Is Your Product Ready for Prime Time? Render vs. Reality
What does “production-ready” really mean? Scanning any crowd-funding site, you’ll see countless beautifully rendered products bearing this phrase yet, even when funded, many of these projects fail to deliver on substance or schedule. So why then do so many products seemingly ‘ready to launch’ end up with massive delays or look nothing like their original renderings and or prototypes (lily drone)? How can you avoid these same issues?
The reasons can vary from shady manufacturing partners, supply chain issues, regulatory requirements (always, always use an off-the-shelf power supply unless absolutely unavoidable) or a design that does not account for manufacturing realities. Known in the industry as “Design For Manufacturability” or DFM, this means knowing what processes will be used to make your product, and developing your concept to accommodate the strengths and limitations involved.
An engineer or designer can do everything right when modeling a product using a 3D CAD tool — provide adequate room for components, use the correct spacing and fasteners , account for thermal considerations, and sometimes even design parts in a way that they can easily be machined and assembled for a proof of concept prototype. It’s easy to see how a complete package like this could be mistaken for being “production ready” — after all, they were able to machine prototypes that worked just as intended. However, this is where the disconnect between being perceived as “production-ready” and actually getting products to the customer can occur. Machined/3D printed parts are rarely used at a consumer production scale due to high cost and low throughput, which means parts need to be redesigned for high volume processes such as injection, forming, or stamping thereby impacting the look, function, or schedule.
How MIITO got into Hot Water
A good example of this phenomena is the MIITO electric kettle, this was a beautiful concept that would heat single cups of water using a clever inductive system. Unlike many projects, it was technically feasible but ultimately brought down by manufacturing partners and a lack of foresight of manufacturing realities. As aptly noted in both their pitch and updates, the product’s founders acknowledge that “MITTO may face additional changes to meet manufacturing and certification requirements.” While the certification requirements were likely the most insurmountable issue, there are some fairly obvious manufacturing issues when you look at the stunning renders and prototypes.
The first is the venting pattern along the bottom. While it’s great the designers anticipated the need for airflow to disperse heat from the electronics — in the way they are depicted, the holes make them very expensive to produce using an injection-molding p rocess. This is because the holes are perpendicular to a surface that curves from horizontal to vertical. Protrusions on a vertical surface of a mold (used to create holes) are an issue as once the molten material has solidified, they are now in the way of the part coming out of the mold. There are two ways to solve this issue. You can relieve the area underneath the hole to provide a free path for the part to move past the steel; however, this creates ovals/slots instead of circles which would impact the aesthetics of the device. Or you can create moving parts in the tool that move the steel protrusions out of the way prior to ejecting the part. This invariably leads higher tooling investment and ongoing maintenance cost because of the moving parts, and depending on the quality of the tool can leave visual imperfections where the moving parts come together.
The second issue is the interface between the base and glass; the renders depict a very thin section of base that perfectly aligns with the edge of the glass. Having a detail like this is only feasible with great investment (phones, tablets etc). For the lower production volumes of a startup, manufacturing variability means there will always be a mismatch between the base and the glass. If the parts are designed too tight this means an interference which leads to high scrap rate; if they’re too loose the gap will be very visual and likely uneven as there’s no way to center the glass. The solution would be to change the design in such a way that the interface between glass and base is either in a non-visual area (such as on the underside of the glass) or to create details in the base that allow for this mismatch (such as a lip that hides the edge of the glass, conformable material etc). Either option could be fairly easy to implement but would impact the visuals of the device.
5 tips to avoid crowd funding false starts
There’s no sure fire way to have a product come together exactly as you designed, on schedule, and within budget, but keep the following in mind and you can at least make sure you don’t promise something that can’t be produced.
- Don’t commit to design elements without understanding the manufacturing implications, or consulting with someone who does.
- Engage manufacturing and design partners as early as possible in the development process to best utilize their expertise.
- If you’re working within a limited budget or limited production quantity, be open to small visual alterations that can lead to large cost savings.
- Choose partners with proven experience in the category/quantities of product you are trying to produce, this will help reduce the chances of an unproductive interaction.
- Be aware of both the one-time tool cost as well as recurring maintenance cost that can come with more complex parts.