In this post, Andrew Vear, Owner of Enterprise Badges, a global supplier of badge making machines and components, offers his top tips and advice on how to successfully develop a product.
At the end of 2015 we took a bold, strategic business management decision and decided to bring back the manufacturing of our badge making machines to the UK. For many years, we relied upon regular consignments from India for all our badge machines. Over time, quality control became an issue, with increasingly poor quality goods arriving in sporadic deliveries. We got to the stage where we were checking every machine to ensure it was working properly before dispatching to a customer.
In order to grow the business, we needed to take back some control of this supply chain to ensure our component parts were of a consistent quality, and quickly available. This drove us to evaluate the process of bringing the manufacturing back to this country. Another factor was that we were very keen to dramatically lower the carbon footprint of our products and make them much more economically viable. Today, instead of each machine travelling 6,000+ miles to us before being shipped for delivery, we are proud to be able to say that 95% of our machine parts are made and finished within 40 miles of our head office in Lincolnshire.
So, how did we go about developing our own product?
Stage 1: Prototyping
To begin the process of manufacturing our own machines, we first had to produce technical drawings of every component part - in total close to 150 parts. Once we had completed this task we created the very first prototypes for testing. This process allowed us to rethink our product designs, making improvements and tweaks to ensure we were producing a superior product to any others on the market.
We used 3D printing (additive manufacturing) to produce the first prototypes. This process made it relatively cheap and easy for us to make small changes to each part, until we were completely happy with the design.
Stage 2: Testing
I can’t emphasise enough how important this phase is. My advice to anyone making new products is test, test, test them and then test again! It was during this phase that I could regularly be found standing, or even jumping, on prototype parts to test them to their breaking point. Testing pieces to destruction allows you to determine exactly how strong they are.
We focused on ensuring that each piece of our product did exactly what it was intended to. We also used this prototyping/testing phase to continually make product refinements to ensure that they were of the highest quality, and the process was efficient as possible. This meant we could produce the products with minimal amounts of drilling and milling necessary, helping to keep post casting costs as low as possible. We also invested time looking at the particular materials we should use for each component, assessing which was the best and most cost effective for the job.
Stage 3: Sourcing suppliers/investing in machinery
We were very keen to ensure that all our suppliers would be local to keep the carbon footprint of our UK-made products to a minimum. We required suppliers to carry out all the different stages of production which includes casting, drilling, milling, powder coating, assembling, anodizing and nickel plating our products.
We analysed which parts of the production line we could carry out in-house, and which parts we should outsource. Once we were clear with the services we needed to buy in, we used a combination of Google and industry recommendations to source good suppliers. It was important to take the time to go and meet with potential suppliers, to build up a trusting relationship and forge some solid communication channels prior to working together.
In addition to outsourcing, we also invested in key pieces of machinery required to finish some products, such as drilling machinery and, one of the most valuable pieces of equipment to date, a counting machine, which continually counts component parts, saving many hours of monotonous work.
Stage 4: Pricing
Don’t be afraid of charging what your product is really worth. If you’ve created a superior product to anything else on the market, it may be that it comes at a higher price than the competition. If you believe in its quality, you can charge more for it.
Work with your suppliers to negotiate pricing and to ensure that together you produce an excellent quality product at a marketable price. It’s poor over-engineering of a product that becomes too costly to make.
Stage 5: Quality control
Don’t be complacent about quality control. Just because one batch looks OK, don’t assume that others will be. All production lines need to be regularly checked and tested for quality.
Never ignore comments from your customers or suppliers giving you feedback about your products. Always listen to people around you, even if it’s negative, they normally say things for a reason.
Make sure your packaging is suitably branded, appropriate and protects your products so that they arrive undamaged. Make sure you utilise all opportunities available to build your brand, and packaging and labelling are great ways in which to do this.
Above all, good luck and be tenacious. When you get to a point that you can sit back and look at an enhanced, unique, well-built and efficiently costed product range - it makes every long, tough decision-making moment of the whole process absolutely worthwhile.