You got funding and were tasked with getting your company’s medical product designed and to market. You’re excited, this is a big opportunity for you. You head up the effort of shopping around, looking at both independent design houses and contract manufacturers with design capabilities. You think to yourself “wouldn’t a one-stop shop be a better, lower risk option?” After getting some quotes and comparing costs you find that the CM/design houses are a cheaper solution, so you pat yourself on the back and make the decision.
6 months down the road your design is not going the way you envisioned. You (and the rest of your company) wanted a cutting-edge, game-changing product. Instead, your chosen CM has steered the design in a direction that is compromising your original intent. At this point, you're invested though, and there aren't funds to pack up and go somewhere else. Instead of the pat on the back and promotion that you'd been hoping for, your boss walks into your office and says "tell me again why we chose these guys?"
Now let’s look at another scenario. You select a purely design-focused team that has a lot of experience with designs similar to your target product. They have a great track record of on-time delivery, robust documentation, and solving difficult technical challenges. Early in the project, they develop a unique architecture for your product, one that meets all your requirements and utilizes some exciting new technologies that your senior technical staff didn’t even know existed. Not only that, but they help identify several CM partners that have the capability to manufacture this cutting-edge product. Your product is going to hit the market on schedule, and your marketing team couldn't be more excited about the feedback they’ve been getting from clients based on the incredible renderings and prototypes the design team has been feeding along the way. Everyone at the company is pumped, including your boss, and you look like a rock star for leading the team. Life is good.
To quote Ben Franklin - “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” This struck me as very appropriate to the conversation of design partner selection. Too often it seems that selection is based solely on price and the perception that a one-stop-shop will make things easier. In reality, the design team at a combined shop like this is not the “outside the box thinking” type that will get you groundbreaking solutions that differentiate your product. Often product development gets stalled, and your company is forced to back out and find a new design partner. After spending all that time to identify this first partner, and all the money you’ve spent getting down this dead-end design path, starting over can be extremely frustrating and potentially a killer for your product or company.
Even if your product doesn’t fail in the design process, you are limiting the design before you even get started. If your product is a commodity item (a flashier, cheaper pair of headphones for example) there may be little risk in a design/CM house. However, if your product requires creative problem solving and invention then why would you limit your options to one manufacturer’s capabilities?
Designing for manufacturing is not magic. Yes, it takes thought to make a product easy to manufacture and assemble. However, the end user is not doing either of those 2 things, and the end user is who you are trying to impress. Thoughtful designs that increase a user’s quality of life are the products that stick out in people’s minds. It is rare that those products are the least expensive option on the market - people are willing to pay a premium for products that are state-of-the-art and elegant. Design companies that push the boundaries of manufacturing and technology are the ones that create these innovative products. Companies that stand to gain the most from manufacturing of the product will likely not be pushing those boundaries. So, the question is – what type of product are you trying to create?