You probably already know the story about the student who gave this answer. When he saw his teacher’s angry expression, he explained that he didn’t know whether he had wanted an accurate or fast reply.
This quandary is something we face regularly: Should we do things well or finish them quickly? I’m sure I can guess how most of you would answer this question: both, and at the lowest possible cost!!! But the reality is quite the opposite and imposes its own laws (when our old friend Murphy isn’t imposing his, that is).
One of the most important points in developing new products is when we decide that the prototypes have been tested enough and we want to move on to the industrialisation process. It is a critical moment because we stop “validating” the product and want to start getting it manufactured and sold. This decision carries very important implications and it is worth taking a moment to study the conclusions of our work with these prototypes. We must therefore make a distinction between the various stages:
|Stage||Objective||When does it end?|
|Technological Prototype ||To validate the functionality of the solution, investing the minimum amount of time and money, using simulators, evaluation circuit boards, business developments…||When the market/client validates the idea that has been presented via the demonstrator.|
|Functional Prototype ||To validate the implementation of the product, building different versions which progressively correct any errors that have been found and/or incorporate new features.||When the version of the prototype has the intended functionality and passes all the relevant regulatory tests.|
|Industrial Prototype ||To validate the process and the means of production and tests that have been created. The process is relatively rigid and the incorporation of changes normally leads to significant risks and cost.||When a significantly large batch of items has been manufactured and the result is acceptable in terms of cost and the quality achieved.|
 Not required for certain projects
 This takes place in a R&D environment and the number of prototype versions depends on the complexity of the project and the experience of the designer.
 Takes place in a manufacturing environment.
Although they may seem similar, each of these stages has a clear purpose which is different from the others. However, the pressure to reduce the time-to-market shortens development cycles, forcing many OEMs to start manufacturing products that have not been sufficiently validated. This leads to a risky situation which could result in the product being taken off the market and subsequent damage to their brand image.
Before embarking on the mass production process, it is therefore vital to make sure that the original prototype does not have any defects. As a result, once the Functional Prototypes have been validated, the design cycle introduces the NPI (New Product Introduction) process, which is also known as industrialisation. This process involves manufacturing a relatively large batch of equipment with a view to creating a statistical scatter of its operating parameters. This often leads to the emergence of functional problems which had not been detected in the 2-3 prototypes from the previous stage. Despite the fact that changes at this stage usually require the product and manufacturing tools to be redesigned (with the additional cost that involves), it is better to find out at that time than when the product is on the market.
If no issues are found after industrialisation, is success guaranteed? Unfortunately not. Evolution in the manufacturing process which produces the semiconductors used in our product leads to changes in operating parameters, and this is a factor that neither OEMs nor EMS have any control over. This effect is growing, and it is increasingly common to find problems on the market involving products that were designed some time ago, have not been modified and are properly manufactured… and globalisation means that they are being installed thousands of miles away.
Taking into account the impact that these problems can have, at IKOR we pay particular attention to product validation. In previous posts, we have looked at pre-certification (EMC testing, electrical safety and environmental conditions) during the Functional Prototype stage as a necessary tool for ensuring that the product exceeds the standards required for the CE mark or UL or FDA approval. We’ve also published articles about the usefulness of HALT/HASS/HASA techniques when detecting problems due to the variability of functional parameters that are inherent in the use of electronic components which have been manufactured in various batches/on different dates – problems which can go virtually undetected when any other procedure is used.
We care about the quality and reliability of the products that we manufacture. This is why we at IKOR put our knowledge and resources at the service of our clients – not only for the manufacturing of their products, but also for improvement and maintenance throughout the entire life cycle.
“You’ll walk more quickly if you travel alone but you’ll go further if you travel with company”