Cirtronics, a Milford, NH-based contract manufacturer that has worked with some of the top robotics companies in the world, shares these 10 essential DFx tips for robotics design to help you navigate as you transition from design to manufacturing.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
As you design new products, keep it simple. Reuse what works. Innovation does not always mean starting from scratch.
Robots are inherently complex. Robotic engineers are inherently creative. No matter how tempted you are to start with a clean sheet of electronic paper, build on your past success (and what you learned along the way). Re-use successful designs (cabling, mobility, modularity), components you know you can source, and software architecture that you know works well.
Know your strengths
Identify your company’s core competencies.
Your robot is more than a machine. It’s your creation. Now what? Many designers want to keep control in-house, build each of their robots themselves to make sure it’s done “right.” How will you scale up manufacturing from prototype to production? How will you handle fulfillment? Is the best use of your resources building production capabilities?
Know what you want or need to keep in house. Innovation? Check. Prototyping? Maybe. Production? Maybe not so much. If you decide to outsource manufacturing, reach out to contract manufacturers who will work with you.
Teamwork and synergy
An experienced and responsive contract manufacturer understands that cooperation, communication and collaboration are keys to success. Up your game by partnering with a team that supports your core strengths with theirs.
Each company needs different things from their manufacturer. As you assess contract manufacturers, look for flexibility and responsiveness, innovation and proactivity. Find a contract manufacturer who will work with and for you, always keeping your best interests and your specific needs in mind.
Leverage, leverage, leverage
Depending on your market, you may benefit from prior experience in navigating FDA regulations or complying with Defense Department requirements. Capitalizing on a outsourced partner’s strengths and previous experience can help get your product successfully to market.
Leverage the expertise, experience and knowledge of your contract manufacturer as early as possible. Take their advice to heart.
Beyond prior experience, certifications, regulations and registrations, your contract manufacturer may offer you access to their broader engineering expertise. Use it. Seek out opportunities to work with them to improve your product design.
Design reviews: manufacturablity
Working with your contract manufacturer can move your design toward ease of assembly while maintaining high quality. Have your design team engage with their manufacturing engineers as early in the design as possible to make sure your design is efficiently manufacturable.
Design with awareness and flexibility. Realize that modifying the design as early in the process as possible is where the most costs (and headaches) can be avoided.
Supply chain expertise and risk mitigation
Include your manufacturer’s supply chain experts in the design reviews and be willing to modify your design to mitigate supply chain risks.
Supply chains – availability of parts and materials the parts are made from – change. There may be shortages and limitations that could impact availability of the parts on which your design relies. Early in the design process, review your bills of materials against forecasts to identify strategies to ensure uninterrupted sourcing.
Design for testing
Have your test team engage with your manufacturer’s test engineers. Working with test engineers as early in the process as possible will ensure necessary and appropriate testing, so that you and your customers can feel assured that the quality you promised is being delivered.
From flying probes (sounds alien but, trust us, this is important for board validation), to functional testing of mobile robots in actual test tracks, make sure your manufacturer’s capabilities, capacity, and resources are a good match for the kinds of testing your product needs.
Fluctuations and flexibility
Contract manufacturing can be lean, but still have the ability to ramp up quickly. Flexibility and scalability are extremely valuable in responding to fluctuations in demand.
What if you order 10, 100 or 1000 from your manufacturer, and suddenly you need more? Can your manufacturer handle a sudden change in demand? Get ahead of the curve. Work with them to come up with strategies to handle potential fluctuations in ways that best accommodate your needs.
How do you get your product where it needs to go? Some contract manufacturers will happily ship product to you, and it’s up to you to send to your customers. Others offer direct fulfillment, where they will ship – yes, directly – to your customers for you. In your boxes. With your brand. Verify that your manufacturer can provide the fulfillment service that best matches your needs.
DFx is built on successful relationships
DFx should include collaborative building, testing, discussions and debates. Capitalizing on each other’s strengths. Be willing to change if necessary. Communicating. Listening. Responding. Transparency. Working together toward mutual success. Holding space for evolution and innovation. Respect.
If you think these points sound familiar, you’re right. These are the things that make all great relationships great. A great relationship with your contract manufacturer can make all the difference as you bring your robot to market.