Product Development Process
At Alpine Engineering and Design we have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of different companies in their product design and development processes. Discovering the best route for the development of your new product can be difficult. If you would like to schedule a free design consultation to see how we can help you, or to get you started down the right path, click here.
There is something enticing about product development. Whether the pull to design a new product is being remembered by generations to come, who will be using the product, or whether it is the thought of putting a lot of work in now and living the rest of your life on your own terms, it is hard to say. One thing we do know is that there are a lot of people in this world who are on a quest to come up with the next big idea in product design and development. If you are one of those people you may have found yourself asking one, or several of these questions:
What is the design process?
How long does the design process take?
Is my idea patentable?
Should I license my product or start a business?
How should I market my new product?
We will cover all of these questions in depth in this article, but first, you may be asking why you should listen to us in the first place. At Alpine Engineering and Design we have been designing products for others and for ourselves for decades. We have been part of hundreds of successful product development processes. We hold nearly 100 patents, we have licensed products to major companies and finally, we have taken products from ideas all the way to the market. That is enough about us, let’s provide some value to you for learning how to design a new product.
What are the steps of the product design process?
Step 1: Planning
Planning is the phase of product design that is most often skipped over. When someone has an idea for a product they often jump right into prototyping. While we completely understand the excitement of developing a new product, the planning phase is one that should not be skipped. There are three main things that should happen in the planning phase of product design:
During the planning phase of product design and development you will form your team, set a schedule and assign a task list. This will be important to making sure that you get things accomplished in the time frame that you could like to, and eventually, get your product to market successfully and in a timely manner.
Step 2: Research
Doing proper research can save you hundreds of hours of time on the design and development of your project. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times we have thought that we had an awesome idea, only to find our that it already existed during our research phase. If we skipped this phase we could have invested a lot of time into something that we would not even be able to sell once we got it to work right. Here are the steps you should be sure to include in your research process:
During the research phase when designing a new product, you will identify your target market, benchmark against other successful companies and identify your key differentiators. Successful research can be a major element in how quickly your product starts to make money and how much money you make from your product.
Step 3: Conceptual Design
People often start the product design process with conceptual design. This is the step in the design process where you will begin brainstorming and narrowing down ideas. Starting the design process with this step can seem like it is going to save you time, but in our experience it will cost you more time and money than going through the whole design process. The elements of conceptual design are:
During the conceptual design phase, you will brainstorm with your team to come up with all of the possible designs that could solve the needs that you are trying to meet. These do not necessarily all need to be realistic. After you have documented as many possibilities as you can think of, you will start to converge on the designs that work the best. Start converging by determining which of the designs are feasible, cost effective and meet the needs of the target market the best. You should be able to converge enough to narrow down your designs to a few designs, or even just one. These are the products that you will carry into the prototyping phase.
Step 4: Embodiment Design
While conceptual design deals with things that work conceptually, embodiment design deals with how your designs are going to work spatially. It is fairly common for someone to come up with their ideal design only to find out that it doesn’t fit into their space constraints. Keep in mind specific containers, uses and space constraints involved during those uses, aesthetics and manufacturing requirements. Address these elements in your embodiment design process:
During the embodiment design part of the product design process, you will try to think of any of the design issues you might run into. These include regulations and space requirements. As you get all of these listed you can finalize your design and start working on the prototype. Once you have a prototype that works and meets as many of the requirements that you came up with as possible, you will move on to the detailed design.
Step 5: Detailed Design
Getting the detailed design together will be the final step of the process that actually has to do with design. There are two more steps that focus on production if you decide to take the product all the way to the shelves by yourself. If you have taken a product all the way through the detailed design phase, you can deliver the designs to someone to have your product fabricated. When you have finished the detailed design you should have:
Once you have finished with this step, you will have detailed drawings for your product. These can be taken to a manufacturer to mass produce your product. You will also have a bill of materials so that you can properly assess the cost of your product. This will allow you to set a price point with the confidence that you will be profitable enough on your product. Lastly, you will have packaging. This means that once manufacturing starts and sales start coming in, you will be ready to ship your product.
Step 6: Production Ramp-Up
During this step you will be making sure that everything is ready to start manufacturing your product. You will make sure that equipment is satisfactory and that you will have the capacity to meet your expected demand. You should perform as many trial runs as necessary so that you don’t end up with orders that can not be fulfilled. Excess demand is good, as long as it is not unfulfilled orders.
Once you have finished this step you should be ready to start fulfilling orders. Remember to identify your first bottle necks in the case that your launch goes better than expected. Monitor orders and expand those bottle necks as quickly as possible if needs be.
Step 7: Launch Product
This is the moment you have been building up to. If you have gone through the steps of the process you are ready to fulfill orders.
Remember that not every product needs to be taken all the way through the launch. If you would like, you can try to license the product to someone or sell the intellectual property. If you have taken the product all the way through the launch phase, congratulations, you are now a business owner.
How long does the process take?
