Manufacture a PRODUCT – Beginners Guide

sewing factory

How to MANUFACTURE a Product – Beginners Guide!

Hi my name is Phil Staunton, I’m managing director of D2M Innovation. I’ve worked over the last 12 years with 100s of people taking products through from design and prototyping right through to manufacturing and launching their products. I’m making a series of videos to help people like yourselves, what it really takes to get a product to market. This video is all about the product side of a product.

So we start from assuming you have the basis of a finished prototype that your happy with and you also have a manufacturing specification that details all the key elements of your product from there what you’re looking to now do is to put that into production.

Now most of the time, products these days are made in the Far East, just because it’s far more cost effective to do so but also a lot of the manufactures don’t even exist anymore in Europe because it’s so much more cost effective to make these products over in the Far East. So most of this video is going to be based on the fact you’re dealing with a Chinese manufacturer or it may be Indian or Bangladesh or whatever but the principles are basically the same.

You’ve got your prototype complete, you’ve got a manufacturing specification now you need to find the right manufacturing partner for you and your product. Really, you’ve got 3 options:

1. Work directly with the factory
2. Use a UK based agent to manage production
3. Use a local agent to who is based in the country your manufacturing is who can deal with the manufactures on your behalf.

Most of the time what we find with the people that we work with who are individuals and entrepreneurs looking to launch a new product that they will go with option 3. They will end up with an agent who is based in the same country as the manufacturer, probably near to the manufacturer probably a couple hours drive max and they will deal with the manufacturer. The reason this works so well is most factory owners don’t speak great English, and they’re not that used to dealing with customers and if you have an agent sat in between, your agent will handle the Chinese factory for you. They will also often manage a different packaging supplier and get that delivered to the factory and get your goods packed up together. Often they can also handle the shipping for you and this takes a lot of issues and effort out for the entrepreneur, individual or start-up company looking to produce a product. If you’ve got a single point of contact based in the country near to the manufacturer where the product is being made, that keeps things much simpler.

It also means the responsibility is easier. The responsibility lies with that single agent your dealing with. Its not that you’re trying to manage lots of different factories and can end up in a situation in the middle, where someone else”. You don’t want to have to worry about that and having an agent in the middle is the best way to deal with it. Now that agent will need to be paid and often they take between 8% and 15% of the unit cost and often the same on the tooling and set up costs as well. This can often be a really good deal for you as it takes out a huge amount of management time and often you can deal with smaller factories as result of having an agent because the smaller factories don’t employ English speakers. Don’t have English translators and things onsite and normally you wouldn’t be able to get to those small factories who might offer you more of a cost effective price or lower volumes for your orders than you would otherwise be able to get.

You’ve decided how to manufacture the product and which country you want it in what happens next?

Well, what you really need to do is start getting some competitive quotes in for your product. So what you need to do is send out your manufacturing specification along with pictures or videos on your prototype or maybe send the prototype itself to 3 or 4 different people to try and get to the point where you have 2 or 3 prices you can compare. Now one thing you are looking at is price, but what is the minimum order quantity or MOQ. That basically means what is the lowest number that the factory will be prepared to produce for you. If that is 10,000 units and each unit is costing you £10, then you’ve got a huge bill there of £100,000 but if a factory will only produce you 400 pieces at £10 that’s only £4000 and your risk then is much much lower. What you really want if you can, when you’re starting out is a low minimum order quantity and obviously looking to get the best price that you can as well but you’re also looking at quality. You need to make sure the quality of the product your getting is good. You may want to see samples from the factory or ask what they have done already or speak to some other Western customers that you can check if the quality of their final product is really good.

We often suggest go out and visit them to make sure the final product is good so you can check and maybe take the last 2 on your shortlist and make the decision once you’ve met them. At the end of the day, relationship is really important. You’re going to be using this manufacture to produce your product hopefully for many years to come and often having a good relationship with them is often the best way in getting your product produced at the right time and at the right price and also in a way that you’re not hugely struggling with your manufacturer and in way that they are working against you really you should be in partnership with them.

