How to Find A Manufacturer
(that cares as much about the quality of your product as you do)
Earlier this year, I decided that 2017 is the year we spend a lot more energy on sharing very specific knowledge, based on our years of accumulated expertise about the different pillars of our business. To kick things off we published Manufacturing In China: Getting it Right. You can download it here. In this post, I’m going to give a quick overview of how to present your product to potential manufacturing partners. I’m also including a link to download the 8 essential checklists we use to find the best product manufacturers for our clients.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT MANUFACTURING PARTNER
After countless months (maybe years), endless hard work and plenty of money developing your product, it’s time to choose your manufacturing partner. Building a successful and lasting relationship with a manufacturer that will produce your product with great care, consistency and attention to detail over time should be your goal. Be aware that picking the wrong manufacturer can be expensive and often disastrous. Product defects, inconsistencies & interruptions in supply are just a few of the issues you’ll be faced with if you don’t have the information you need to make this crucial decision.
Inertia’s approach to product manufacturing strengthens the relationship between you, (our customer) and the manufacturing companies we engage to build your products. Prioritizing both relationships is how we achieve the quality we do. I’m about to give you an incredible advantage by sharing the exact checklists we use to evaluate manufacturers for our clients.
Inertia has been manufacturing products for our clients for 13 years. We’ve seen it all and have learned that there is no substitute for doing your due diligence, and these templates are designed specifically to help you do just that.
When we create a manufacturing plan for our clients, we make sure we have the very best manufacturing partners, solution, processes and quality control. All manufacturers are not created equal, which makes the evaluation process crucial. Before we get into each of the specific checklists, here’s a quick overview of all the elements of our manufacturing evaluation process.
HERE’S ALL THE CHECKLISTS YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE A WELL INFORMED DECISION
Below are the 8 checklists we use to make a thorough evaluation. It’s important to remember that manufacturers will also be evaluating you (and the really great manufacturers have the luxury of being selective), so make sure you’ve got the following items ready to show:
- Company and Product Presentation Checklist
- Manufacturer Evaluation Checklist
- Quotation Evaluation Checklist
- Supply Agreement Checklist
- Quality Planning Checklist
- Assembly Equipment & Fixtures Checklist
- The First Production Run Checklist
- Ongoing Quality Management Checklist
1. Company Presentation
WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN MY COMPANY PRESENTATION?
To start, you’ll need to prepare a Company & Product Presentation. This should include a high-level business plan & product presentation. Your high-level business plan should include a description of your business, target markets, annual volume and ramp-up forecast and future product cycle. Your product presentation should include a bill of materials (BOM), assembly sequence, testing certification requirements, select samples of drawings and an example of your physical prototype(s).
The value of sharing your business plan and product presentation gives potential manufacturers insight into your company, product, market, and long-term vision, which will help them determine best how to service and support you. The best relationships are partnerships which are based on openness and transparency, so it’s best to provide a complete picture of your company and product from the get go.
2. Manufacturer & Supplier Evaluation Criteria
HOW DO I COMPARE POTENTIAL MANUFACTURERS?
When it comes time to figuring out how to find the right manufacturer for your product, it’s vital that you have a structured evaluation process and checklist to help compare the various manufacturers you meet with.
Finding a manufacturer that can deliver consistent, high quality, defect-free products isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. You just need to be prepared to put the work in up front and ask the right questions.
Here’s an overview of the main topics you should cover in your first meeting with each manufacturer:
Allow 4-6 hours for each meeting plus lunch/dinner. This might sound like a lot but if you’re going to be trusting a core part of your business with someone, then you should allocate the time to really get a sense of who they are and how they work.
In the previous section we talked about how important it is for YOU to present your company and product. The same applies for the manufacturer. If they want you business, then they should be prepared to share key information. You should be listening for information like; their annual revenue; who their customers and markets are, what is the average sales of their customers. If they don’t offer this information up, don’t be afraid to ask!
Ask for a tour of your prospective manufacturer’s facility. Make not of their cleanliness and orderliness. Also look at the level of automation vs. manual labour and see if you can get a sense of whether the facility is fully utilized and busy.
Product & Data Design Review
Make sure the manufacturer understands every aspect of your product. Keep an eye out to see if the manufacturer is writing notes.
