is made, most often using rapid prototyping methods. The prototypes are subjected to several initial tests to make sure they conform to all product development specifications as laid out in the PDS. At the conclusion of this phase, both you and Synectic will meet to review the testing results and identify any components that need further refinement in the next phase.
- Engineering & prototype development
Based upon feedback gained in the concept design and development phase, we begin working on the ergonomic and industrial design of your invention. Additionally, the working component of your invention is refined to the point where a beta prototype can be machined. Subjected to a series of tests, the beta prototype is used to debug and troubleshoot functionality and performance against the product development specification. Depending on the scope and complexity of your invention, your design may need an FMEA analysis. FMEA stands for failure mode and effects analysis, which essentially involves identifying all potential risks within the design and how to develop the product in such a way that mitigates those risks. The engineering and prototype development phase is wrapped up with a review of the project so far and we identify any issues that may need refinement before heading into the DFM/DFA of phase 4.
- Design & development for manufacturing
Phase 4 is the DFM/DFA phase which stands for design for manufacturing and design for assembly, respectfully. This phase is one of the most complicated and involved phases in the product development process. First, a tolerance analysis and assembly dimensions for your invention are performed. The tolerance analysis identifies variances within the manufacturing process that may affect the fit and function of the finished product. Final materials are chosen, manufacturing and assembly processes are completed, and a manufacturing risk assessment is performed. If your product is a medical device, biocompatibility and sterility testing happen within this phase. Fixtures and tools are fabricated to create a final "works-like, looks-like" production prototype. Once the final production prototype has been created, we work to create an assembly line process and work instructions based upon assembly of the final prototype. Finally, we design and develop the packaging for your completed device, before "freezing" the design in anticipation of pilot manufacturing.
- Pilot manufacturing
Pilot manufacturing involves the production of a small number of units for testing within a select market. The number of units can range from a handful to around a thousand. This is an especially important step for medical devices where testing in clinical trials is necessary before full-scale production can occur. This is the point in the product development process where you verify and validate that the equipment, manufacturing process, and end product all functions within the parameters you originally defined. Essentially, pilot manufacturing allows us one final opportunity to refine and test the assembly and fabrication techniques developed in the DFM/DFA phase before producing your invention on a massive scale.
- Contract manufacturing
Contract manufacturing is the final step in the new product development process. Unlike the other phases which have a set end point, this phase is ongoing. In contract manufacturing your invention is produced at a large scale and can consist of a few thousand to millions of units. When your product is produced in this phase it it is finally ready for the market and to get into the hands of your customer.