Now once you’ve picked your manufacturing partner, often the set up of for manufacturing has to commence. For an injection mould plastic product, that will be steel moulds that will need to be made. For a textile product it might be the cutting tools to cut out the different shapes of the fabric before it’s sewn. Often there’s a cost associated with this. For a plastic product that might have 10 or 15 components, your tooling bill could be anywhere up to £40,000 – £50,000 for something as complex as a golf trolley or a baby buggy and that cost might even be £200,000.
There’s a huge investment there, mould tools take about 8-12 weeks to produce. The reason is there’s lots of design work that needs to be done even before they start to cut the steal to make the mould tools. They need to think about the flow of the plastic as it gets injected into the tool, how it’s going to cool, if there are thick sections that may shrink, what material they are going to make it out of. All of this needs to be thought through and considered. The tool itself needs to be designed, where is it going to split apart, how is the part going to injected out of the mould tool. All of these things need to be thought about.

Once that’s done, once the tools is designed, then the big blocks of steel are ordered they come into the tool room and that point the shape for your plastic component is cut out of the steel probably using a CNC milling machine. From there once all the milling, cutting and finishing is done, then will start to produce samples. This basically means they are using that mould tool, they are injecting the plastic into it and they are producing just 5 or 10 components just to have a look at and see where all the issues lie. There will be issues in your first sample. There will be things like the width might be too big, there might be some small shrink marks, there might be some issues where the part scrapes where it comes out of the tool and you get a line on the side of it, it might not fit quite right with another component, but all this is normal. 

What happens then, is the tool maker goes back in and tweaks the tool to more hand finishing and changes a few bits around and makes things smaller or take bits off that kind of thing. Then they run a second set of samples, hopefully most of those issues are now solved. They’re checking to make sure there are any final tweaks that need to be made and they will be looking at what finishing needs to be applied to give you the right finish on the plastic parts. From there you end up with a final sample of your plastic components.

If it’s a textile product, the sampling basically involves then using their suppliers, them producing in their sample room a stitched version of your product again, even with a textile product the first one that comes off again is never right, things might be stitched on in the wrong place, things might be too big or too small, the fabrics might not be quite right, too low quality or doesn’t feel right but again that’s perfectly normal. You need to go back to your manufacturer with a series of changes and they will produce the second level sample for you to check and sometimes it might take 4 or 5 rounds to get through the sampling process where you’re fully happy with the product.

Once that’s done you get a gold sample which you sign off then production can commence. This means they have to set up all the assembly lines, they have to train all the workers, from there they will then produce the batch of product you need. While this is being done the package needs to be finished off, printed and delivered to the factory. So once the things come off the assembly line they can be boxed into their boxes and then from there being put into their shipping cartons and palletised ready for shipping.

Shipping is basically the next thing to think about and also quality control. Once you have sent some inspectors in or you want to go in yourself and do some quality control checks to make sure the products being produced are actually right. It may b that your product needs to require certain standards and have to go for external testing. But all of this is best to have before it ever leaves the factory. Changes can be made, things can be corrected a lot easier and a lot cheaper, on site before the product goes. So once your quality control is sorted, the goods will be packed, wrapped, palletised and ready for shipping. At this stage you either need a shipping agent or maybe the agents you are using for manufacturer can do the shipping as well. The important thing is to get the goods collected from the factory or the factory can sometimes arrange them to go to the container port. From there, they need to be loaded onto the ship and be shipped to the UK. Air freight is also an option and an awful lot quicker, it’s about 3 days rather than about 5 weeks, but it’s much more expensive particularly if your product is large or heavy. Once the goods have arrived in the UK you obviously need to sort out warehousing or storage for the products. When they are delivered in and everything is ready to go, that’s the point where you can start to sell your product. 

We always suggest you have orders or an idea on how you’re going to sell before you ever press go on production. But now is the moment to pop the champagne corks, you’ve now got a product manufactured and delivered to the UK. Not an easy task at all, you’ve done great if you’ve got to that point and now the selling needs to begin, marketing and get your units sold so you can order your second batch from your manufacturing partner.

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