Hardware Is Hard, A Let’s Build Special

It’s good that you can learn from other people’s mistakes.  I just saw this:

This outfit might be a good way to ramp up for your product.


But they made some mistakes.  Expensive ones.  One of which was expanding the manufacturing process by just adding more bodies.  I think that people have gotten out of the habit of thinking like Henry Ford, scaling the processes logarithmically rather than linearly.  Also there was the quality lag.  If you have product that’s in the mature phase of it’s lifecycle you can expect that the quality issues are going to be minor.

When you are doing the early product development issues you really can’t afford that lag.  Consider the bag in the picture above. That’s 300 contact pins that I designed with too small a diameter.  That’s scrap.  I made a poor assumption on how large a contact was and made all the pins too small.  Because of how the production cost worked out it made sense to buy 300 of the pins rather than the 25 or so we needed. Fortunately this was for a prototype.  If this had been a production issues with hundreds of machines involved that 900 dollar mistake could have been a tens of million dollar mistake.

When you are getting the bugs out of your product you should keep your vendors close to home for the custom stuff.  That way you trap issues when they were small and easy to fix.  I Robot went charging off to China before they resolved all the product issues and that probably coast them a bundle in lost time and money.  Look, if your lead times can cause you to go bankrupt you may have more issues than you think.

I think that if I Robot had done at least some production here in New England, they might have saved money in the long run.  I know that I could get a Roomba made here in New England because I’ve been working in this market for thirty years now and I’ve never had trouble getting anything made.

There’s also the turn around time issue.  Both positive and negative.  Having tighter control over processes and keeping at least part of the operation close to home mean that you can trap mistakes more quickly.  But it also means that you can seize opportunities more quickly, chase faster turnaround and make special orders.  That’s a powerful advantage.

That being said, would I use somebody like Dragon innovations.  By all means.  They’ve already been down the road and made the mistakes.  They already have relationships in China that can help get the job done.  That may be absolutely necessary for a fast ramp up. part of working smarter, not harder is buying somebody else’s experience.  Still you have to be prepared to make mistakes like the ones in that bag.  Just keep them small and have alternatives ready.

Actually, hardware is easy.  Getting hardware built in the quantities you need is the hard part.  The great shame of the last twenty years or so is that the US has locked up or given away the great legacy of talent and experience that can solve those problems.

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