The different cycles of product industrialization 🏭

Getting a product out in the open world requires time and money. Beginners and people who underestimate the process and risks associated face difficult challenges and pitfalls. This article aims to break down the process to help you understand the different stages/milestones and the engineering going on behind the development of a product. The different steps require engineers to cycle through prototypes that move closer and closer to a functional and marketable product over time.

What is product industrialization?

Industrializing a product makes it go from a design stage to mass production, it requires the careful consideration of various constraints: social, technical and economic. The process is relatively complex and often relies on industrialization engineers that must:

  • Understand the product’s life cycle, ensure that it is built accordingly
  • Use industrial tools and processes that fit the economic and technical constraints
  • Create an organizational plan for the human ressources and adapt it with regards to context
  • Act as a mediator between production, sales and design units

A product that’s built to last will use tougher materials, it should have less moving parts that may fail over time due to the stress factor. One that’s designed with a short life time in mind can use cheaper materials, ones that may be less sturdy or good looking.

Having to mass produce a product also means that the production line should be as automated as possible to minimize costs, quality checks should also be frequent to ensure the technical standards are met, these also can’t be too frequent as it would raise costs.

The work force has to have a precise guideline, most of the time, they work on one specific section of the product and might not know how their work affects the rest of the production line. Production also isn’t linear, failures can happen, people might be out of work because of a lack of resources, what do they do in this case, do you pay them to do nothing ? You have to make sure they move on to another sector to help the overall process.

Design engineers also make choices that sometimes aren’t feasible from a technical standpoint or would cost too much to produce, these three entities have to understand each other and cooperate while ensuring that their own domain works to the best of its abilities.

Why should you industrialize?

Let’s now look at why people consider industrialization.

The most obvious reason is economic growth.

By industrializing a product you raise your overall costs because you now spend more on workforce, automation and selling the product but you also get a lot more of your product. It’s now your job to make sure you raise your production enough to ensure your costs don’t outway your revenue.

Most of the time, increasing your production capacity means you get more money at the end of the month. A few risks to consider are costs and making sure you can actually sell these products. Having leftover stocks while producing new ones could momentarily stop your production line and significantly increase costs (you still have to pay your workforce). This is one of the main risks in production, it’s important to know how to deal with quantities.

Another important reason is developing your consumer reach.

Producing more products means you have to sell them to more clients, it’s not the same people who are going to buy your products, you have to reach new audiences, maybe even new countries to sell them. Achieving this means these people are going to look at your brand, maybe look at the different products you have, and buy more than what they came for. Think of yourself going to IKEA, you come in wanting a chair but you also find a nice table, a lamp and a new knife which you desperately needed.

This process comes with several risks, we’ve already discussed the need to balance stock quantities and production, quality is another one. By reaching more customers, you also have to ensure that every single product you sell is of the same standard as when you used to produce it by hand. It’s easy to ensure that your 10 handmade tables are all sturdy and well built, you know have to do that for thousands of products. An unhappy bunch of customers could well halt your progress.

Industrialization’s main purpose however is to meet a demand.

Introducing a revolutionary technology to the world means everyone will want to get it’s hand on it, you then have to deliver. If you don’t they’ll find their own way of making your tech or go through a rival. This means you have to industrialize your process to ensure quantities are met and that you can deliver.

How do you get started?

Product industrialization can be thought of as a fully functional, autonomous and efficient product line, spitting out thousands of top quality products by the hour, but to reach that, products need to go through several cycles.

  1. Feasibility and concept (1-3 units). The idea is to make an initial render of the product. What is it going to look like ? What is it going to accomplish ? Do the main features work ? These mockups are known as POC or Proof Of Concepts, the aim is to show investors and people one board the project that the idea works and can be created. Most of the time the design is nonexistent, they use rough components and absolutely can’t be commercially sold.
  1. Engineering validation tests (up to 50 units). This batch is used to test the different processes and the hardware used in the product. They integrate hardware and software. Early stage tests are put together to ensure correct prototyping. The product is now in its Alpha stage, it’s very rough, has no design or very little but the inside is functional.
  1. Design validation tests (20-200 units). This batch of products is called MVP or Minimum Viable Product, it has functional internals and a thought-out design.  Engineers can, at this point, validate the internals. This set of products is pushed to very early users to test and give feedback. The design of the package can start. At this point, making a prototype is very expensive, the production processes aren’t put together but relatively large quantities of prototypes are made. This Minimum Viable Product is here to validate the user’s needs and make sure the product is functional, it’s at this stage that products are pushed to platforms such as Kickstarter.
  1. Manufacturing pilots (up to 500 units). This lot is where the different manufacturing processes come together, and early backers receive their products which are now in their Beta phase. Engineers can now validate the product, make sure the tools used to make the product work and create a viable product, one that fits the consumer’s needs in terms of functionality, quality and price.
  1. Volume production (more than 1000 units). This part is all about optimizing the different processes to minimize costs and maximize production. The product is functional and sales are picking up and new versions are starting to be thought-out. The product reaches its EOL or End Of Line. You now have to think what’s going to come after it, a new version, or simply nothing ?

Product industrialization is important, it’s a careful balancing act between cost and quantity, the engineers behind it serve as mediators between design, manufacturing and sales. It takes several iterations to put a product on the market and make sure it's built and tested correctly.

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