Are You Developing a Technology or Product? (Part 2)


Ken Haven

November 1, 2016

In the last blog, we discussed the differences between a product and technology, and why that’s important in the context of product development. To have a product that is manufacturable, it’s vital to understand and determine a number of key factors.

We used an analogy of cooking a meal; if you know what the meal will consist of (the end goal or product and its specifications/requirements), have all the ingredients (the various parts or subsystems that make up the product, mostly off the shelf), the recipe (a manufacturing process that can manufacture your product according to your requirements/specifications), then you’re well on your way to having something that will be a product. You can then develop a plan that includes a timeline and fairly accurate costs for what it will take to design this product to be manufacturable, and the associated cost.

Today’s blog includes a checklist which you can use to determine if your work is closer to a technology or a product. Note that this is not an exact science, nor is it meant to be a definitive analysis to determine where you are on the curve. It will also provide you with some insight into the types of questions a product development firm such as Acorn will (should) ask during initial project scoping discussions. As such, there are no right or wrong answers, but having this information available during the scoping discussions will help eliminate down-the-road issues and potentially save you considerable time and money.

Also note that the checklist below is looking at this purely from a manufacturability perspective – there are many other questions around marketing, sales/channels strategy, support, and (most important) understanding customer needs/requirements, etc. that also need to be considered in order to be successful with your product. If you haven’t already, developing a marketing or product requirements document will help you answer many of these questions.

You’ll notice there are several main areas of focus (others are included in the checklist but not mentioned here):

Product vs Technology Checklist

□Can your product be operated effectively and efficiently by the target customer? Ensuring your product can be used given the skills, environment, etc. by your typical user

□Are the product operational steps and technology process limits well understood? Knowing how to operate your product as well as how well it works over the range of environment conditions it will be subjected to

□Is the technology driving the product consistent and repeatable? Understanding the variability and stability of the underlying technologies of the product

□Can the technology/product work over the operating environmental range? Understanding what your customer’s operational range requirements are so that you can design for that or determine that it is an issue

□Is the technology/product consistent with current and upcoming regulatory requirements? Things such as EMI, other types of emissions, potential OSHA safety requirements, UL, etc.

□Can the product be operated in the target environment without negatively interfering with other elements in the environment? Beyond potential regulatory compliance, making sure to understand other potential impacts of the product.

□Can the product be operated safely? What is required for safe operation?

□Can the product be manufactured at acceptable cost? Understanding your target manufacturing cost is critical to business success

□Can the product be built via commercial manufacturing processes within standard production variances? Will new/custom processes or overly tight manufacturing controls be required?

□Will the materials/components be available over product life cycle, or is there a clear path to migration to newer components? An analysis of the critical components for potential end of life issues, along with general availability of components. Planning for potential substitutions

□Does a supply and distribution chain exist to market the products? You could manufacture a product but how are you going to get it into your customer’s hands?

□Does a clear and stable product definition exist?Engineers design to a set of requirements and specifications.

□Does the product infringe on existing IP? Potential IP infringement with no clear path to work arounds is a virtual show stopper

It’s fine if the answers to some of these questions are “it depends”, or TBD – just understand they will likely need to be addressed in order to have a manufacturable product.

Having a good grasp on the questions above will help you both internally and when discussing with potential engineering and manufacturing partners.

About the author

Ken Haven has been CEO of Acorn Product Development since the company’s founding in 1993. Ken has more than 25 years of product development experience including technical leadership roles with NeXT Computer, Attain, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard. He holds MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.