Five Key Points in Product Development

When a company has an innovative idea or product, it’s success depends on a countless number of variables. Some variables can be controlled, and unfortunately some cannot.  Taking a structured approach to product development and paying attention to five key points can be paramount to the success of a new product in the market. Developing and ultimately launching a product can often make or break a business, especially a smaller business looking to make a large impact.  Product development varies based on the market of a business and the company management style, but most businesses hit five key points in the development process.

Assemble the right team

Developing a successful product is a function of the team that takes the idea and turns it into a reality.  The team should ideally cover the hierarchy of the company, so that the right ideas can be heard, yet the team can still provide the needed impact to the top executives.  Individual contributor level employees, especially those who deal with customers and products regularly, are ideal personnel to gather initial information. Senior management is great to have not only as a champion, but an active team member who sees the product from the very beginning and can help convince other leaders of it’s potential. An active champion is key to the success of the team, otherwise the idea may not maintain momentum for high level approval.

Evaluate the Market

This is where your business development and marketing team needs to be active and take charge.  If there is not a demand in the market, the product simply will not be successful. The team should seek feedback from some of the closest existing customers along with current partners. Close customers tend to have a more honest and established relationship and will be more forthcoming with their perspective of the new product.  Partners can typically offer an ideal perspective because they are involved in the same markets, but tend to see things differently because they are not personally vetted to the new product.  If necessary, make sure that non-disclosure agreements are in place so that any conversations had do not result in a competitive situation.

Perform a full cost Analysis

Understanding what the market is willing to pay for a new product will be pivotal to it selling.  The team needs to fully understand what products are already out there, why they are inadequate, and place a realistic value on the gap that will be between the new product and the current offering.  The project development team needs to put together a detailed cost estimate with all risks and contingencies to paint the most accurate cost picture for company leadership.   The cost must, at minimum, match the cost that the market is going to pay for the product. If it’s not, the team needs to reevaluate all the different subcomponents and work to bring the product within the cost requirement without sacrificing the key benefits that will differentiate from current market offerings.  Once the leadership team has decided that the detailed estimate meets the market requirements, it’s time to start working on the prototypes.

Manufacturing Initial Prototypes

The leadership team must understand that manufacturing prototypes and small runs will be more expensive than mass production. This is an expense that will eventually become nullified during production.

The development team must now work very closely with the production team to develop prototypes of the product.  The development team should have supplier contacts and quotes that the production team can now utilize to build the initial run of prototypes.

Once the first run is build and ready for distribution, the next step is for the business development team to share them with a small quantity of good customers and key partners.  These companies will quickly become champions of the product assuming the cost and benefits are still in line with initial assumptions.  Have these key clients demo the units and provide candid feedback. The marketing team should use that feedback to draft product literature and developing marketing ideas, such as email campaigns, conferences, and magazine publications.  Key marketing messages should be centered around on the most positive attributes that differentiate the prototypes from the existing products on the market.

Not everything goes well the first time, in fact most of the time the first run doesn’t go as planned.  If the first run does not go as planned, go back to the drawing board based on the feedback received.  Make adjustments to the prototype or develop a second version, if necessary. Release the second run prototypes for additional market testing and feedback. See whether the second product is better received, and evaluate why feedback was different.  A small launch helps determine what needs to be changed with minimal financial impact, all before an officially launching full-scale production.

Scaling to Full Production

Going from prototype runs to full scale production is not simple.  A product may be easier to make when only manufacturing 10 products in a week, but what happens when demand skyrockets and a 10 units need to be finished every day to keep up with demand?  How will this impact the existing facility, the personnel, and the supply base? It’s important that suppliers are made aware of potential market conditions and full-scale production rates prior to this stage because some may simply get scared off.   The larger quantity of product that is produced, the more leverage one has on the buying end when assembling subcomponents and procuring raw materials.  Sourcing agreements, bulk buying, and volume based price incentives all are worth exploring during full-scale production.  All of this is eventually realized in final production, when the company begins to make money from the new product.

Takeaways

Obviously the key points highlighted in this article are not the only objectives that need to be considered when taking an idea and migrating to achieving full-scale production.  There are hundreds of components and thoughts that need to be considered, and depending on a company’s core competency, hiring an outside company with complimentary key skillsets can help ensure success.

Visit MDCI at Automation Technology Expo East: June 10-12

Join us at ATX East June 10-12 in NYC at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to learn more about MDCI Automation engineering and contract manufacturing services; as well as Sapient Automation material handling automation products. 

