The Current Challenges in Electronic Product Development
In what seems to have been an eternity ago, working with an overseas electronics manufacturer or supplier was a fairly straightforward process, back when international travel and face to face meetings were the norm. Below are a few of the typical activities in the hardware development process that are no longer feasible:
1. Attending trade shows – this was often a means of meeting suppliers in your sector and exploring opportunities to work together.
2. Factory visits – after developing a short list of potential suppliers, arranging a visit to tour and inspect their facilities was critical to getting to know and trust your supplier.
3. Pilot run inspection – in preparation for MP (Mass Production), being onsite at the factory to ensure everything was in order and to inspect the golden sample was also standard procedure.
4. Development deep-dives – communicating across time zones can be difficult and slow with certain questions asked not being answered immediately or requiring multiple rounds of clarification to get clear. To make significant progress in certain critical areas, more travel was needed to meet face to face in order to clear things up efficiently.
5. Trouble-shooting – in the event of any major development setback, being onsite F2F was the quickest way to solve any issues.
Given the current state of the world, you may be wondering if it’s even still possible to get your electronic product developed at all. Don’t worry, here we’ll provide some tips on how to navigate around the crisis so you can keep your project on track.
The Electronics Supply Chain Is Ready for You
The first thing to put your mind at ease is to note that the electronics supply chain is still quite actively working. Nearly all of the factories in China are back up and running, while they never stopped running in Taiwan as it was able to avoid a lockdown and kept its businesses open. While some of the capacity has shifted to produce much needed healthcare goods, there is still plenty of resources to work on your electronic products. Let’s figure out how to access those manufacturers and make them work for you.
How to Work Remotely with Electronic Manufacturers
1. Finding a suitable manufacturer – as you won’t be able to personally meet and verify manufacturers, relying on the experience of others is a great alternative. If you know of another company that has worked with overseas suppliers, getting a glowing referral is one way. If they aren’t in your desired sector or don’t have the right experience, you can also use an established company that specializes in sourcing proven and vetted electronics manufacturers for you. They’ll do all the due diligence ahead of time for you. This will provide you with more options to choose from to make sure the fit is right for you.
2. Communicating your requirements – Having crystal clear communication with your supplier is critical to keeping your project on schedule. Any delays in feedback or miscommunications can severely slowdown your progress. Here are a few tips to improve your communications:
a. Set a regular communication schedule – It’s imperative to stay well informed and keep your supply chain efficient. Maybe it’s at every milestone of the product development roadmap, maybe it’s every Tuesday, just set it, keep it regular, and communicate fairly often.
b. Robust RFQ package – Spend the time upfront to create a well-prepared and well-documented RFQ package. This could even include a video to show how your product works. Make sure that everyone is on the same page from the start and that will make it much easier further along the production process.
c. Utilize local resources – we’ve all heard the stories about how difficult it can be to communicate with suppliers who aren’t in your time zone and don’t speak the same language you do. Responses to simple questions can take multiple days to clarify and get a thorough response. Utilizing local resources from 3rd parties that are fluent in both languages and in hardware development can help to facilitate and speed up communication considerably.
3. Project planning – for any hardware project, having proper planning is important. Plan, plan, and plan again to avoid unexpected delays in your project. In the current environment, project planning becomes even more critical. Even though your tier-one manufacturer may not have any capacity issues, they rely on tier-two manufacturers for parts and the tier-two rely on tier-three and so on. So having some contingencies and planning around some project delays is advisable depending on how complicated your project is.
4. Pilot runs, deep-dives & trouble-shooting – while nothing can replace being there yourself in person, having an outsourced experienced PM onsite to take your place is a close second. They can act as your feet on the ground to help prevent and resolve issues immediately, keep your project on schedule, ensure attention and mindshare from the factory, and get you immediate feedback & clarification for any questions that arise.
A Better Way for Electronics Product Development
While COVID-19 may have disrupted the way we typically do electronics product development, it may end up revealing a better way for electronics product development in the future. One in which we don’t all need to be constantly traveling yet can have even more efficient communication and progress.
Let TechDesign be your solution to navigating this crisis. We can help you to find your ideal supplier, get fluid and rapid communication, and manage your project seamlessly from afar.
Consider TechDesign for your next project – especially if it needs to be done remotely.