No matter what stage of business you’re at, if one of your designs has turned from circuit board ideation to fully manufactured product then you’ve already accomplished a great deal. But, the hardware arena that you reside in will always have opportunities for product development, expansion, and growth.
There are a handful of considerations that should be taken into account before you get too giddy. Product designs, to be specialized, have to take into account several factors: user intents, market specialties, niche adaptations, component variability, and flexibility of the design. So how do you get started with making your product into a flexible and adaptive design?
Market Information and the Niche Product Specialty
In many successful situations, the products that thrive are finding and dominating in a niche. Whether it’s IoT home security systems, analog audio amplifiers, or anywhere in between, you don’t often find companies that offer products outside their specialty.
Why is this? Simply due to the fact that as you begin your journey down a niche, your customers begin to know you as the specialist in said niche. If you begin to branch too far outside of your ‘specialization,’ many folks won’t immediately trust that you are also the specialist in another area.
Before you know it, you could be known as a jack of all trades and a master of none. This would certainly affect sales in your initial niche. On the other hand, if you stay too focused and specialized, you may be losing out on other submarkets and low hanging sales.
So it goes with most critical items, there is a balance that must be reached.
Ensure your (niche) market can support another product variation.
The length and stability of your existing market should be another critical consideration taken into account. Ensuring that your existing market is stable and secure should be your first indication of the viability of product expansion.
Is there market enough outside of my current niche to support another line or will the products compete with each other in an already small niche? If you produce wifi enabled dog collars for chihuahuas under one pound, you may be limiting yourself in a market that could surely support diversification.
Manufacturing Demands and Product Design Flexibility
Diversifying your current hardware line will, in most cases, add a heaping extra amount of workload on your business. Each variable product will essentially need to be treated as a new product altogether. You will, of course, have additional R&D, manufacturing, sales and marketing, etc.
If you are just a one man or one woman operation, you may want to consider alternative means of managing things as any amount of product variability would weight very heavy on the shoulders. On the other hand, if you have a staff, you might be better suited to delegate tasks to them so you can still focus on what your business needs rather than getting bogged down by technical tasks.
If you are looking to start diversifying your product line, you’ll have to ensure a few things:
- Is your design capable of diversifying?
- This seems like a redundant question, but time-and-time again I have seen “great product ideas,” fail to check the first requirement, which is checking necessary component demands on circuit board layouts. Come to prototype production and there are now a suite of boards that all fail due to a very simple, very fundamental design flaw such as components being too large for the specified enclosure.
- What are the costs of diversification?
- Obviously, just like with any circuit board, you’ll want to consider the full economics of the product: how large-scale will the manufacturing be and does your adaptation require additional costs? How large of an audience do you imagine the product having and will it outweigh additional costs?
- Does your manufacturer have the necessary equipment to adapt your design?
- While you are doing your initial manufacturing audits and reviews for your design, you might not be checking your manufacturer for the necessary equipment required for design adaptations. Is your communication with your manufacturer strong enough to ensure your design can be produced up-to-standards?
- Will customers buy the thing?
- Slightly going back to the second point, you’ll of course need to be wise about the validation of your new offerings. As you likely completed during your initial startup phase, you’d be far better off in doing a bit of market research and revalidating whether or not your new offerings create a solution worth purchasing.
Making even small changes to a device can severely impact manufacturing. Ensure your manufacturing team can seamlessly support the change before diving too deep.
Can Manufacturing Support the Work?
A final consideration that we’ll toss into an otherwise market focused article is how your manufacturing process will affect your decisions. You will need to ensure that your new offers (i.e. new designs) can be incorporated into the manufacturing process.
If you are like many scrappy startups and are outsourcing manufacturing, there may arise a case in which even a small product change will severely impact manufacturing requirements. This could ultimately result in you having to locate an entirely new manufacturer for an otherwise small product variation. This may simply be due to their capacities not being able to support a design change. Will it be worth it at this point?
This can be summed up by reiterating what you have likely heard many times before; hold your design to ‘design for manufacturing’ standards. This will at least alleviate a few headaches.
Before you become trigger happy with product diversification, be sure to pump the brakes a bit and consider a few market-based facets. Keeping your niche near at the center of your variations will keep you from ‘diluting’ your specialty in your niche, understand your niches capacity, and if it can even support another line, and ensure you and your manufacturing teams can support the additional workload required.
Following these rough tips will keep you from diving into a poor investment far too early. From a design standpoint, you can ensure all the product requirements are being met when you are using Altium Designer as you will gain the tools needed in order to grow and scale any operation. If you want to know more about how Altium can assist you in your product design, talk to an Altium expert today.
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