As the manufacturer point blank the measures they have in place to protect your IP. If possible it’s also a good idea to limit your exposure by eliminating product logos and names from your prototype.
Review In-House Services
Ask what methods they use for rapid prototyping. Do they have an in-house product development team? How about local testing/certification laboratories? (UL, FCC, CE)?
Don’t forget to thoroughly vet your potential manufacturer’s Quality Systems Find out if quality requirements are communicated to suppliers through purchase orders. Do they have a dedicated quality control staff? If so, how many? Is the daily first-pass yield recorded and inspected?
Sometimes not having a formal quality control system in place is ok. You’ll need to make the call. If you have simple components it really depends on the product type and risk. At the very least ensure there are impromptu visual inspection of parts to assess possible defects.
Request For Quotation (RFQ)
To prepare a proper RFQ, you’ll need a set of component and assembly drawings, schematics and CAD drawings. Don’t forget to provide product testing and certification requirements and realistic (meaning honest) production volume estimates.
This is only a sample of some of the questions you should ask when evaluating your potential manufacturing partners.
To get all the questions PLUS the rest of the checklists we use to choose a manufacturer for our clients (Company & Product Checklist; Manufacturer Evaluation; Quotation Evaluation; Supply Agreement; Quality Planning; Assembly Equipment & Fixtures; The First Production Run; Ongoing Quality Management) please follow the link to our download page.
3. Evaluating the Results of Your Manufacturing RFQ
WHAT ARE THE HALLMARKS OF A GOOD QUOTATION?
A manufacturer’s quotation can provide useful details. A single line price quotation is one to avoid, especially without detailed assumptions or conditions. If your quotation needs more detail, then make the time to ask questions or look elsewhere for an experienced and professional manufacturer who’ll provide the details you seek.
Here are some questions to help you evaluate your manufacturers quotations :
- What is the quality of their questions?
- What is the level of feedback on feasibility?What is the level of detail supplied in the quote? (Expect to have a lot of back and forth conversations)
- What is their minimum order quantity (MOQ)?
- Are cost breakdowns provided (material cost, labour, overhead, profit? (Expect to converse in USD regardless of manufacturing location)
- What are the payment terms?
- Are testing and quality fixtures required? Are these included?
- What are the lead times to first samples?
- How many tool ‘tuning’ events and samples are included?
4. Manufacturing Supply Agreement
WHAT IS A SUPPLY AGREEMENT?
Manufacturing supply agreements form the basis of your working relationship; they establish roles and responsibilities, what happens under certain situations, how payment is made, and most important, what happens if things don’t go according to plan.
- What are the terms, roles, responsibilities, and expectations?
- What are the product acceptance criteria?
- What is the liability?
- What is the warranty?
- What is the order cancellation, return and recall policy?
- If pricing changes, what are the rules around renegotiation?
- What are the payment terms?
- Is there on-site inspection?
- What are the quality assurance plan requirements?
- What happens in the event of a breach of contract?
- What are the details around confidentiality and customer property?
- Are indemnity and insurance coverage in place?
5. Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP)
WHAT IS AN APQP QUALITY PLAN?
Countless hours of due diligence are behind you and finally, a signed contract with your chosen manufacturer is in hand. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and wait for your products to arrive. Right? Not so fast.
This is only the beginning of your adventure. After securing your manufacturing partner, it’s time to build your framework for your APQP (Advanced Quality Product Planning) in collaboration with the manufacturer. An APQP is a framework of procedures and techniques used to develop products. Good quality requires significant planning and thought. It is extremely important to your business success. Supplying CAD data, schematics, and manufacturing drawings doesn’t mean your work is done. Quality doesn’t just magically happen. Many companies fall terribly short with quality planning.
- Look at the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries as the high standard. The stakes are highest for them as their quality planning can be a matter of life & death.
- For most consumer products, using the automotive industry quality standard: Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) can be a good guide or starting point.
- Some of these processes may apply to your product in relation to potential risk and incorrect manufacture or design of your product. Identify these risks and implement mitigation plans with a document/process called Failure Mode and Effects Analysis or FMEA. Normally, these activities occur throughout the design process culminating at manufacturing launch where the remaining high risk/uncertain features, dimensions, functions of a product get translated into a Control Plan.
