Get Your idea to Market
Getting an Idea to Market
As industrial design consultants, we are often asked, “I have this great idea for a new product, how do I get it manufactured?” Or “I’ve invented something everyone will want, how do I protect it and sell the concept?” The basic answer is, people or companies very rarely buy inventions or concepts, they buy products or services that have clear marketable benefits. To make your idea marketable or even to raise finance to do so, there are a number of steps you will need to take and a number of skills that need to be employed, some of which you will almost certainly have to bring into your development team. To start with you need to put together at least a sketched out business plan of what you have and where you want it to go, with rough calculations of time scales and costs, to help you do this, we offer up to a day of free consultation, when we can use our experience of developing new products, to go through your plan and help put in guesstimates of costs and times, different types of expertise such as patent applications, software design or toolmaking that you will need to bring in and where and when they fit into the development plan.
If you like our approach and want to go ahead, we will put together a quote broken down into mutually agreed stages so you know what the bills will be, what we do depends on the client and the project. Sometimes it’s a blank sheet of paper – the client wants to take a fresh look at their business, products, and market and come up with a new direction and for others, it’s coming up with concepts and developing them to a very specific brief. Occasionally we are asked to breathe new life into an existing product. Over 90% of the projects we undertake go into successful production and most clients ask us to take the concepts right through the development process until the tooling is signed off. This responsibility ensures that our initial ideas are relevant and feasible. If not, we will have a big problem later on! However, this does not mean we take the easy option – that is unlikely to provide the competitive edge.
Typically projects are divided into the following stages and although some may look daunting, i.e.: the research, this may only be a short exercise. And for some projects, we go straight to the concept or subsequent stages, – it all depends on the client and project, each project is looked at individually. Having an experienced team on board, who have successfully launched their own products, can save you time and money. Good research into the market, distribution channels, competitors, pricing, projected costs, standards and regulatory requirements is vital and will underpin the business plan. Depending where you are on the product development cycle, i.e.: how far advanced you are with the design, the following is a route map of product development:
At this stage, Identifying and understanding all the drivers that will influence the solution is critical. These may include user requirements, ergonomics, installation, standards and regulatory requirements, competitors, Existing IP, environmental considerations, investment needs, lead-times, distribution channels, mskills and constraints, existing and possible technologies, materials and potential suppliers.
The objective is to create a springboard for the concepts that will resolve conflicts that often exist between these drivers. If you have an idea, we suggest you initially carry out some web research to see what’s out there. It’s also useful to get some idea on the investment needed to turn your idea into reality and a product designer can often give you very approximate figures based on their past experience for the design, prototypes, tooling and lead-times. You quickly see whether it’s worth continuing. You can also do a brief patent search using the Patent Office’s site but this does rely on inputting key words and it can be very tricky to identify the right words to ensure you catch the prior art. A patent agent can help with the search and a typical cost would be around £500 for something simple.
During this phase, initial ideas start to generate and are assessed against the research. At the end of the stage we will have a very good idea of opportunity, the route to take and the investment required.
Once you have established that the idea is novel and has a viable potential market, the next phase is to identify all the important drivers that will dictate the solution. For example, are there standards to which the product has to comply, what is the manufacturing cost target to achieve a sufficient margin, what are the key design and user features, is there any third party intellectual property that must be avoided etc., how are environmental issues addressed? This work will define the specification and act as the springboard for the development.
If you know what you want, you can move quickly through this phase into the development, engineering and prototype phases. However, you may have identified the need but not the solution or want to consider alternative ideas or to develop your initial idea further. Concepts are drawn as sketches and then progressively refined in 3D CAD. It’s always useful to make simple models and prototypes to handle and test the concepts as early as possible and these can be refined as the design becomes more real.
Photo realistic drawings can be produced using the CAD software and these can be used for market research, i.e. checking whether the design is right with a small sample of your target customers (under a confidentiality agreement). Physical models of the external appearance can be quickly produced using the latest rapid prototyping techniques and these can be finished to look like ‘the real thing’ and are 100% believable. Again very useful for customer feedback. If relevant to your product, full size space models can be made to test the ergonomics and to ensure that it design works s intended.
If relevant and possible, it’s also worthwhile making a prototype of any key feature or technology to validate the feasibility and performance and then feeding the results back into the concepts. Estimates for the projected tooling and production costs can be made to ensure that you are still on target.
This is the engineering phase, when the design concept is developed in detail; the components are drawn to show how they will work and fit together. The design is regularly audited to ensure that it meets the criteria set out in the specification.
The intention is to get the concept into a prototype state as quickly as possible so that it can be tried and tested. Much can be learned: does it work as intended or how can problems be overcome, are there additional opportunities and benefits? More accurate budget costs can be obtained from suppliers. If necessary, the design is modified and the prototype updated or a new one built. This is re-evaluated and the cycle repeated until the prototype is optimised and ready for production.
There are various technologies available to build prototypes that mimic the real thing before expensive tooling is commissioned. These include SLA and SLS which build parts from either resin or powdered plastic and are used to simulate plastic mouldings. Sometimes critical areas are best machined from the actual material to test clips and fits.
Sometimes it is not possible to replicate the performance of a moulded component except by actualy moulding it, in which case, if the production tooling is going to be very expensive, it is possible to build prototype tooling to produce small numbers off. Parts can also be made by fabrication and machining and we can advise on the best and most effective method of making such components.
Having a good supplier can make all the difference to the cost and feasibility of a project. As the product is still unproven, the aim is to get the product to market with the smallest tooling spend possible. A supplier who is prepared to experiment, to take a creative approach and understands that the initial volumes may be low can be vital. Over the years we have built up a number good relationships with moulders and tool makers and they often go the extra mile to help with the launch of a new project. Far East suppliers are usually cheaper than the UK but there are often hidden costs.
The development of the tooling to ensure parts fit together properly and/or are produced to the right quality can take time. The distance makes critical face to face meetings expensive or impossible that would naturally happen in the UK, so there can be lack of control over tooling and production. Finding the right partner is again vital, we have worked extensively in China as well as Europe and the UK and have an extensive list of trusted contacts with whom we have no financial connection but we know they produce reliably high quality work.
Once the prototype is signed off, the components are production engineered and the data prepared for the tooling programme. When the supplier starts to lay out the tooling, he inevitably identifies details he would like to change to suit their experience, equipment or way of doing things. The impact on the design has to be considered and usually a compromise is made to help the supplier without spoiling the design. It is normal to design parts so that they are metal-safe: metal is removed from the tool to tighten the fits rather than trying to get the fit 100% correct first time. If the fit is too tight, it is much more difficult and expensive to put metal back on the tool. So the first samples off the tool tend not to fit properly and the fits are incrementally improved by removing metal from the tool and re-sampling the parts. This phase is obviously critical to the outcome and needs careful management.
Depending on the product, it may be necessary to undertake a full test programme to ensure that it is fit for purpose and complies with any standards or regulatory requirements. It is always wise to involve a test house at the start of a project so they can advise on potential problems and these can be considered during the design process. They can also validate the design by testing prototypes but for final release, a full test programme, to the relevant standards, may be required, using pre-production moulding that are representative of production items.
How your product is presented is critical and the company’s branding, the product packaging, literature communications and in store presence should be creative, attractive and relevant to the market, this may have to be customised to suit different distributors and countries
Hopefully you can now launch your product into the market, with our extensive experience designing structural packaging, point of sale displays and exhibition stands, we can also give you assistance with this if required.