Typically when someone asks this question they are looking for an answer in days or weeks or months. There are so many variables to the product design process that giving a blanket answer that would be even remotely accurate is impossible. The best way to answer this question is to give all of the variables so that you can get the time frame for your product as accurate as possible.
When you design a new product, technological complexity is what determines the number of man hours that will be required to complete your product. Think about hurdles that still need to be overcome, pieces that will need to work together and so on.
The skill level of your team will be a major factor in determining how long your product will take to design. If you have the best and brightest minds available, you should be able to decrease the man hours required to complete the project.
So far, we have talked about time in terms of man hours. It almost goes without saying that increasing the size of your team will decrease your product design phase. For example, if your product will take 1,000 total hours to develop and you have a 10 person team working on it, your required duration will be 100 hours. This is obviously over simplified and assumes that all tasks can be performed by any member of the team, but you get the idea.
-Hours Worked Per Day:
If you want duration in days weeks or months to design a new product, there are two other variables that you should look at. You need to look at how many hours you are going to be working per day, and how many days you are going to be working per week.
Now that you know the factors that you should be looking at for product design duration, map out your deliverables, evaluate complexity, factor in team experience and determine estimated man hours. Take those hours and divide them by team size (accounting for tasks that need to be performed by a specific person) then divide by hours worked per day and days worked per week. Now you have a good idea of how long your product development process is going to take.
Is my idea patentable?
There are four major tests that your product needs to pass in order to be patentable. I will go over each of these in more depth later.
Statutory – Your invention needs to be statutory.
New – Your product must be new.
Useful – Your product must be useful.
Not Obvious – Your product must not be obvious.
Statutory Requirement: If you have designed a tangible product you automatically meet the statutory requirement. Section 101 of the Patent Act says that a patent is applicable to processes, machines, manufacture or composition of matter. Any tangible product is a composition of matter, so if you can hold or touch your product, it meets the statutory requirement.
New (Novel) Requirement: In order for an invention to be patentable: it can not have been known to the public before the applicant filed for the patent, it can not have been described in a printed publication before the applicant filed for a patent, it can not have been described in a published patent application or issued patent that was filed prior to the applicant’s patent filing.
There is a one year grace period if the disclosures were made by the inventor personally. If the inventor does not file for patent protection within a year after first disclosure to the public, they will not be able to obtain patent protection.
Useful Requirement: This means that what you are trying to patent needs to be useful. This is fairly self explanatory. If it is not easy to explain the use of the thing that you are thinking of patenting, you probably won’t get the patent.
Non Obvious Requirement: This is probably the most difficult areas when obtaining a patent. The idea behind the non-obvious requirement is that your invention or addition to previous invention would not have been obvious to someone with an ordinary skill set in the art to which the invention pertains. Now you can see why it is one of the most difficult areas right? If you pass all of the other tests, I always recommend hiring an expert to help you with this part if you do not have years of experience with patents.
If you are working on getting a patent, it is probably a good idea to get some advice from a person with experience. If you have a good product that is patentable and that people will buy, it is probably worth the investment to make sure that it is properly protected.
Should I License My Product or Start a Business?
This is another question where the answer involves looking at a lot of different variables. I will give you those variables so that you can make the right decision for your product. Remember to leave your ego out of answering these questions. The only one who will be worse off if you don’t is you. Yes, there is more money to be made if you are wildly successful starting a business of your own, but there is also no money to be made if it goes nowhere. Here are some of the variables you should look at:
Time: Make no mistake that starting a business will take A LOT of time and effort! If you do not have the capacity to give both of these, you should look for a licensing agreement instead.
Competition: If there are big players in the industry and you have a solid patent, you will make money much faster by licensing your product to them. They already have distribution channels and networks set up.
Uniqueness: If your product is similar to that of a big player in your industry, it will probably be better to try to license it to another big player in the industry. If you attempt to go into business for yourself, the company whose product is similar to yours could come after you with a lawsuit even if they know they won’t win. If you are just starting out this could be too much of a financial burden for your company which is what the big player is hoping.
How Do I Market a New Product?
Marketing a new product is all about getting your name in front of the right people. Anymore, your best bet of doing this quickly is social media.
Put together a demo video and start doing some promotions to get your product out there. If you create some buzz about your product you are much more likely to get picked up by some brick and mortar stores, or if you create enough buzz you may not even need to get your product in brick and mortar stores.
How is Mechanical Engineering Product Development Different?
As many of you who are reading this already know, our company specializes in mechanical engineering, so one of the main things that we do is mechanical product design. Mechanical product design is slightly different from some of the other forms of product design in one major way.
If you are designing a physical product, or a mechanical product, you need to stick to the design process as strictly as possible. The reasoning behind this assertion is that you will have costs of physical goods and time tied into prototyping and product development.
This is different from software where there is not always a cost of the physical product. Fewer re-works and re-designs is always the aim in mechanical product development.
It is clear that there is not a single “right” way to design a new product. Having some guidelines like this article provides is a great place to start.
Don’t be afraid to do things differently when it comes to developing or marketing your product. Remember that innovation is where the idea for your product came from in the first place!