There’s this common idea in product development that anyone can come up with a rough draft, get a working prototype made, test it, and land a massive customer deal. In reality, there are many more steps between initial conception and mass production, and it’s important that you know each of these steps in detail so you can get an idea of what could go wrong. This will allow you to limit both costs and delays, and get your product to market as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at the full product lifecycle from prototyping to production.
This could involve brainstorming a number of ways you can solve a problem. Or, someone has a rough sketch for a tool or product, and the team are trying to figure out a more detailed design and product requirements. However, you don’t really have a product until there is something you and your potential customers can see and try out.
Prototyping is the stage in the product lifecycle where you’re trying to create one or multiple working versions of the proposed product. The first prototypes are simply proof of concept.
The prototypes may pass through a number of hands. You may have engineers review them to come up with changes that make the product stronger, cheaper, or easier to manufacture. You could give it to marketing to show to end customers, so that you get feedback on the design when it is still easy to modify. You could show the prototype to investors to raise money or retailers to land initial orders.
Prototypes are also made to prove that the product meets a variety of standards. You might be required to run the prototype through tests to prove it meets industry standards.
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Pre-production is the process of getting ready for production. You have your final working prototype, and you determine how you’re going to build it. This information is used to create work instructions so that assemblers and machinists can do their jobs.
You have to order raw materials or parts unless you work with a contract manufacturer who does this for you. You’ll also need to determine how you’re going to test products before shipping them.
At the same time, your business processes need to be finalized. How will you process orders and track their fulfillment? How will you handle customer returns and defective parts? These are all crucial questions that will need to be answered before you move to production.
Mass production is when you start running through your processes to create and ship your product to retailers and end users. Many people think that the work is done once you have your final design coming off the assembly line.
In reality, you may continue making changes. You may make changes to the production line to improve efficiency and quality, or you may make changes to the design itself. These changes may resolve problems found in the field, or you may continue to improve the design to reduce costs and increase throughput. There’s always the possibility that you come up with the next generation of your product. This may require a totally new manufacturing line in addition to new part specifications and a new version number.
The product lifecycle is a full cycle from the birth of the concept to the death of the product line. Know that there is work to be done at every stage of the lifecycle.