3 REASONS YOUR DESIGNERS AND MANUFACTURERS SHOULD BE INDEPENDENT
By Jeremy Nashed | October 15, 2021
Your product’s designers and manufacturers should be independent.
Surprised to hear it? Since these two disciplines are so closely related, many assume that these should naturally be done together.
In fact, I often hear about product owners who approach manufacturers directly with their conceptual sketches- and just as often get approached by product owners who are dismayed to learn that Emergnt is not a manufacturer ourselves.
Of course, I encourage maximum collaboration between designers and manufacturers- people in both these lines of work have different and valuable insights to add to any product development problem. But when it comes to how they are contracted and compensated, I firmly believe it is in the product owner’s best interest to keep these two services separate.
Let me be clear: as an engineer and a product designer, it’s been my pleasure to work with many different manufacturers. I’ve found that people who work in these industries (especially here in the US) are pleasant, respectable, knowledgeable, and hard-working individuals. As someone with a brief history of working in the manufacturing industry, I have an appreciation for how much someone can learn in a production environment and therefore place an immense value on my connections with twenty, thirty, or even forty years’ experience.
However, I always advocate for product owners who don’t have in-house designers to contract an independent design firm before approaching a manufacturer. Why?
PRODUCT DESIGN IS ITS OWN DISCIPLINE
Truth is, there’s usually a lot of work to do before manufacturing is involved. Your designers should break down the product concept and brainstorm on the problem at hand. They should conceptualize and iterate concepts which approach the problem in different ways. They should engage with consumers to reveal the consumer’s importance hierarchy and their willingness to pay. They should use this information to select a concept which best appeals to the market. Then they should assemble a team of cross-disciplinary technical experts to fully develop the concept – all before the product is ready for prototyping and production.
This is where product design firms like Emergnt really shine. For us, taking products from conceptual infancy is what we do, and it’s forced us to learn as much as possible about this unique discipline. Not that our friends in the manufacturing industry can’t learn this discipline, but it usually just doesn’t fall into their line of work.
PRODUCT DESIGN FIRMS APPROACH YOUR PRODUCT WITH A “DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURING” LENS FROM INCEPTION
For some product owners, instincts tell them to take their conceptual drawings straight to their local manufacturer to discuss prototyping and production. But what kind of manufacturer should they be talking with? A machine shop? A fab shop? An injection molder? A rotation molder? Without a broad knowledge of these various processes and techniques, this decision point can be paralyzing.
Best practice is to have a team in your corner versed in “Design for Manufacturing”- or capable of discerning which manufacturing process is best suited for the task and then designing the product to work with that process. This is exactly what we do at Emergnt- it’s why several of our engineers come right out of the manufacturing industry. Furthermore, we source product manufacturers from our network of proven partners based specifically on the design and have no incentive to design a product for any one manufacturer’s specific capabilities unless they deliver a clear cost advantage.
A GOOD PRODUCT DESIGN FIRM GIVES THE PRODUCT OWNER THE ABILITY TO SHOP FOR THE MANUFACTURER
When it comes time to actually approach your manufacturer, a good product design firm gives product owners a crucial security- ownership of their design files.
CAD (Computer-Aided Design) is a big part of what we do when designing projects. Creating virtual 3D models of our products not only helps us work out design problems, but also gives us the tool to communicate about the product’s technical features. Know that the CAD is a necessary step- the CAD files will replace any preexisting conceptual sketches as the definitive reference for your product.
Most manufacturers have their own CAD (Computer-Aided Design) designers because they use CAD to design their tooling or read incoming files. Therefore, it’s possible for them to take your product from a conceptual sketch to a prototype or production. If you approach a manufacturer without your CAD already complete, the manufacturer may bill you explicitly for this work, or they may do it complimentary to win your business (sometimes without even informing you). Regardless, once the CAD work is done, the product owner has no guarantees of ever being able to secure those files.
Since the CAD files are the definitive reference for the product, a product owner who cannot secure their CAD files has lost ownership of an important part of their product. If they are dissatisfied with their quote or for any reason want to find a new manufacturer, they will be starting over from scratch. And there’s little hope that results will be consistent between two different manufacturers without consistent CAD files.
I want to reiterate here- I am not generalizing manufacturers as nefarious actors intent on stealing your product. However, I would point out that manufacturers are primarily motivated to secure their accounts for large production runs.
On the other hand, design firms like Emergnt are motivated very differently. By the time we approach manufacturers, the largest portion of a project’s revenue – the technical design phase- may be largely complete. At this point, we’re primarily motivated to help our client find the best manufacturer with the lowest quote and the best results, ensuring a satisfied client with repeat business. Furthermore, we never withhold CAD files from our clients (it’s in our client agreement).
Ultimately, one product may require several different manufacturing partners for the best results. In this situation, a good product design firm can act like your personal representative, advocating for the client’s best interest to all other parties. Since our services at Emergnt usually cost the client an order of magnitude less than their production costs, I believe this valuable representation is easily worth the investment.
Founder & Lead Engineer
A product design expert, Jeremy cultivated his skills working in manufacturing and rapid prototyping facilities. His design experience ranges from consumer products to government contracting, and he is known for end-to-end support on every project.
M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology.