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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you do not see the answer to your question(s). Get in contact with us and we will be happy to provide some advice.

Working with SGW Designworks

What size companies does SGW Designworks work with?

We work with startup businesses, fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. There are differences in how we approach projects with large companies compared to how we approach projects with startups. But we have a proven track record of success with companies of all sizes.

Can SGW Designworks collaborate with my internal R&D resources?

Successful projects require that the client is a subject matter expert in their field. Collaborating with internal engineering and R&D resources within client companies helps ensure that our work is focused in the right direction, and that we leverage internal knowledge of the client organization to speed up development. We love to collaborate.

Can SGW Designworks work within corporate engineering standards?

Yes. Many of the large corporations that choose to work with us have tight standards around design, review processes, and predictive analysis methodologies. We  are generally able to work within these guidelines.

I have an engineering department - why should I hire an outside development firm?

Your engineers are probably really good at what they do. Let them do the sustaining engineering work that your business depends on. By hiring an outside firm to tackle development, your critical internal resources will not become over-burdened, but can still offer their insights to further the development process. Development requires a different approach than sustaining engineering. When you need development help, consider using a team that specializes in development.

Product Design

What’s the next step after a successfully funded Arduino prototype? How does one proceed to arrange its manufacturing?

It can be surprising how much work is required to get the mechanical elements of a product (e.g. housings, mechanisms, anything that is not the PCB / PCA) right. We have worked with some brilliant entrepreneurs that have developed amazing functionality on boards, but have been caught off guard by the development effort involved in the complete product design – and getting that design refined enough for manufacturing. Get an early start on the mechanical / product design, plan for multiple prototype iterations, and get the right designers/engineers involved.

There will be really important design decisions/tradeoffs around projected volume, materials, tooling investment, and functionality specific to the mechanical elements of your product that a good design team should be able to help you think through.

How might I take a product from concept to production?

The steps you take in developing your product (leading to a launch) depend on your budget constraints, timing constraints, and appetite for risk. At the high-risk end of the spectrum, you might engage a product design company to provide full-blown design, material specification, manufacturing planning, etc, with maybe one or two prototype iterations along the way, and then commit to purchase production tooling. At the other end of the spectrum would be a staged, iterative approach to product design that includes a lot of prototyping for validation of feature sets/functionality before investing in the tooling required to actually produce the product.

How do I go about designing and manufacturing a household product?

There are a number of firms around that specialize in helping people design and manufacture household products. The process, at a very high level, looks like this:

  1. Preliminary design: define what the product needs to do, critical features, start to define the look and feel you want. Develop 3D virtual models capturing the preliminary design.
  2. Produce prototypes of the preliminary design, for validation/testing of the design.
  3. Apply design changes, as needed based on step 2 findings.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 as needed.
  5. Finalize the design, and optimize for cost/manufacturing processes at your projected volumes
  6. Work with the manufacturer to tool up, initiate production, approve initial production units, etc.

What are the similarities and differences between a model and a prototype?

We’re going to assume that you are referring to ‘models’ of a physical thing, and ‘prototype’ of that same thing. In our world, we use the term ‘model’ to refer to 3D virtual models. We happen to use Solidworks to generate our models, though there are other great software platforms as well. We iterate the design in virtual space (the model) in collaboration with the client company.

We then use that model to create physical prototypes, to validate (or invalidate) assumptions that went into the model, and assumptions about how the user will interact with the product. Findings from the prototype then lead to modifications of the model, a new round of prototyping, etc. Simple products may take only one or two ‘cycles’, while others take dozens.

How can I design my prototype so that it will be easily accepted by a manufacturer?

When we approach the end of the design phase (after prototyping, design iteration, and functional optimization), we identify potential manufacturers for short term and long term production. We engage them, and share the design with them, asking for feedback. Each manufacturer uses different processes/equipment. So each manufacturer may want to see different design tweaks to hit target costs/production rates.

How should I go about getting a small , tough case for a small electronic device designed, prototyped and ultimately manufactured?

We would start with making sure an existing box does not exist that works well for your application. If you can’t find one, engage a development firm to quickly develop a custom unit for you. Our firm does a fair amount of enclosure development like you are talking about.

If your volumes are low enough that some conventional production methods may not be economically viable for the first run. We see a lot of clients start with a non-conventional production method (e.g. urethane molds or 3D printed parts), and transition to injection molding later, as volumes increase.

How much does it cost to a company like Jawbone to manufacture an UP wristband?

We would guess about $10 USD. We are basing this on a few things: The retail price, some assumptions around the “guts” of the unit, and the manufacturing processes they are likely using to produce the product. While that may seem super low compared to the retail price, keep in mind that the retail price must also cover:

  • Tooling investment by the manufacturer (maybe into $100k range)
  • R&D costs to develop the product
  • Channel margin (profit for distributors and retailers)
  • Raw materials and components
  • Production and assembly, packaging (plus any packaging tooling)
  • Marketing and sales teams plus corporate overhead

And the leftover is profit for Jawbone! we have based this answer on a lot of assumptions. But from our experience, this would be a pretty typical way a company looks at costs and pricing for a product like this.

What are the high level steps to bring a manufactured consumer good to market?

At the highest possible level, here are the steps we go through with clients (before you do this, you should build out a financial model to see if this thing could be profitable or not – you will have to make a lot of assumptions at this point, but you can hone it as you go through the process:

  • Initial Conceptual Design
  • Modeling, engineering of mechanical and design of internals (electronics)
  • Identify any regulatory or certification requirements, and start to tackle them (UL, CE, others)
  • Refine design and produce functional prototypes
  • Use photos to test potential market acceptance and price point
  • Short-run manufacturing (high cost, but a lower risk). This allows you to get initial sales and validate your financial model
  • Design and source tooling for plastic parts, other custom components
  • Get supply chain in place
  • Produce and Launch productThis is over-simplified, and it assumes you already have a channel-to-market for your product (if you don’t this needs to be a major focus). Before you dive into this, you should make sure you are confident that your product solves a problem or meets a need. You will spend a lot of time and money in development, tooling, and production before you see any revenue, so make sure you believe in the idea! If you are serious about it, get in touch with us and we can give you more detail about the process.

 

Manufacturing

What kinds of questions does one ask when approaching manufacturers?

You will likely be investing in up-front tooling cost with your manufacturer. You should make sure to find out whether you will own that tooling, or not. If you find you need to switch manufacturers, it is nice to be able to port that tooling to another shop (if you are lucky enough to have the tooling compatible with the new shop’s equipment).

It is also important to talk about tool maintenance and product quality. Using injection molding as an example: over time, the tooling (molds) you buy is going to wear. This can result in one of a few things: The need for more manual finishing of the product, reject parts, sub-par parts getting to market. Ask the manufacturer how long the tooling will last based on your projected volumes, and who pays for a new or repaired tool. Also ask what their plan is to keep up with tool maintenance, and how they ensure that parts going out the door meet YOUR quality standards.

You do have quality specifications, right? If not, make sure and put one together. It should define what a “good” and “bad part/assembly/products are, and how to tell.

What are some approximate costs for prototyping and manufacturing a small sensor gadget?

As an example, 10,000 pieces of a temperature or humidity sensor in a plastic case the size of an egg (approx) which had these basic abilities – Bluetooth (for initial programming from smartphone), wireless (for communication with the home or office network) as well as a very rudimentary sensor (a microphone in this case). It would only need a relatively tiny amount of memory and processing power other than what’s needed for the Bluetooth and wireless. In addition to the small about of internal logic, it would need a small application for settings and the wireless would simply push out a small amount of numerical data like a temp sensor, etc.

Assuming outsourcing of all parts – any estimates on the total R&D and then on the per piece once it’s developed.

The per-unit price could get really low if volumes could be driven up. Development costs could come down if you could identify some combination of existing subsystems (likely at the expense of some features) rather than starting from scratch. I suppose if I had to guess, I would say $60k-$300k in development, $30k-$90k in prototypes and tooling, $3-$20 per unit if you can get your volumes closer to 100k units.

Where can I get a custom one-off plastic part manufactured?

First, we need some background information:

I need to replace a part of a somewhat old television that is no longer manufactured, and I cannot find a source for a replacement part. I have the old part (partially damaged). Is there any easy way to get a replacement made at a reasonable cost?

A: When we are producing a prototype of a part or product we designed for a client, we do one of the following for plastic parts:

  1. Use 3D printers (SLA, SLS, etc)
  2. Use CNC machines: yes, they work great with many types of plastics, in addition to metals
  3. Use silicone molds

Of course, the step prior to making the part is designing the part – or in your case, reverse engineering the part. The design file resulting from this is then used in the process of printing, machining, etc.

Which industrial designers will enter into a revenue sharing agreement for a new product idea?

We are asked about this very frequently by new clients that are just getting a business off the ground and need help with their product design. We tell the clients that while we are always open to discussing these arrangements, it is VERY rare that we end up going down that path. If you are serious about getting the design consultants into this arrangement with you, I would make sure that you approach them as though they are a prospective investor (which they basically are). That means you should have a really compelling market case and business plan. In addition, make sure that you can demonstrate to them that you do indeed have the ability to get the product launched, marketed, maintained, and serviced.

Once I have a CAD drawing of a prototype, what factors should be considered when having it fabricated, CNCed, and how do I intelligently phrase asking a fabricator for a quote?

The first step is to work with a shop that is truly set up for, and willing to do one-offs/prototypes. It is a different type of shop than a full production shop. We have a handful of local shops that provide prototype CNC work for us, but we also have had great luck with Proto Labs.

As long as your design files are complete, their online interface is pretty straightforward for getting prices, and for ordering units. If you find that you need to have the designs tweaked, finalized, etc, you can always hire a good firm to do that for you (hint-hint).

Which Is More Cost Effective: CNC Machining or Molding for 1000 Count of Large Caliber and High Capacity Firearm Magazine Frame?

A note on complexity:

– Interior includes fine detail that effects functionality
– Exterior includes fine cosmetic and structural detail

Material selection examples:

CNC — Stainless Steel Molding — Nylon

A: At 1000 units, you will likely struggle to justify the tooling cost for conventional injection molding. You may be able to come up with an approach that uses a custom extrusion (extrusion dies are fairly cheap) with secondary machining and some welding. Hopefully, you do not need to compete with the uber-high-volume manufacturers in terms of price…

Another option for you may be silicone tooling (or other “soft” tooling). Your piece price will be high but your tooling cost will be very low.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of working with product development firms vs manufacturers in terms of production costs, supply chain management, IP protection, any other relevant topics.

There is really one big difference (with many implications) between developing a product with a manufacturer versus with a product development firm: that is, who owns the IP / design. Typically, when you work with a firm, you will own the IP (unless the firm does the work for part ownership of the idea – make sure that is covered in the contract). When you work with an existing manufacturer in development, the manufacturer is likely to want ownership of the concept. You may find that the manufacturer is willing to foot the bill for development – which may reduce the risk a bit for you. But you will also likely find that your potential income from the product when it is commercialized is reduced because you likely will have given up a large portion of the rights to the product.

One smart way to approach this is to develop the product with a firm, get the product launched – even if it is in smaller numbers, and prove the market. Once you do this, you will have a much more compelling story to take to the bigger manufacturers: they will take your product more seriously, and may be willing to offer you a higher price for access to the product (access can mean licensing, buying you out entirely, etc). The big manufacturer does likely have lower supply chain costs than you would, and they likely have access to your target market. So your profit margins on initial sales will not be as high as what the big guy should be able to realize.

Start-Ups

I need a Prototype: How much will that cost me?

This is the first question that many new clients come to us with. It is certainly a valid question: the person asking is trying to understand what they should expect for development costs prior to a hand-off to manufacturing.

As we step into the conversation with the client, we ask a lot of questions about how the prototype in question will be used. We believe that every prototype exists to answer questions.

Very early prototypes may be used to validate use-case or address some high-risk functional items. Late stage prototypes may be used as sales presentation tools at trade shows, kick-starter videos, or for more in-depth user feedback.

The image above shows a mid-phase prototype that was used to validate and iterate electronics functionality. While critical to development, it does not yet represent a production-ready design.

It is common for the client to be referring to a manufacturing-ready design, with a representative prototype when they ask the question. This is something we can provide – but it often takes multiple phases of development and prior partial prototypes to get there.

How can I move from a homemade prototype to a professional design?

This is one of the things that professional product development, or product design/engineering companies can help you with. It will be worthwhile to make sure that you have validated (as much as possible at this point) the business case related to your product. We have found that many startups underestimate two things: The cost of production tooling, and the cost of a (good) market launch.

Once you feel good about the business case, approach a product design firm. A good firm will be able to take your concept, and develop it into a high quality, manufacture-able product design, and guide you through important cost/function decisions.

Depending on where you are in the development cycle, various levels of the prototype may be required as you work towards a finished design. It may be worth reading “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. I think he does a good job describing how to use various forms of prototypes.

Is it a good idea to use a company like InventHelp to design a prototype of a product on paper, develop and market it?

One thing we always recommend to first-time entrepreneurs is to start by making a bunch of prototypes yourself. These can be very rough, made from cardboard and tape (or whatever household items are suitable for the concept), and should be viewed as learning tools.

At SGW Designworks, we are in business to design, develop, prototype, and prepare products for manufacturing. When a new client comes to us, everything that they have learned on their own by prototyping is something that they do not have to pay for.

We love it when the client dumps a bag of ugly, home-made prototypes on the table in our first meeting. Often, each of these prototypes has a problem or failed for some reason. But that is the point. Systematically eliminate questions and risk, until you really need professional design, engineering, and fabrication skills to get you all the way. Even if you do still choose to go to an InventHelp type provider, you will be better prepared for the engagement.

How do lean startups avoid iterating their way into a small niche and missing big opportunities?

We deal with this a lot. Clients starting businesses to produce or market hard goods. In non-lean speak, the key is to have a crisp set of key functionalities that are ante for meeting the needs of the target customer. Even more important is that both the leadership team and development teams have bought into this “product spec” (or service spec). This helps drive discipline in functionality/cost trade-off decisions and prevents scope creep.

How do I create a demo video with a not yet working prototype?

Is this for a physical product or a software product? One thing that has been useful to some startups we work with is to create what we call ‘virtual prototypes’ of physical products. These are 3D models in Solidworks that we then use to build animations. Clients use these for communication top potential investors.

The cost is far less than physical prototypes because it is often possible to fake the design a little. In other words, it is possible to make an animation work for something that is not yet engineered to the extent it would need to be for functional physical prototypes.

As first time entrepreneurs, what part of the process are people often completely blind to?

Our clients that are traditional entrepreneurs have a lot of really incredible ideas, but they need help turning those ideas into real products – we do that for them (product design, engineering, prototype production, iteration, manufacturing planning). A certain percentage of these clients never intend to build a business around their idea: they plan to “develop” it, patent it, and then sell the patent, or license the design. The big problem here is that it is impossible to prove the value of a product without actually achieving sales first. Proof of market demand for the product reduces the risk for the licensee and therefore increases the value of the design / IP. We recently saw an individual try to sell his design and patent to a large company that was already servicing the target market. He was expecting offers in the $5 Million range. The offer he got was around $30k. He had more than that in the development and patent alone.

We always try to encourage our clients to strongly consider starting to build the business that would support their product idea. Even if they only plan to operate for a couple of years before selling the idea, the idea itself will have far more value if you can bundle it with knowledge of the support services required, real data on costs, recommended next-gen iterations of the product, and of course, sales history. In a nutshell, product ideas alone do not have a whole lot of value. Those ideas must be developed into things and systems that generate cash to be valuable to another company.

Should I continue to launch my product?

But Frist, some background

Another company has launched a product with a single similar feature that my product was based on. I have a better idea than what they have released and can execute it better, but the competitor has an advantage over the early entry to the market and larger funds. Should I continue to launch or give up?

A: One way to look at the situation is this: Rather than you taking on all of the market risks with your product, your competitor is going to bear some of that burden for you. Keep a close eye on how she launches the product, what works, what does not, and how the market reacts to the features in common with your product. You basically have an opportunity to learn a lot on your competitor’s dime. It is not uncommon for the second (or third) product that addresses a given need to be more successful than the first.

That being said, be objective. if you find that the competitor is truly providing the right solution at the right price, think about a pivot, or even an alliance.

My startup needs help to manufacture a product in order to meet current demand, how do I go about sourcing manufacturing (domestic and abroad)?

Do you have a complete design package for the product(s)? If not, either creating that or sourcing it is step #1. That design package is what the manufacturer will use to quote and produce the product. If you have your own internal engineering/design resources, they can likely produce the design package.