We will be at Booth #2549 and available to discuss if MDCI Automation is the right partner for you to take your automation products to the next level with our product enhancement engineering services, or turn key product development services

Sapient Viper VLM Acquired by SSI Schaefer

SSI Schaefer, a leading provider of material handling equipment, has acquired Sapient Automation’s Viper Vertical Lift Module (VLM) product line. Schaefer was previously partnered with Sapient to private label the Viper VLM for Sapient. This will allow Schaefer to continue to grow the Logimat VLM product worldwide by immediately growing their footprint in the United States.

Sapient will continue to produce the Hornet Horizontal CarouselAvenger Vertical CarouselMini-Avenger Vertical Carousel, and XpressPix Inventory Management Software which is available through the Sapient dealer network. Sapient will be a brand within its parent company, MDCI Automation, which will continue to focus on contract design and manufacturing services for automation products and systems.

Reach out to MDCI today to learn more about our products and services!!!

6 Reasons Why Organizations Should Consider Saving Space and Time with Vertical Storage and Retrieval Systems

What is the value of unused space? It can have significant value for companies that choose to take advantage of it in storage facilities.

Automated storage and retrieval systems, such as Vertical Carousels and Vertical Lift Modules (VLM) take advantage of unused overhead space to recover 60% to 85% of the floor space typically required by shelving and drawer systems.

Vertical storage and retrieval systems, such as Sapient Automation’s Viper® VLM and Avenger® Vertical Carousel, are designed with rotating shelves that move up or down in response to operator commands, delivering items at an ergonomically positioned window for easy removal.

Because of their vertical design, these systems can be used to link multiple operations located on different floors, further reducing the amount of space required for storage and retrieval activities while improving workflow. 

The space savings benefits of vertical storage and retrieval systems, however, are just a small piece of the savings potential of these systems. There are a number of reasons why reducing the amount of space required by storage and retrieval systems can result in significant savings in time and money.

Reason 1: Conventional static storage systems like shelving require employees to spend up to 70% of their time traveling aisles searching for items. Vertical automated storage and retrieval systems deliver items automatically totheoperator, eliminating wasted walk andsearch time. The access area of vertical systems is ergonomically designed to present stored items at an ideal height for picking, usually about waist high. Typically, an operator’s walk and search time is reversed from that of conventional systems to 70% picking and only 30% dwell time. In many applications, this reversal of walk and search time can reduce labor requirements by up to 66%. Even with a smaller workforce, productivity can increase by an average of more than 2.5 times in typical applications.

Reason 2: Vertical storage and retrieval systems also offer increased picking speed and accuracy when compared with rack and shelving systems. Intuitive controls and software allow organizations to use batch picking and integrated pick-to-light technology to improve throughput up to 500% in some applications. With the addition of position indicators, information displays, bar code scanning devices, inventory management and control software, picking accuracy can improve to 99.99%. 

Reason 3: Redundant or non-essential handling can be reduced with vertical systems. Throughput improves, and the time saved results in less operating cost and improved customer service. Vertical storage and retrieval systems can be integrated with ERP and WMS software to provide precise inventory management.

Reason 4: Since vertical systems are totally enclosed and lockable, they protect products from external hazards and reduce product damage and pilfering. Because of this, inventories can often be reduced. Access to vertical storage and retrieval systems can be controlled and tracked making it easy to keep specific items or groups of items secure from unauthorized personnel.

Going “green” with sustainable design and construction makes sense for the environment, but it’s sometimes difficult to justify.

Reason 5: By reducing the amount of space required for storage and retrieval operations, companies can construct smaller, more energy efficient buildings, shrinking the construction footprint by up to 15% in some cases, conserving natural resources and reducing maintenance costs. This improved space utilization helps reduce energy costs, which helps reduce an organization’s overall carbon footprint.

Return on investment for vertical storage and retrieval systems can be as fast as 18 months.

Vertical storage and retrieval systems are deigned to significantly reduce to space necessary for storage and retrieval operations, allowing that recovered floor space to be used in revenue generating operations. However, there are other benefits as well, and when those benefits are combined with space savings, the resulting reduction in costs and improvement in productivity can boost the performance of any business.

Sapient Automation, a subsidiary of MDCI, is a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems for manufacturing, distribution, warehouses, institutions, retail and wholesale. For information about the Vertical Storage and Retrieval Systems, please call 888-451-9711, email: info@getsapient.com or visit the Sapient Automation web site at www.GetSapient.com.

Automating for Productivity

How can organizations reduce labor costs and improve efficiency and customer service at the same time? One way many companies and organizations have met this challenge is by looking at automated storage and retrieval systems as a means of improving employee productivity.

