New product introduction (NPI) is more than just a plan to design and create new products. It’s a process that improves and streamlines product introduction by creating clear milestones, involving key stakeholders and team members as early as possible, and developing a collaborative environment in which product development moves in coordinated steps.
Why NPI Should Be Your First Step in Development
The NPI process is all-encompassing – design, development, manufacturing, compliance, and more fall under the NPI umbrella. By bringing key stakeholders and team members into the fold at the earliest stages of product introduction, you eliminate information silos, gaining key insights that may have otherwise been gleaned too late in the development process.
The holistic approach of the NPI process leads to a deeper understanding of:
- The needs and desires of your customers
- The competitive landscape the product will be introduced in
- The costs associated with manufacturing the product
- The various ways in which the product can be developed
- The ways in which manufacturing can be refined
- The regulatory and other compliance needs the product needs to meet
- And more
By introducing the NPI process as early as possible, you’ll lower costs, all while ensuring you get the best possible product to market. The process also makes it easier to foresee obstacles and eliminate them before they become an issue.
Steps of NPI – and How Contract Manufacturing Can Contribute to Your Success
NPI is split into many different broad steps: Defining your product, researching feasibility, developing your product, validating prototypes and the manufacturing process, implementing the process to get your product to market, and evaluating the success of the product.
These steps generally occur sequentially, but it’s not unusual to move back a step or two. You may, for example, discover problems with a prototype during the validation phase. This would cause you to move back to the development phase. The NPI process tries to eliminate as much backtracking as possible by getting team leads and stakeholders involved early on.
During this phase, key team members and stakeholders meet to discuss the new product idea. Key goals in this phase include:
- Completing market research and risk analysis
- Getting customer feedback
- Differentiating the new product from products currently on the market
- Exploring possible costs and creating preliminary budgets
- Coordinating between design, engineering, and other key teams to provide insight on costs, materials, etc.
Contract manufacturers are a boon to the NPI process as early as this stage. They can help you better understand what materials and processes can be used to create the product, what costs may be incurred, and more. They can also begin to think about the most efficient manufacturing processes.
One of the main reasons to implement NPI early is to get everyone on the same page and to get all stakeholders thinking and talking about the role they play in the success of the project. Your contract manufacturer is a key stakeholder – the earlier you have them on board, the better.
While the first phase is all about discovering and defining what it is you want to do, the second phase asks two questions: “Can it be done?” and “Should it be done?”.
The first question will be answered primarily by the engineering and manufacturing teams. By this phase, engineers should have plans for possible prototypes and the materials these prototypes may require. They can establish these plans in coordination with your contract manufacturer, who can advise them on the materials and processes that can be used, and the costs (both in time and money) for their options.
By the end of the feasibility phase, preliminary market testing of the idea of the product (not the product itself) should be completed. This includes customer surveys, competitor analysis, and more. A full evaluation of potential costs should also be completed.
Finally, a business plan can be developed if the product can be created and is seen as potentially profitable. Once this business plan is in place, you can begin to develop prototypes for the product.
The development phase is straightforward: Prototypes of the product will be created. In almost all cases, a variety of different prototypes will be required. It’s likely you’ll have plans for many variations on the product: Different materials, dimensions, colors, shapes, etc.
The best way to tackle this challenge is to work with a contract manufacturer who can develop quick-turn prototypes. More specifically, you should look for a manufacturer who can create multiple different versions of your prototype product in a single run.
During the development process, engineering, legal, and other stakeholders should develop a validation plan. This plan will enable you to quickly test the prototype for various legal, regulatory, structural, and other requirements. Given how important it is to get to market as quickly as possible, having a validation plan in place before the next step can lead to substantial savings.
Manufacturability will also be explored during this phase. Each version of the prototype is likely to have different manufacturing costs and timeframes – scalability may also vary between each version. As such, it’s essential to consider these factors when creating your validation plan and to remain in near-constant dialogue with your contract manufacturer during the development process.
As you may have guessed, this step is about following your validation plan to select the right prototype and ensure it can be produced to scale. Test the viable prototypes to see if they meet all of the conditions laid out in your validation plan. They should be tested in as many environments as possible – limited, of course, to those environments where the final product is likely to see use.
We’ve mentioned that the feasibility phase is the act of asking and answering two questions: “Can it be done?” and “Should it be done?”. The validation phase, then, is the attempt to answer two different questions: “Did we do it?” and “How can we improve it?”.
This is the phase in which all the final details are ironed out. Once a prototype is selected, it’s tweaked and optimized for manufacturing to scale. Marketing plans will be fleshed out with the exact design of the product. After this step, production for the market will begin – almost all final tweaks take place here.
Implementation is the manufacturing phase of the process – we can’t rest on our laurels just yet. Marketing and training of sales and support staff begin at this phase. Start by introducing the product to test markets to glean how well it sells and learn about any final changes that may improve the product.
The number of units being manufactured for the test market is often a substantial increase over the number of units that were produced in a prototype run. More tweaks will be made to improve the manufacturing process if necessary.
When the test markets are successful, manufacturing begins at scale.
Your new product has been brought to market, and there are many lessons to be learned. Continue to monitor compliance. Take in customer feedback – you’ll have plenty of new information now that the product is available to everyone. Stay in touch with all the stakeholders and team members involved in the NPI process. Share the lessons you learn when the product is on the market.
The members of your NPI process team are likely to meet again the next time you introduce a new product. Rigorous note-taking and information sharing will allow you to iterate on your NPI process every cycle, allowing you to develop better products more efficiently.
How To Optimize the NPI Process
One of the key ways of optimizing NPI is the use – but not abuse – of milestones. Define key goals you want each team to accomplish before moving to the next step, and set schedules for those goals.
Don’t be afraid to move back a step if you need to, however. By flowing naturally between phases instead of forcing NPI to move like a waterfall, you’ll spend less time trying to push your way through obstacles that could have been avoided by simply taking a step back. You might, for example, have reached your validation goals, only to find unexpected problems surge up in test markets. Don’t force the product to market right away – step back to the validation phase (or even the development phase), retool your validation plan by taking in feedback, then move forward once the product reaches your validation goals.
Having a detailed plan and any key stakeholders and team members involved as early as possible will help you avoid many potential pitfalls.
Choosing a Manufacturing Partner
To find the right contract manufacturer for NPI, we recommend starting early and choosing a company that can be actively involved in every step of the NPI process. Find a partner that:
- Offers a competitive quote
- Offers NPI support
- Has experience in your industry
- Has experience building parts/products like the one you’re considering introducing
- Has processes in place for keeping trade secrets
- Has a wide array of technologies and processes at their disposal
- Has a good relationship with companies that provide raw materials
General Label Inc. Can Provide NPI Support
With decades of experience providing NPI support for a wide variety of industries, teams of engineers and support staff dedicated to each project, and cutting-edge technology, General Label is here to bolster your NPI process. Take advantage of our new product introduction services – get in touch with us today, and bring your product to life.