The One-Stop Product Engineering Firm. Please read and enjoy our blog here. We will be starting this Spring/Summer of 2018 with a fresh new blog series, podcast, and YouTube channel. It will be awesome.
You have made the mental leap and know which of your invention ideas is worth pursuing. Now you are ready to get started for real. Today I’ll describe the process of getting a project off the ground and into the stratosphere. Well, at least the first steps anyway!
Unless you are an experienced product design engineer, you will need to hire the best one you can find. I’m not talking about product development companies you see on late night TV ads. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know what I mean and why you should stay away from these scam artists. Enough said.
Since we are a new product design firm, I’ll let you know a little about the process we go through when a new client joins us. This insight will help you better understand the process and be better prepared. The first thing we do is evaluate whether the idea defies the laws of physics. This sounds silly but you would be surprised just how many inventors have such far out ideas that Sir Isaac Newton himself would be humored. Since our office is located in Boulder, Colorado, we get lots of these far out ideas come our way. Must be due to something they sell here.
Assuming we get past this first step, the next thing we look at is whether the product design is more driven by design and style or more driven by the function. Our approach to the design depends on this and the market the product is intended for. We will try to get inside your head and explore around a bit. More than likely you have supplied us with some sketches or a written description which is all too clear inside your brain. It is also likely our brains aren’t seeing the same thing yours is.
For form driven product ideas we first introduce you to our industrial design team. The ID’s will create some simple sketches based on what they think you are trying to invent. We send you these images to get your opinion. Sometimes we nail it, other times we are way off. The goal here is to get down on some professional sketches what you have created in your mind. Until we can capture in our sketches what is really going on inside your mind, we keep sketching and getting your feedback.
Once the sketches are representative, or for function only driven products, the next step is the real engineering effort. This is where your product really begins to take shape. This is also the most time consuming part of any new product development. For products driven by function, we are able to go right to this step and dig into it. On the other hand, products driven by form our ID team will first mature the form before engineers get a hold of it. This way the engineers know what the end product should look like and don’t spend so much time working on the concepts.
For form driven projects it is more cost effective to first engage our ID’s to add the desired style, and for function driven projects it’s more cost effective to skip the ID’s and go right to the engineers. Before beginning we want to learn as much about your project and how you envision it as a finished product on the market. This will help us guide you through the most effective path to get you to the stratosphere.
I’m back on track with the steps towards making your product successful. Today I’d like to bring up one of the biggest challenges we have in designing your product. Seeing the same vision you see. That’s it! How can we design your product without knowing what it’s supposed to be?
Even asking that question may make us look like amateur designers. You probably are asking yourself….”how can they NOT see my vision? it’s so clear to me!” Most likely you have been dreaming up and visualizing your new product for years, and are now just beginning to explore the possibility of developing the concept. In your head, it’s quite clear to you what it is and how it works and how it will be popular. Now you have to translate that information so that your product designer can see the vision too.
Most startup projects that come to us will come in the form of some amateur sketches, maybe some website links to similar devices, and a couple of paragraphs description on the product development worksheet we provide. We follow up with a phone call or two so that we can understand anything not conveyed in the sketch and write-up. You would think that this information is sufficient….it isn’t! It’s only good enough for us to advise you the best path to your end goal.
Once we start working on your project the first thing we do is dig deeper into your psyche to uncover what it is you are really envisioning. As engineers, our best media of communication is the drawing or sketch. That’s what we use to extract from your head that vision. Industrial Designers have become an integral piece of the puzzle here at Evocativo. Howard and Marc will use what they call “thumbnail” sketches of what we interpret your product to look like.
If we get it wrong according to your brain, it is easy and fast to make more thumbnails to evolve our sketches into what you see. Once our sketches match your brainwaves, we can move the project into Engineering and begin the detailed CAD design work. The old saying “it’s the devil in the details” has never been more true than when it comes to engineering CAD design. The less we leave it to the engineers to interpret your dreams and instead focus on converting the industrial design thumbnail sketches into 3D CAD models, the faster and cheaper it is to produce final detailed design engineering.
