From Segway scooters to Google Glass, the electronics market is littered with products that didn’t live up to their hype. It’s because of missteps like these that failure is often touted as a necessary stop on the path to success. But it’s never the preferred outcome, and while a new product introduction always carries some risk, there are steps that companies can take to reduce that risk—including finding the right electronics manufacturing services (EMS) partner.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the consumer electronics sector was worth $738.75 billion globally in 2022, and this number is expected to rise to over $1.2 trillion by 2030. Other sectors—like aerospace technologies and medical devices—are also seeing healthy growth. This means there are plenty of opportunities for innovative companies, but to make the most of them, you must do more than just design and build a great product—you have to plan for success. The fact is, a well-conceived new product introduction (NPI) plan can make the difference between releasing the latest must-have device or a soon-to-be-obsolete flop.
Building a New Product Introduction Plan
Ideas may abound for creative new electronics, but can these ideas be manufactured cost effectively and at volume? A New Product Introduction (NPI) plan can help you answer this question. The NPI process for a new product starts at the concept stage, and includes the working prototype, mass production, and commercialization stages. In other words, NPI looks at the product from the viewpoint of manufacturing. While incorporating NPI processes in the development of a new electronic device won’t eliminate every risk, employing a multi-step NPI plan, one that takes a product from ideation to viable manufacturing, can help companies gain a competitive edge.
Depending on its scale and complexity, a new electronic product can take anywhere from nine to 36 months to develop. However, scale and complexity are not the only factors that determine the time it takes to bring an electronic product to market. The ability to meet deadlines, the reliability of the supply chain, and the expertise of your design and engineering team are all factors that will influence the time—and therefore the money—that you spend on development. A robust NPI plan takes these elements into account and can be a powerful tool for minimizing roadblocks and keeping product development on track.
While the early stages of new product ideation can be performed in house, once the product’s design is under way, costs and risks can be reduced by partnering with an EMS provider that has deep experience in every stage of the product lifecycle, from concept to end-of-life planning. Having this expertise on hand is vital, especially in the early development phases. A product that works well in the prototype stage is not always a success when it goes into mass production, and partnering with an experienced EMS provider at the design and prototyping stages can save you headaches down the line. This is especially true when it comes to the PCBA—the heart of many electronic products.
Stages of New Product Introduction for Electronics Manufacturing
So, what is involved in NPI planning? Often depicted as a funnel, with many ideas going in the large end and a final product emerging at the other, an NPI plan is a framework for a smooth path that takes your initial concepts and develops them into a market-ready product. Making decisions in the right sequence is at the core of a successful new product introduction. A good NPI plan will be well ordered, with stages and go/no go points that ideas and designs pass through before the product is brought to market. Those stages typically include the following:
A new product starts with an original idea, concept, or design. This is the brainstorming stage, in which ideas are hashed out. This is the time to draw upon comprehensive market research that clearly identifies customer needs, so that your team can achieve the best design and develop a clear vision for the new product. By the end of this stage, the product concept should be clearly defined, a new product development team identified, and a project plan sketched out in detail.
Feasibility or Proof of Concept
Now that the product concept has been established, it’s time to test its feasibility, identify its must-have features, and determine the technical specifications needed to deliver these features. Now is a good time to apply Design for Manufacturing (DFM) principles, in order to ensure that the new device can be produced cost effectively while meeting quality and regulatory requirements. DFM principles should also be applied to the design of the enclosure and even the packaging. Once these designs have been optimized, it’s time to build a model.
Development and Prototyping
Next up is prototyping, which involves creating models of the product to validate its design and functionality. This step helps identify and rectify any issues before moving forward. Rapid prototyping technologies can significantly reduce the time and cost associated with this phase. This is also the stage in which component choices are finalized and supply chain resources are identified, in preparation for full production.
Validation and Pre-Production
By this stage, you’ll likely be working with a small batch of products that display the full range of desired features. Now is the time to thoroughly evaluate manufacturability, cost, and production timelines, and make any necessary changes. The validation process should be rigorous, and include functional, reliability, and regulatory compliance testing. You may find that some components need to be changed and the bill of materials (BOM) adjusted—an important step before moving on to full production.
With a DFM-optimized BOM and thoroughly tested designs in hand, the focus shifts to preparing for mass production. A pilot launch of the product will show you where manufacturing needs to be fine-tuned. Then, once that step is completed, you can begin ramping up production.
Mass Production and Evaluation
As volume production increases, be sure to monitor the production line and adjust as needed in order to optimize production efficiency and quality. And once your product is on the market, seek out customer feedback—sometimes you can respond to a perceived fault or a change in consumer tastes with a small tweak to your processes.
Ensuring NPI Success With an Experienced EMS Provider
While a good NPI plan is organized with stages and decision points, be careful not to make your plan so rigid that it chokes innovation. Allowing for some flexibility, instead of unthinkingly complying with an NPI plan, will land you in the sweet spot where productive creativity can thrive.
Achieving this type of creative flexibility requires clear communication across engineering, design, marketing, and quality control teams. And keep in mind that your team includes your EMS provider’s engineers, who should be both reliable in meeting deadlines and available when you need to discuss tweaks to design or manufacturing. Along with a strong NPI plan, a cohesive team will offer you the greatest chance of producing a winning product.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the advantages a strong NPI plan offers, along with some pitfalls you should avoid and what you should expect from your EMS provider.
Reduced Time to Market
One of the primary benefits of a robust NPI plan is its ability to accelerate the time-to-market for new electronic products. With each stage of development planned out, the product can move smoothly and efficiently from concept to production. Getting your idea launched expediently enables you to meet market demand and gives you a competitive edge.
Conversely, rushing through the development phase to meet aggressive deadlines can lead to design flaws, inadequate testing, and ultimately, product failure. It’s crucial to strike a balance between speed and thoroughness.
Having a robust NPI plan in place enables you to rectify design inefficiencies and refine manufacturing processes—leading to substantial cost savings. And here’s where an EMS provider with experienced engineers on staff can make all the difference. Tech-savvy engineers can optimize your design layout using readily available components, lowering materials costs and reducing assembly time.
On the other hand, rushing through an NPI plan—by not sticking to a design freeze, for example—can lead to budget overruns and eroding profit margins. The fact is, every go/no go decision point in your plan functions as a cost-control mechanism, so don’t make these decisions lightly.
Enhanced Product Quality
A strong NPI plan incorporates rigorous testing to ensure that the final product meets quality and performance standards. This translates into higher customer satisfaction and a sterling brand reputation. On the other hand, cutting corners on testing can lead to product defects, recalls, and—eventually—damage to a company’s credibility. So make sure that the EMS provider you work with is well-versed in DFT principles, and can ensure that your NPI plan includes the optimal testing for your product.
Supply Chain Optimization
Your NPI plan should account for the current state of your supply chain, in order to ensure a reliable source of components and minimize disruptions. Whenever possible, opt for readily available components instead of custom parts. And if it’s feasible, try to source domestically, as this will lower your risk of supply chain disruptions. Neglecting supply chain risks, which also include geopolitical issues, can disrupt production and delay your time to market.
For these reasons, it’s important that your EMS provider have a deep understanding of global supply chain dynamics and strong relationships with a wide range of suppliers. This enables them to draw upon alternate sources if needed, ensuring a reliable and timely supply of vital components.
A Plan for Success
Whether your company is large or small, having a carefully conceived NPI plan for each product you produce will improve your bottom line. Whether you’re manufacturing a medical device, an aerospace component, or a consumer gadget, creating and following an NPI plan will help you get to market faster with a product that is both reliable and easy to manufacture.