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Let’s imagine that the next phone call you receive is from a customer who wants to order 10 times the number of robots you have in your current production capacity and needs them as soon as possible.
Is this good or bad news?
A new revenue stream is a win, but if you’re not prepared, the result is rushed production, increased risk of costly quality issues, product failure in the field, and loss of your customer’s confidence in your ability to deliver future orders.
To mitigate these risks, robotics OEMs, especially those in the early stages of growth, need to address five key areas of the product development lifecycle.
Priority #1: Technical design
Bridging the gap between producing a working prototype and mass production starts at the beginning, even before building a prototype to show potential investors and customers.
The engineering design process should not only take into account that the prototype works. He must also adhere to the “Design for Manufacturing” and “Design for Cost – Value Engineering” approaches which will identify any potential obstacles during the transition from design to manufacturing.
First, determine your place on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) timeline, a method designed by NASA to estimate the maturity of technologies during the acquisition phase of a program. Using TRL allows for consistent and uniform discussions of technical maturity across different types of technology to track where a new product sits on the spectrum between ideas, mass production, and shipping.
As a new product moves from the early stages of TRL research and demonstration to building prototypes, you can turn to local resources for subassemblies, prototypes, and custom build products. But as you get closer to mass production, around TRL 5 or 6, partnering with a manufacturing company that has the expertise and global footprint to support larger scale production is a advantage.
Priority #2: Component Sourcing
Supply chain constraints and material shortages can significantly delay delivery of products to customers by months. Robotic systems are made up of a wide variety of highly complex components such as battery management systems, precision mechanisms, optical systems, power management systems, custom power, and computing hardware. Securing the right components at the right time has never been more difficult or expensive, especially when trying to scale manufacturing.
That’s why robotics OEMs and their manufacturing and supply chain partners need to assess supply chain risks and take steps to mitigate future shipment delays and parts shortages. Don’t wait for a customer to place a new order.
Priority #3: Regionalization
As you consider cost, quality, compliance, obsolescence, and mass production when selecting parts, identifying sources in the region is essential to reduce the likelihood of delays. shipping that last for weeks or months. It is impossible to overstate how regionalization has become a critical factor in creating a balanced and resilient supply chain and manufacturing network.
Securing the parts you’ll need to go from building prototypes to full commercialization is just the beginning. Managing staffing equipment, quality processes, testing and validations, and regulatory documentation requirements can become overwhelming and lead to costly delays and quality control issues. Because change is inevitable, so are the tasks of updating BOMs, managing revision controls, finding alternative suppliers, and feedback on cost/schedule impact . Partnering with qualified and knowledgeable manufacturing partners in these areas takes these burdens off the shoulders of the OEM.
Priority #4: Testing and validation process
Performing comprehensive component and system lifecycle testing services will instill the confidence and reliability you need to enable full-scale production. Automated testing processes built into manufacturing promote efficiency and quality results. It is an essential part of the product development life cycle that cannot be sidelined to speed up the manufacturing process.
Priority No. 5: After-sales service and support
Finally, maintaining a customer’s trust (and securing future orders) requires OEMs to also provide support services throughout the product life cycle, which includes performing installations, on-site configurations and repairs, as well as carrying out advanced tests and delivering spare parts. Engaging an experienced partner who already understands the product to provide these services helps the OEM reduce the load on their resources while maintaining their brand value.
When a robotics OEM is ready to increase production volumes, adopt a “design for manufacturing” mindset that addresses engineering design, component sourcing, manufacturing processes, testing and validation, as well as after-sales service and support will reduce risk, reduce costs and ensure the long-term manufacturability and durability of a new product. Engaging early on with an experienced global manufacturing services provider will add value throughout the product development lifecycle to help optimize the design process and ease the transition to full manufacturing and commercialization.
About the Author
Matthew Wicks is director of robotics at Celestica, where he is responsible for the company’s robotics portfolio spanning multiple segments including semiconductor, warehousing, medical and industrial.
Wicks previously served as Chairman of the Board of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), where he provided industry insight to guide A3.