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Welcome to my blog for all things related to business quality (processes, systems and ways of working), products and product quality, manufacturing and operations management.

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October 2009
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When you launch a new product, what haven’t you thought about?

Quality is all about meeting requirements, even the ones that you don’t know about yet.

Recently I have been working with some entrepreneurs and start-ups who have tremendous drive and enthusiasm and some great product ideas but are not very experienced in placing products on the market. They asked for help with what I call – perhaps inadvisably – ‘productisation’.

Productisation goes beyond the well-known ‘design it and have it manufactured’ parts of the process, it’s all the things that ensure good quality, low risk and low cost, and the things that you have to do to be allowed to sell the product in the UK and the rest of Europe. If you don’t know about placing products on the market you might be surprised by some of the hoops you need to, or might want to, jump through; I thought it was worth listing some of them:

Approvals

  • CE Marking, which for electro-mechanical products usually includes safety and Electro-Magnetic Compatibility; other products have other requirements. You, not your contract manufacturer, are responsible for deciding which EU Directives apply to your product and proving you meet them (via analysis or third party testing). You can’t use the CE mark or sell products in the UK or Europe until this has been properly done and for some products, such as complex wireless products, medical devices, and similar, the work can take many weeks (or even months) to complete
  • Have you produced a Technical Construction File that details the design and how it is proven to pass all relevant Standards and comply with all relevant Directives? Have you produced a Declaration of Conformity and included it with the product documentation?
  • All parts need to be compliant with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS means lead-free solder in most cases, and a restriction on certain chemicals in plastic parts, for instance). How do you know you are compliant?
  • Waste (the WEEE Directive) – if selling in the UK you need to be registered and have processes in place to recycle products at the end of their lives. You may also have to pay for recycling of other peoples products if your product is similar. This normally means joining an official WEEE scheme. For the rest of Europe, if you sell through distributors or to end users waste becomes their responsibility
  • If you will be selling more than 200,000 electrical/electronic products into the whole of the EU per year the Energy Using Product Directive may apply (dependent on the product and the specific countries involved). This is still Work In Progress but it has big implications for the product design so, if it might apply to you, then you need to take action early
  • Some markets or types of product have their own rigorous approvals regimes (pharmaceuticals, healthcare, food, etc)
  • For non-EU sales their country-specific requirements will need to be met and this may mean a lot more analysis and testing, product labelling, and perhaps design changes

Packaging

  • Suitable, EU Directive compliant, packaging will be needed if you are selling to consumers
  • Even for Business to Business sales the packaging will need to be effective and you will want to prove that it protects your products under high levels of stress (not all delivery companies take as much care as you would hope…)
  • Do you need multi-lingual labelling, packaging, user manuals, quick-start guides, user interface or application software, etc?
  • Your packaging (and product labelling) needs to have exactly the same part/type numbering as the Sales Order and customer documentation, and needs to have the right CE mark or other approvals labelling, or it can sit in Customs sheds forever…

Design proving

  • Does the product meet all its specifications?
  • How do you know that your product is robust and will have a long, reliable life even under conditions of abuse? Have you done bump and vibration testing? HALT or HASS testing? Other stress or accelerated life testing?
  • If your product is designed to conform to technical standards, or interwork with other equipment (like mobile phones or PC accessories) how do you know that it really does inter-work with a wide range of other products and systems – do you need to do inter-operability testing? Do you have to prove this before you can launch the product? (For some types of product, you certainly do)
  • For software companies, or those who have to provide software drivers for their products, what about changes to PC Operating Systems (will you be Windows 7 compatible, or even Vista 64)? What about Service Packs for Operating Systems which are notorious for flushing out problems with third party software? Many of your customers will do Service Pack upgrades without even realising it
  • Have you sent working samples to your own staff and/or selected friendly customers, or even third party reviewers to try out and give you feedback?

Manufacturing

  • How do you choose and use a good contract manufacturer? Should they be in the UK, China, or in-between, or a combination of these?
  • How will you manage and support your manufacturer at a distance?
  • Have your built the manufacturer’s requirements into your design? (Design For Manufacture and Design For Test)
  • What manufacturing services will you have to pay for and when; who pays for the materials and when? This can dramatically affect your cash-flow
  • Do you have a robust and fair and effective manufacturing contract in place with your manufacturer? What about your other key suppliers? Does this include a cost-down requirement (cost reduction over time)?
  • Do you have a process for supplier management, material management and controlling excess inventory to prevent it building up at your cost? (Another problem that I have seen wreck companies)
  • Can you place back-to-back orders from your customers onto your suppliers / manufacturers, or will you need to build for stock? If you are building for stock, how will you avoid building up excessive stock levels (a problem that has taken many good companies out of business)?
  • How will you stabilise the demand on your manufacturer? Low cost manufacturers, e.g. in China, only achieve their low cost by having a stable, predictable demand for the product. (Do your customers place equally predictable demands on you or are they more volatile? If so, how do you manage the demand on your manufacturer without having to fund large amounts of stock)
  • Who will develop the production test systems that the manufacturing site requires? How can you be sure that all products work 100% when they leave the factory? What is the coverage of potential faults? Do you need to use soak or burn-in testing, or environmental stress screening? What rework will you accept of test failures before the faulty parts need to be scrapped, and how will the manufacturer cost-effectively diagnose and repair production faults?
  • Are you going to do any independent sample testing of your products from the manufacturing site, say on an Acceptable Quality Level basis? If not, how do you know that the products he ships always meet your requirements and expectations?
  • Cosmetic quality – I’m talking surface blemishes and colour matching and straight labels, not lipstick and blusher! – how do you and the manufacturing site agree what is an ‘acceptable’ blemish and what must be rejected?
  • What inspection will your manufacturer use? (Incoming or outgoing)? Is this enough?
  • What degree of traceability of materials will your manufacturer use? Is this enough?
  • Do you have paperwork and processes in place for managing consigned stock and/or free-issue parts at the manufacturer? How will this be handled in your accounts and what will be required in terms of material or product values in customs documentation?
  • What Key Performance Indicators (metrics) will you be expecting from them to make sure that quality is being maintained (e.g. first-pass production test yield is a vital measurement)?
  • How will you protect your design (Intellectual Property) if you’re handing over all your design secrets to a third party?
  • Have you provided sufficient early production samples to Marketing (for brochure shots etc), R&D (for design checking and maintenance) etc?

