To ensure a successful product launch, manufacturers need to optimize the talents of their employees to be sure critical needs are addressed. We continue the “Connector Basics” series with a look at the necessary skills for successful new connector development.
This article was contributed by APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants.
Successful new product development and releases to the market require that a company recognize and implement a structure to optimize the talents and skills of the staff and to create an effective organization to assure that the critical needs are addressed.
The new product process consists of four specific phases:
Each of these phases requires specific and unique talents and skills. Typically, organizations attempt to use the same individuals to drive the product through all four phases – it is rare that one person is competent in all aspects of the new product process. However, it is useful for the organization to assign a project manager to be accountable for each phase. This individual must recognize the skills needed to successfully complete the tasks and must assign the most effective personnel to each phase. The project manager, working in concert with the marketing team, develops the design objectives, multi-year sales forecast, and quantity price levels. The design objectives must be clearly defined and an assessment must be made of the sales force capabilities to fully understand and promote the new product. Different team “players” may be necessary during each development phase.
After the design objectives are identified and documented, the new ideas are created to satisfy the product performance parameters and design objectives. This is the phase where the innovation occurs. Many times the innovative ideas come from an individual with an abundance of abstract reasoning and spatial perception. These are talents that are innate in certain individuals. Abstract reasoning is the ability to envision things that have not been experienced in the past and the ability to analyze information to solve problems. Spatial perception means that the individual has the unique ability to form a pictorial image of the product being conceived in his/her mind. It is the ability to sense size, shape, movement, and orientation of objects. It is rarely learned and perhaps the more education a person has, the more constrained he is in his thinking, and the more boundaries that cannot be crossed.
It has been said that “dumb” engineers make the best innovators because they do not know that it cannot be done. Creativity is a one-person process. It works best when individuals work alone to create a number of concepts, then periodically meet with others to critique the concept ideas. One effective tool is “brainstorming.” It is a common occurrence that more than one viable concept is selected to take into the next phase for further development. Rapid prototyping models are typically evaluated at this time.
The leading individual in this phase should be an excellent communicator and a skilled engineer. This phase typically begins with a broad manufacturing plan, created by the new product team. The plan details, for at least a three-year planning timeframe, the types of manufacturing processes that will be implemented as well as at what capacity levels. This is also when the concept or concepts are converted to detailed and toleranced manufacturing drawings. Materials are selected, mechanical stresses and deflections are calculated, and all mechanical, chemical, electrical, and environmental aspects of the new product are considered and planned.
It is imperative that the involvement of all engineering disciplines, including design, product, manufacturing, materials management, and marketing personnel, communicate with each other during this activity. This phase requires extremely close interactive working relationships among all disciplines, and frequent coordination meetings, chaired by the project manager, are typically necessary. It requires trained engineers capable of making accurate analyses, selecting materials, determining manufacturing tooling designs, planning process flow, etc. Decisions are made regarding the use of outside vendors to produce the products or to manufacture in-house. If the determination is to produce in-house, manufacturing tooling drawings are also completed at this phase.
An individual with experience in all types of manufacturing and materials management disciplines is needed in this phase. By this time, the product design is well documented and the detailed drawings are completed both for the product and tooling. All manufacturing tooling should be completed and vendors established. Initial parts are manufactured from the production tooling and the finished product is tested, evaluated, and ultimately placed on the shelf for the initial release. Materials management, purchasing, and manufacturing personnel play a significant role in this phase. Lead times to product release are impacted by material and tooling availability. The delay in receipt of only one component could curtail the planned product release. Decisions are made regarding the amount of product required to support the sales plan and any initial promotional activity. Advertising brochures, catalogs, news releases, qualification test reports, etc., are also planned and prepared in this phase and readied for the product release.
An individual with strong marketing skills is necessary in this critical phase, which is often overlooked or not recognized for its importance to the successful new product launch. Direct sales or distribution personnel need to be fully armed with the appropriate samples, literature, test data, documentation, and training to effectively communicate the product features and advantages to the prospective customers. Any failures at this phase could dampen the enthusiasm of the salespeople and it is rare that there is a second chance to re-energize the sales department. All of the good work completed in the first three phases could go by the wayside with difficulties in this phase.
In summary, distinctive skills and abilities of individuals are required in each of the four new product phases. The project manager is responsible for recognizing the talents required, assessing the abilities of the potential players, and assigning those with the most appropriate skills to the team. Recognizing the importance of having the right players on the team at each phase increases the likelihood of a successful development and launch.
In subsequent articles, APEX will discuss, in more detail, each of the four development phases.
To read more of APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants‘ “Connector Basics” series, click on the articles below:
- Does Today’s Connector Industry Lack Experts?
- What Do Connectors Really Cost?
- How to Specify and Select a Connector
Bill Garver has 47 years experience in the connector industry, primarily in the management and direction of new product development and operational division management. He held the titles of division manager and director of development engineering at AMP. He developed new products throughout the full product life cycle, concept through introduction, for numerous industries, including consumer, commercial, computer, industrial, communications, and medical. Bill has vast experience with products for high-density, low-cost, insulation displacement, surface-mount, high-temperature, and environmentally sealed applications. Please contact him with questions or feedback on this article.