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The ClimateTech Hardware Production Stage
The production stage of the hardware product development cycle is an exciting one: you are finally manufacturing your product at scale so that it can be enjoyed by your customers. For climatetech innovators, the reward is amplified by the positive impact that your product will make on the planet.
In order to begin producing your climatetech hardware at scale, you must complete the following prototype levels first, as outlined in the Prototype Stage article:
- Pre-Alpha / MVP / Proof-of-Concept Prototype (used for testing your product concept)
- Alpha Prototype (used for internal tests)
- Beta Prototype (used for customer tests)
- Pilot Prototype (used for testing manufacturing processes)
Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) Assessment
The US Department of Defense (DOD) has developed a rigorous and comprehensive assessment of Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) in 22 different areas (sub-threads) of product and business development. The DOD’s MRL framework is so valuable that Scale For ClimateTech has adopted it as a guide to help our hardware companies advance their manufacturing readiness. Our program can guide you through the DOD’s MRL assessment process step-by-step, or you may complete an MRL assessment on your own. It will give you a complete picture of the work needed to be done before your product can be truly manufacturing-ready. For more information on the MRL process and to complete an MRL self-assessment, visit dodmrl.com.
Our 10-minute Product Stage Assessment can also approximate your MRL, and it works well as a stepping stone to the full DOD MRL assessment. If your product requires electronics manufacturing, we also recommend completing our separate Electronics Manufacturing Readiness Assessment.
Working with Suppliers
Suppliers (aka. vendors) are entities that provide finished products, parts, or materials. Manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers are all suppliers. For more information on finding the right suppliers for your product, we recommend reading this article from Shopify.
Establishing a robust supply chain is one of the most important things that you can do to increase your chances of success as a hardware company. Some general guidelines for lowering your supply chain risks include:
- Source your materials from more than one supplier (aka. multisourcing) to decrease your dependence on any single link in your supply chain
- Identify your critical supply chain partners, including any suppliers of single-sourced materials
- Consider anything and everything that could go wrong in your supply chain (eg. material shortages, inclement weather, economic downturns, etc.), prioritize the risks based on likelihood, and document a plan for each risk scenario
- Maintain an extra stock of key supplies to provide a buffer in case of a shortage, etc.
- Communicate regularly with your supply chain partners to reduce unexpected risks
- Vet potential supply chain partners ahead of time by consulting with references
Visit our resources page for checklists to help you prepare for supplier meetings and templates for a full Supply Chain Risk Assessment and Supplier Basic Performance Audit.
Our partners at Partsimony can also help you with supply chain management. (Tell them we sent you!)
Working with Manufacturers
As an early-stage company, you need to prepare yourself for the fact that some manufacturers will not be willing to work with companies of your size and stage. Some manufacturers work with large order quantities and Fortune 500 companies exclusively, whereas others recognize the potential value in working with startup companies. Scale For ClimateTech can make introductions to such founder-friendly manufacturers for you. It’s important to find manufacturing partners who are appropriate for your company’s stage.
Regardless of the manufacturer you approach, there is preparation that you can do in advance to increase your chances of working with that manufacturer and signing a deal. At a minimum, you should have the following prepared in advance of your meeting with the manufacturer:
Bill of Materials (BOM)
- A list of components for your product
Bill of Process (BOP)
- A sequential process for producing your product
Engineering & Assembly Drawings
- With tolerances & fit
For more information on these topics, read our guide on Engineering & Assembly Drawings, Bill of Process (BOP) & Bill of Materials (BOM).
We also have guides on Preparing for Manufacturer Pricing Discussions and Maximizing Manufacturing Tours, as well as a calculator for Rating Contract Manufacturers.
Scaling up your production will also require you to scale up your workforce. To help you with this, we have created an Employee Handbook template for you to edit and distribute to new team members.
In order to begin low-rate production, you must first verify your manufacturing processes on a pilot line. (For more information on pilot lines, see our Prototype Stage article.) Your product’s design should also be “frozen” at this point (ie. you have committed to the design and plan to change it as little as possible). Remember – any product design changes that take place from this point forward will be expensive!
At this point, your manufacturing processes and tooling should also be qualified (ie. confirmed to operate up to standard during sustained manufacturing). Once you have successfully demonstrated and stabilized your manufacturing processes in low-rate production, you may advance to full-rate production.
By the time you reach full-rate production, your manufacturing processes should be stable and your low-rate production goals should have been achieved (eg. quality, cost, schedule, and performance goals).
Lean & Six Sigma Processes
Full-rate production is also the stage when you should begin to put Lean & Six Sigma Processes into place, if you haven’t already. For more on this topic, consult our guide on Lean Principles & Implementation and our Lean Kaizen Project Management template.
In the Idea Stage article, we covered the basics for ensuring that your climatetech hardware product idea will be viable in the marketplace. We then discussed the process of turning that idea into a functional product that your customers will love in the Prototype Stage article. Lastly, in this article we introduced the fundamental concepts involved in scaling your production from a handful of units to full production runs.
The key to achieving mass production of your product is that you (very likely) cannot do it on your own. Establishing a robust supply chain and long-term relationships with partners who are well-suited for the stage and size of your business will increase your chances of success.
If you’re a climatetech entrepreneur who would like to be introduced to the New York State hardware manufacturing ecosystem, Scale For ClimateTech would love to help you. Our free program can help connect you with contract manufacturers that are experienced in working with early-stage companies. If you’d like to stay in the loop about our future offerings and be the first to know when our annual application period opens, please subscribe to our newsletter.
Best of luck on your manufacturing journey!
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