Automated storage and retrieval systems, such as vertical and horizontal carousels and vertical lift modules (VLMs), can increase productivity by 2/3 or more through the simple concept of bringing goods to man, rather than having man search for goods.

Automated storage and retrieval systems work by delivering stored items to an operator an ergonomically positioned removal area. By delivering items to the operator, these systems eliminate one of the most costly factors in retrieval operations—walk and search time. Conventional static storage systems like shelving require employees to spend up to 70% of their time traveling aisles searching for items and only 30% actually retrieving items.

Typically, using automated storage and retrieval systems, an operator’s walk and search time is reversed from that of conventional systems to 70% picking and only 30% searching time.

When operators spend more time picking and less time searching, they become more efficient and the productivity of the picking operation increases substantially. Because operators are more efficient, businesses and get by with fewer of them, even when the business begins to grow. Indeed, some businesses might not be able to keep pace with increased demands, no matter how many pickers are added to the staff simply because more labor doesn’t necessarily translate into more efficiency and productivity.

The access area of automated systems is ergonomically designed to present stored items at an ideal height for picking, usually about waist high. This location of the access area contributes to employee safety since this positioning design eliminates the bending, climbing and stretching associated with conventional shelving and rack systems. Throughput generally improves as well.

Redundant or non-essential handling can be reduced with automated systems by using retrieval techniques such as batch picking and slotting. Batch picking is the process of picking multiple orders simultaneously. Since an operator will visit a storage location once for the batch total picking time is reduced. The time saved also results in less operating cost and usually improved customer service. Labor costs are reduced due to quick retrieval times and the capability to meet varying throughput requirements while not being bound by thresholds imposed by limited-access systems.

Slotting is the assignment of items to a particular location, and in appropriate quantities for specific distribution needs, in a storage and retrieval system to maximize system capacity and improve efficiency. Storing parts in their appropriate distribution quantities significantly reduces part handling time and, consequently, the costs associated with unnecessary handling.

Saving Space, Improving Accuracy

Another reason for choosing to automate storage and retrieval operations is improved space utilization. Automated storage and retrieval systems can recover up to 85% of the floor space typically required for rack and shelving systems. Recovered floor space can be re-allocated from cost-associated functions of inventory to value added production operations. Improved space utilization can also extend the useful life of existing facilities, eliminating the need for expensive brick and mortar expansion to meet growth requirements.

Automated storage and retrieval systems, when combined with microprocessor controls, position indicators, information displays, and PC-based inventory management and control software, offer increased speed and picking accuracy levels of 99.9%. Higher accuracy levels reduce waste and can result in significant savings, while improving customer service.

What is the return on investment for an automated storage and retrieval system? At Sapient Automation, we’ve found that most customers who chose to install an automated storage and retrieval system reported an ROI in the range of nine to 18 months. This is based on a number of factors including labor savings, recovered floor space, increased manufacturing capacity or additional lines, reduced inventory levels and increased inventory turns, fewer mis-picks and returns, reduced training costs, fewer injuries and possible litigation costs.

Reducing costs and adding value translates into economic prosperity for the company, and its employees. Automated storage and retrieval systems are a cost effective way to reduce the cost of doing business and position a company for growth.

Translating Productivity into Prosperity

It’s becoming more apparent that the U.S economy is in a slow but accelerating recovery. According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) semi-annual forecast, the U.S. manufacturing sector will grow in 2011, with manufacturing revenue increasing by 5.6%.

ISM also predicts that business investment, a major driver in the U.S. economy, will increase substantially in the manufacturing sector. In the ISM survey, manufacturers also indicated that they expect employment in the sector will increase by 1.8%. Along with that employment increase, respondents said they expected labor and benefits costs to increase an average of 1.9% in 2011.

In positioning business to take advantage of the growing economic recovery, companies and organizations have to take a close look at their methods of operation and find ways to improve productivity in all areas, particularly in view of the potential for rising employee compensation costs.

In a strict economic sense, productivity is the ratio of the quantity and quality of units produced to the labor per unit of time. This means that improved productivity can and does have a significant impact on bottom line profitability by producing more for less. Therefore, to take full advantage of the economic recovery, it is imperative that businesses look to improving employee productivity as a means to ultimately improve profitability efficiency.

One area in many organizations and companies that is ripe for improvement is storage and retrieval operations. According to Operations and Fulfillment Magazine, in most warehouse operations, 45% of costs are for direct labor while an additional 16% are for indirect labor. Picking and packing activities account for the majority of those costs.