- The Control Plan lists which dimensions, functions, and attributes need monitoring. Both individual components and the final product require inspection, checking, or testing to ensure manufacture according to the design intent.
6. Assembly Line & Fixtures
WHY ASKING THE MANUFACTURER TO “REVERSE ENGINEER” THE ASSEMBLY PROCESS IS A BAD IDEA.
Once you’ve created your quality plan, you’ll need to get the full picture of how the assembly line works and how your product will be assembled. You’ve designed the product, so by this stage you know how the product needs to be assembled better than anyone.
Make sure to communicate to the manufacturer using a step-by-step slide show. For more complex products, we create animations for our clients. Most people will lob an assembly drawing at the manufacturer and leave it for them to “reverse engineer” the assembly sequence. This approach is prone to missing assembly steps which will result in underestimating underestimating assembly line and equipment requirements. If you do your best to help the manufacturer to be successful it can only benefit your product and relationship.
Quality is not an activity that happens after the product is manufactured and assembled. It is built into each step of the product manufacturing. When reviewing manufacturing process and assembly layouts, check to see what quality checks occur at each step and what measures are in place to prevent the component or product from continuing on to the next step should a quality issue be found.
The bottom line is you must ensure your assembly process is clearly articulated and your equipment and fixtures are sufficient for the task. Click here to download the full checklist we use to ensure this is the case.
7.Your First Production Run
WHAT YOU SHOULD BE LOOKING FOR DURING THE FIRST FULL TEST OF YOUR MANUFACTURING PROCESS.
For this stage, make sure all the tooling and manufacturing processes were tested and components were checked using a Production Part Approval Process (PPAP). Make sure you have the PPAP package of documents generated by the manufacturer for your review and approval, so you can see to it that all of your objectives have been met.
Obtaining approval requires the supplier to provide sample parts and documentary evidence showing the following:
– Your requirements have been understood (Requirements could mean function, dimensions, tests, etc.)
– The product supplied meets those requirement
– The process (including sub-suppliers) is capable of producing conforming product
– The production control plan and quality management system prevents non-conforming product from reaching the client or compromising the safety and reliability of finished products
8.Ongoing Quality Management
ASKING YOUR MANUFACTURER TO “CHECK EVERYTHING” WON’T CUT IT. IF “EVERYTHING” IS IMPORTANT, THEN NOTHING IS IMPORTANT.
You need a Quality Control (QC) plan to achieve ongoing quality. Once a system is set up, ensure the plan is reasonable and can be easily followed by manufacturing staff. Ongoing quality system audits are commonplace in any reputable, manufacturing facility whether in the North America, Europe or, China.
- Always make sure you are on-site when the Quality Assurance (QA) Plan requires it.
- Remember, the QA Plan must include ‘Notifying Phases’ outlining which milestones during the production require client presence for sign-off.
- Communicate clearly to the manufacturer that everyone’s best interests are paramount when reviewing manufacturing and quality reports.
- Advise that you are not searching to find fault or assign blame, but to help collaboratively solve problems.
- Explain how these reports can improve a product and make the manufacturer more profitable through reduction of scrap, reduced inspection labour, etc. If you explain these aspects, the manufacturer will certainly have more interest in success beyond their own immediate needs.
So that covers all the main aspects of how we source our manufacturing partners, and how we ensure we achieve ongoing quality from the manufacturing partners we do work with. Our goal in sharing this level of detail with you is to empower you to make the right choices for your business moving forward.
The Value In Getting Professional Help
It’s worth noting that handling the massive responsibility of sourcing a manufacturing partner on your own is sometimes not the best path forward. You need to be honest with yourself about how to best use your precious time. Sometimes the best decision you can make is to look outside for professional advice.
Here are some advantages to working with experts with a proven track record:
- Leverage your valuable time to focus on other business aspects.
- Get your product to market quickly and save money in the long run.
- Receive high quality input on your business model.
- Establish your manufacturing supply chain in 4-6 weeks.
- Progress from tool release to Start of Production in 8-14 weeks
- Receive a consultation on your current plans/models.
- Get a complete manufacturing, supply, and cash flow plan for as little as $5k.
To learn more about how Inertia can help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.