Order processing and customer support

  • Do you have paperwork and processes in place for order processing, order placement on suppliers, invoicing (e.g. commercial and pro-forma), delivery notes, etc? How will this be handled in your accounts and what will be required in customs documentation
  • Will any of your customers have problems with the country of origin of your products (e.g. some countries or companies refuse to import products manufactured in certain other countries) and, if so, how will you resolve this?
  • How will you keep build standard / configuration data and serial numbers for each customer and/or each shipment?
  • Repair procedures; who will repair products in and out of warranty, where and how? What will be the process for returning items to the manufacturer? Do you need a warranty card in every box? How will you track epidemic failures i.e. systematic problems that lead to a significant increase in field failures and need urgent attention and remedial work?
  • If you need to do field repairs or modifications, or recall products for factory re-work, how will you go about doing this?
  • What about logistics; who will send units to overseas customers and how?
  • Is the product’s technology subject to US export controls? Is a UK export license required and are the products being shipped to countries or individuals that need end user checks made on them? Do you need to get Export Control Compliance Undertakings?
  • Do you need to keep Intrastat records of goods shipped? What tariffs will be payable, and who is responsible for them?
  • How will you provide customer technical and commercial support? How will you support your distributors or retailers?
  • Will you be providing consumables and/or spares? How will this be done?

Change control

  • How will you manage change and configuration control with respect to the product and the production site, especially keeping hardware, firmware, and production test software aligned?
  • Is software being shipped with the units, and do customers need to upgrade the software? How do they do that, and how do they know they need to do that?
  • Have you done software regression testing (checking that modifications haven’t introduced faults into previously working parts of the system)? Have you checked for backward compatibility, i.e. new software still works with old hardware?
  • If your product inter-works with others, how will you track compatibility in the future when new products – or new variants of existing products – come onto the market that may not work with yours? I have seen this issue take companies out of business, especially in the mobile phone accessory market
  • How will you minimise and manage obsolescence, e.g. key component parts becoming unavailable?

This isn’t an exhaustive list although it gives some of the key elements, and I’m not even going to start talking here about product launch marketing, launch events, advertising, retailer and distributor management, … etc.

All these questions can be answered, of course, but if you haven’t done this before it can come as rather a shock. There’s a lot to be done before you meet all requirements, so don’t be overawed but please don’t cut corners – it will come back to haunt you!

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more… or if you can add to the list!

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5 comments to When you launch a new product, what haven’t you thought about?

  • Finding customer specific requirements has long been a challenge. In fact, a survey of current automotive suppliers found that a significant number did not know where to go for the latest applicable customer specific requirements. For registrars and end users, this represents a serious problem. How can rules be followed and enforced if they are not readily available?

    It is with these challenges in mind customerspecifics.com was created. Here you will find a community to access, share, and discuss customer specific requirements.

    Please understand that the content of this site will take some time to develop as we work hand in hand with each of you to build a comprehensive database of the thousands of available customer specific requirements. We ask that you join us in our cause as we attempt to build something great for the common benefit of the quality community.

  • Tom G

    Matt

    Thanks for the comment and the link; I will look at it with interest.

    Tom

  • Rex

    Interesting info. I will use this at work. I found this site because I was looking for the EU reg on the length of time a product must be supported after the last one is sold. I know that such rules exist for large capital items ( machines costing £10k’s). There must be a point where it doesn’t apply but at what value of product or quantity sold?

  • Tom G

    Thanks for the comment Rex.

    I can’t help instantly with your question because I don’t know off the top of my head; most of the work I’ve done hasn’t been affected by this as the value has been lower and the support periods have been contractual agreements rather than EU regulations.

    Most Quality Management Systems and Standards I have encountered require information to be kept for 10 years which is a different answer to a different question of course. If I find more info I’ll let you know.

    Regards

    Tom

    (By the way, would you be Rex Waygood latterly of Surface Electronics and Hansatech, in which case good to hear from you again!).

  • Rex

    I am the same, there cannot be many and I’m still there!
    Funnily enough I found your website using my phone whilst having my breakfast. I was impressed and mailed the link to work. It was only then that I noticed your name and picture. A bigger screen! 🙂

    It was nice to ‘see’ you again and thanks for a useful site.

    Rex

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