Back in my days of the living in a corporate world, a project manager once asked me why it took so long to come up with such a simple solution to a design problem. Glancing at the result, he said he could have come up with the same solution in a matter of hours.
This same project manager was known for projects that were perpetually over budget and behind schedule. His engineering teams were constantly under pressure to get the designs out the door and to the manufacturers. To save budgets, his engineering staff often were made up of junior level engineers with little product design experience.
A design engineer typically will come up with a more complex solution to a problem on first efforts. Poorly planned or hurried efforts result in products that contained more individual parts than necessary, are difficult to assemble, and require expensive manufacturing methods to produce. This project manager was always blaming his poor track record on the engineering department.
It takes creativity, planning, and coordination with customers, suppliers, and manufacturers to design the simplest, most effective, and least expensive product possible. The simplest solution is always the best solution, but it takes time and effort to come up with the best design.
Take the time up front to design the best, simplest product possible. The cost savings to produce the product will pay back the up-front effort time and time again.
The term “prototype” means different things to different people. Admittedly the definition of “prototype” when applied to the real world can be a bit confusing. If you are reading this, you probably built your own toys and games as a child. You were able to take your imagination and convert that idea into an actual, tangible object. You just made a prototype! Chances are, what you created isn’t as close to what you had envisioned because your skill level wasn’t as great as your imagination. You may have skipped a few steps like making a drawing of your idea to see how things would fit together, or just how large the parts should be, and so forth. I often get emails from potential clients asking me how much I would charge to build a prototype. Oddly enough, these emails are not accompanied with any description of the product. If I were able to predict what the client had in mind, I should instead be betting on sports or the stock market! To make a prototype there must first be a design, or a road map to making and building the prototype. There can be several types and levels of detail in a prototype. Those levels are: 1) Functional Prototype….one that is crudely constructed yet functions as the product is intended. 2) Look-Alike Prototype….one that looks as close to the intended product as possible, but may have limited (or no) functionality whatsoever. When combined with (1) above, can sometimes be sufficient to entice investors that can see the vision. 3) Production Similar….one that both looks and functions exactly as intended, but made from materials or construction methods that would not be conducive to full production methods. 4) First Article Product….one that is exactly as intended and uses all the materials and manufacturing methods to be used in full production. This is the final prototype step and is used to verify all the tooling and setups used in manufacturing before committing to a large volume production run. Each step in prototyping is a learning experience used to perfect the product. Each step requires progressively more complex engineering documentation to support effective prototype construction. Since prototype construction can be costly, it is best to spend time early in the process to mature the design to minimize the prototype steps.
These steps pretty much capture the design process, which is a continuous loop of feedback between the engineer (me) the client (you) and the manufacturer. Once these steps are satisified, I can also assist you with the next level of effort, which would be things such as optimizing the retail packaging, assistance with any patents desired, approving the choice of manufacturer, inspecting their first-run production items, etc. I can even help with sales and distribution.
1) Conceptual design. Basic level design work to create 3D CAD models of all the parts and assemblies. Generate images and email them back to your for feedback.
2) Maturing the design. Based on your feedback, more detail is added to the 3D CAD models, enough information to begin discussions with manufacturers.
3) Get manufacturer’s feedback on how best to design the part, then revise the 3D CAD models to reflect design changes that will make the parts easier and cheaper to manufacture.
4) Make some prototypes, the first being merely function (and usually ugly!), while the last being a true representation of the production parts.
5) repeat steps 2 through 4, so that your design vision is constantly optimized within the manufacturing and design process.
6) Once the design is optimized for DFM, then final engineering documents are produced, both 3D CAD models as well as 2D dimensioned drawings. This is the documentation that the manufacturers need to actually produce the product. These documents can be sent to any manufacturer anywhere in the world for best price, delivery schedule, etc.