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Pitfalls of moving from prototype to production

So you’ve spent months researching, input countless hours on your design, been through many product revisions and now your fully functional prototypes are ready.

That great idea you have been beavering away on is now ready for the big wide world. You have factored everything in to get you to this stage, and are about to commercialise the product. The materials are on order and production is ready to move into full swing, most of the investment behind the project is spent, you have come in on budget and now it’s time to reap the benefits.

Everything seems fine until someone mentions the radio module on the new board, “do we need to worry about testing that”? ….Well if you haven’t, you should, this is an oversight that could potentially derail the project completely.

You’re now in the realms of product compliance and need to get the product tested and certified. But you haven’t allowed for this and it’s going to cost you time and money. At this stage these are not readily available, you’ll need to add weeks to the launch time and halt production, the testing will cost in the £10k’s. If you’re lucky it’ll pass first time, if not, well, let’s not go there.

Many projects and product launches have suffered due to a lack of understanding as to what is required or when it’s required. Retro testing is a failure in understanding, many have done this and it's like throwing money into a black hole.

EMC is a common theme for the failure of electronics products and is a prime reason for retro testing. It pays to invest in testing up front.

EMC compliance is mandatory in most markets and EMC testing is necessary to meet the requirements. That radio module has the ability to cause a disturbance within its own product, whilst creating emissions which can affect other products near to it. When designing, it’s important to recognise the need for EMC conformance, and also understand the differences between Emission, Susceptibility and Immunity.

Failing to ensure compliance and placing a product on the market will result in huge fines and product recalls.

Here is a piece about IoT products failing EMI testing, worth a look.

Common mistakes

Not recognising that changing a component can have an effect on performance is common. Even with a certified product, small changes to the board, such as sourcing a similar component due to supply issues can render the product out of tolerance. It’s wise to ensure that all product revisions still meet the standard, never just assume they do, be sure they do.

The golden rule when it comes to standards is to follow them, never try to interpret standards. This is a big mistake and saying, “I thought it meant this”, when a product is recalled isn’t going to make you feel better. There are no shortcuts when it comes to compliance, it’s either in or out.

If you are not aware of global compliance and region-specific variances, please ensure you research these. If your product is for a global market make sure it’s certified and meets international standards. Usually, these can be broken down as Asian, American and European, but be careful there are some regional variances which can catch you out.

There are many test houses that can make life easy for you. What may seem an expensive overhead during design, will ultimately become a cost saving if the product is ever called into question. For example having the correct UL certification on your product will ensure that it is compliant and fit for purpose.

Know your reference sources and check them against others. Rework is expensive, placing a non-compliant product on the market is bad enough, placing a faulty product in the market is disastrous.

Even if there are no safety implications, source checking is wise

A basic cable assembly tester, programmed with the wrong pinouts is one example to mention. During testing all units passed without a problem, so the product went into production. Before being placed on the market, the distributor took the precaution of in-house testing. They found that the pinout information was wrong, all products tested were faulty. The culprit was a mistyped reference source used during prototyping. A full production batch in the 1000’s now being recalled and reworked, can you imagine the effect on margin?

Next time we will look further into product development

Including:

IP’s and Patents

Intellectual property and patents, are you sure that your product is unique, how and where would you check. How can you safeguard your design against others, what is patent law?

Taking products to market

There are many options for getting products to market these days. There is the crowdfunding route where backers provide funds and take pay back once the product is launched.

Things to be aware of are hidden costs and overpromising on delivery.

Stay tuned.

Favourite things are Family, Music, Judo and Game of Thrones. Also I have the ability to retain and quote useless facts, something that pleases me but can annoy others. My engineering hero - Isambard Kingdom Brunel