Piers' KickTips - Notes From Manufactureland (1) selecting a manufacturer
KickTips is a blog that Piers is writing every Friday to share some of the details of the lessons learnt on his Kickstarter journey so far.
So you have an awesome idea for Kickstarter campaign? You've made a kickass working prototype and have been working with some great local suppliers. All set to start rolling the video tapes!
Well, that is pretty much the position we took. We were expecting to do most of the assembly and postage ourselves - set up a little workshop, take a couple of weeks off, power through, easy. After all we were only aiming for $11k, and were not altogether sure we would get that.
One trap that is easy to fall into (and we certainly fell into it) is the idea that "I" am a physical resource - i.e. given the right materials and some time, I/we can do x,y,z internally (that might be anything from sending out packages, assembly or even in house manufacture of your product). This might work for small runs, depending on complexity, but even getting 100 done this way can be a LOT of work for one or two people, especially if you've never done one or more stages of the process before (like pick and pack logistics).
What our original plan lacked in a big way was scale.
This comes down to what your manufacturers are capable of producing, to what standard, and in what time-frame. Take yourself out the equation - it is really tempting to say "We can do this bit" without factoring the time needed to be managing all the other bits that are going on at the same time. The problem is, before you run your Kickstarter campaign you will have no idea of how many of your product you will be making, and the big manufacturers will generally have minimum order quantities. Depending on how hard certain components/parts are to make, this will often mean finding two manufacturers that can do the same thing - one for a low volume contingency and one for a high volume contingency.
First of all, write a list of all the things you will need, generally you can group like manufacturing techniques together, so for us it might look something like this:
- Plastic injection tools (can range massively, we have been quoted as high as £30,000 for a 4 cavity 2 part tool, and as low as $2,400)
- Plastic injection parts (does not have to be from the company that makes the tool, but usually is)
- Machined metal parts
- Metal finishing (anodisation, bead-blasting etc)
- Laser cut parts
- PCB Components
- PCB printing & assembly
- Packaging printing & assembly
- Full product assembly, boxing & labelling
This is where shopping around is really important. Don't just take the first company you find, even if they seem perfect. Try to find at least three different companies that can do the job you are looking to hire them for, ask for quotes, minimum order sizes, time scales and maximum daily volumes. ALWAYS try to get samples/see samples of their work.
Two important rules I have discovered while doing this:
1. Just because someone says they can do something, does not mean that they can do it
2. When someone says something can't be done, it usually means "they" can't do it, not that no one can do it
Crucially, ask the question: "what have you done before that is similar to what I am trying to do", and if someone says it can't be done, always get a second opinion.
As a rule, people will almost always underestimate how long it takes to do something. Make sure there is plenty of flex in your critical path and don't forget to factor in delivery time between factories and suppliers! Be honest with yourself - even if you would really REALLY like X to take 3 weeks, and your supplier say 4 weeks, but they "might" be able to do it in 3...it will take 4 weeks. If that is not OK, find someone who can definitely do it in your time-frame, or plan to 4 weeks.
Even if you ultimately decide to go for a full service manufacturer, it is still a good exercise to talk to the different manufacturing types individually, including getting quotes, as it will give you feel for the cost of each part of your product, how long it will take to make, and give a much better idea of what a full service manufacturer should be charging.
As with many things, knowledge is power. Also, presenting your designs to multiple companies will help you to build up a picture of how easy it is to manufacture. If something comes back as really expensive, always ask what could be done to make it cheaper to produce without compromising on fit, function, strength or visual appearance.
A great example of this was the aluminium for the MiniDrive which started out costing $50 PER MINIDRIVE! However, by working with the manufacturers we were able to significantly reduce this to a level which made the MiniDrive affordable without scrapping the use of machined aluminium, which we feel is absolutely essential to preserve the clean, precise aesthetic of the Mac.
Doing the above is time consuming, but picking the wrong manufacturer can be incredibly costly, a lesson that we ultimately learnt the hard way. Do the ground work early, do it thoroughly!
If you guys had any experience with picking manufacturers or would like me to write about anything in our Kickstarter journey so far, please share/ask in the comments!
Twitter: @PiersRidyard @niftyminidrive