New Product Introduction (NPI) and getting your design ready for full production is a process that is as exciting as it is risky and is wrought with complexities. Most new products start with a working prototype, allowing manufacturers to test it and refine it repeatedly in order to achieve a maximally optimal final product. But a finely tuned prototype is a far cry from a product that can be mass-produced in most situations. When it comes to electronics, this is nearly always the case.
Of course, introducing new products and setting them up for mass production is not impossible, but it does require research, design adjustments, flexibility, strategic partnerships, and lots of patience. NPI is also a must because even the most trusted, stable line of products needs upgrades and overhauls eventually. This cannot be done at the drop of a hat, especially in terms of PCB assembly changes. There are many considerations in play and all the bases need to be covered before it can be successfully applied. Especially in the current market of component shortages, substitutes, and crosses.
NPI is more than a concept; it is a process, one that includes everything from conceptualization, laying out the PCB, development, building and refining prototypes, all the way through launching a product. Along the way, many considerations enter the formula that will be necessary for a successful launch.
The Prototyping Stage
Turning an idea into a physical manifestation, assembling it into a PCB, and having it be functional is just the tip of the iceberg. No one gets the design just right on the first try, or even on the first several iterations. Many hours of testing and refinement are necessary to finally settle on a quality product.
This requires prototyping, an early incarnation of the product comprised for purposes of testing and quality assurance. Prototyping could be costly, but it is imperative. Just imagine putting together a PCB of a new product and, assuming all the pieces are in place, launching it into mass production without any confirmation of its problems and deficiencies being worked out. That is a surefire way to lose a lot of money and time.
Prototypes are, by their nature, elements of the testing stage of NPI and are rarely ready for mass production. For instance, the prototypes may not have an ideal positioning for components on the board leading to a layout that needs to be fully remapped. Sometimes, the pieces are positioned in such a way that it is impossible to thoroughly test their viability, leading to a necessary layout overhaul. When a prototype is found to have bugs, it also needs to have them worked out, which requires further refinement of the PCB and its components.
The New Product Introduction (NPI) Process
Once the prototype is confidently in a good place, PCB manufacturers need to start considering all of the elements that are entailed in launching the product into mass production. Before that can happen numerous considerations span all aspects of the process that need to be considered such as where the production will take place,
A quality NPI process forces manufacturers into focusing on the essential aspects of production. But every process of introducing a new product has to begin with conception and preparation.
Concept, Preparation, And Objective Setting
At this stage, the manufacturer must accumulate all the necessary research data that points to what components will be needed for the production of the PCB, what features it should include, what aspects are essential and which are up for choice, and the available budget for acquiring the materials, as well as determining what constitutes a “quality” version of this product.
For a PCB product to be marketable the concept has to be feasible. This requires the evaluation and analysis of financial viability, discussion of preliminary design, and evaluation of time estimates.
A concept of a product and its feasibility is pivotal to figure out on paper, but whether is it able to be developed and manufactured is a different story. Working with a CM (contract manufacturer) this phase of the NPI entails figuring out how to best put the product together. This involves reviews, gathering the bill of materials, assuring that proper components can be acquired, viable to combine, guidelines are established, etc.
Once the product is developed and manufactured, it needs to be tested. It is imperative to first determine if the product serves the intended purpose of its design. If it does, testing needs to verify that there are no glaring weaknesses in the product’s functionality or performance. If any are found, they need to be analyzed and proper corrective actions need to be taken to bolster efficiency. This stage includes building out prototypes that will allow for areas of necessary improvement to be identified and isolated.
The next phase is the implementation of the product. At this stage, the product’s documentation is collected and compiled, including all manuals, catalogs, and pertinent product documents.
No product will ever reach utter perfection so there will always be ways to make the PCB product better. However, much of this evaluation will need to come from reviews and feedback from some preliminary users of the product. This is a form of quality assurance in the sense that a set of users will need to thoroughly use the product and provide feedback.
Only once all of the prior stages have been completed, can the product finally be put into the stage of being mass-produced, and ultimately sent out to the marketplace for sale. As users begin to acquire the product, it is important to allow them to file their own feedback, then use that to refine the product over and over to make it more optimal.
Important Considerations Of The NPI
While the NPI process has been laid out, there are other considerations of importance when it comes to manufacturing PCBs.
Manufacturers are located all over the world. Many of those offers competitive prices for products, which may tempt many producers to save money by utilizing those services. However, employing these manufacturers comes with difficulties and risks. Time zone variances and language barriers can stifle effective communication. If the process of production needs to change, making those arrangements and having assurances of their application is hard to implement.
By employing a local manufacturer, producers can be assured of real-time communication, access, and application of any changes in order to keep the manufacturing process moving smoothly. Additionally, verifying the qualifications, certifications, capability, and reputation of a local manufacturer is much more readily possible.
PCB manufacturers will engage in mass production of a product, which means the production will need to be streamlined. This can be somewhat problematic if the process of production requires structural or building changes along the way. Many manufacturers will simply not have the flexibility to apply sudden changes to the process. Those who specialize in high-mix builds, however, are more likely to have methods in place that allow them to adapt to needed changes in the production environment. This includes manual oversight of the changes in the process, build changes, and adaptation of new prototypes.
The NPI process is focused on the preparation of design for production builds which makes it pertinent that the manufacturer has high engineering expertise levels available. When changes need to be made, whether they are to the PCB schematic or the board’s layout, as well as experienced staff that should be able to verify the feasibility and manufacturability of these production changes. They should also know how to adequately update the documentation for the changed product.
Access To Components
Using high-quality components for production is essential to securing a good product and a great reputation in the marketplace. When prototypes are designed, it is often with older parts that may not be readily available for en-mass purchase (or unavailable entirely) so the contract manufacturer must be able to procure quality and sufficient replacements without degrading the product’s quality. When components are hard to come by, the manufacturer must have access to a distribution network and other manufacturers who are able to supply the necessary components and materials.
Sometimes a dwindling volume of a particular component type in the marketplace will force a manufacturer to have to adapt new components. In terms of mass production, the changeover needs to be able to suit long-term production, with planning and logistics around any acquisition changes and securing access to a steady flow of the replacement product.
Stable Business Relationships
The CM will need to have good business relationships with various part vendors, the manufacturers of the boards the PCB is built upon, and various engineering services for information and quality testing services.
Introducing new products has many challenges ranging from practical to logistical, without there ever being a “perfect” scenario. To optimize production, the NPI process, which entails everything from conceptualization to mass-production, allows for a staged approach to streamlining a quality product, with safeguards in place to assure quality component acquisition, flexibility, expertise, and a high-end final output.
Vinatronic‘s expert staff has successfully helped hundreds of OEMs and engineers get their designs through prototyping, NPI, and full production. If you have an idea or design, we’d be happy to assist in turning that dream into a reality. Explore our website for our offerings.