Kickstarting with a Prototype
This article is part of my Manufacturing for a Kickstarter series.
Before approaching a manufacturer with your Kickstarter idea, it is best to have a prototype or reference product that you can show the manufacturer.
You may even already have specs, CADs, measurements and tolerances worked out too which is even better.
Most manufacturers like to see a reference product when evaluating whether they can duplicate it.
If your reference product is already exactly what you want, that means someone was already able to make it and chances are they can too. This makes manufacturers happy knowing all the kinks have been worked out.
The manufacturer can then derive every tiny detail (tacit and non-tacit) that they want to know from your reference product.
If your reference product is not representative of your desired product and your specs is really what you want followed, that means the manufacturer will need to put in some Research and Development to “fill in the blanks”.
You may think your spec is perfect and no guessing is needed, but you may be surprised how often it occurs that “the pieces fit together perfectly but there’s not enough space to insert a screwdriver to screw in the screws”.
If they don’t have a physical object to assure themselves that all the kinks have been worked out, they might add some padding to the manufacturing cost to cover the risks.
Of course, some things don’t make sense to have a prototype or it might be too costly to make one, so the manufacturer will have to rely on the spec alone.
Once a product is understood, the manufacturer will need to see your tolerances to determine if they can meet them.
For example, if you are cutting leather for a wallet, you can be off by 1 or 2 millimeters and it will still hold cards and money, so the manufacturer can opt to hand cut the leather. But if you are cutting leather for a watch strap, being off by 1 or 2 millimeters means it either won’t fit in the groove or will wobble around on the spring bars, so the manufacturer will need to use die cutters.
You may think it is always better to have tight tolerances, but you just end up paying a higher price for it or having delays in manufacturing, be it from long queues at the machines or too many rejected pieces being discarded.
This also applies to your specs.
You may be tempted to document every aspect of the product, but having too many specs means each stage of the manufacturing process will have to dedicate time to check through your whole spec which makes it easier to miss things through fatigue. Plus the Quality Controller will have to spend more time inspecting areas which might not be important, which might result in a higher price for you.
Don’t put too much into your spec or too little. If you can, obtain a boilerplate spec from someone familiar with the industry, so you don’t get caught off guard incase your manufacturer uses an inferior material that you didn’t know existed, because it can’t be sold in your local hardware stores.
Try to make your spec as visual as possible with sketches, photographs and call-outs to avoid boring the reader, because keep in mind your spec might also be read by workers with minimal education. Use ticks and crosses to indicate good points and bad points rather than relying on prose.
Your spec may even get translated into another language by people who are not technical in nature, so sketches help them understand better.
If you are still shopping around for different manufacturers, consider giving only a simplified spec and exclude certain details in order to protect your intellectual property.