Proof of Concept > Prototype > Pre-production > Production As a start-up it can be hard to keep track of all of the different stages. But stay focused! Each stage provides further opportunities to eliminate risk and to validate your choices. Pre-production is one of the most important stages for start-ups. Without it, you run the risk of encountering serious problems when you get to the production stage, from breakdowns to late deliveries. Pre-production lets you see the bigger picture.
You’ve come up with a POC (Proof Of Concept) and then a prototype. You’ve done your market research and you’ve produced your first prototypes with a view towards series production.
As you go through the different stages (POC, prototyping, pre-production), you should be able to eliminate risk by moving forward in an organised and methodical way. The POC and prototyping stages are when you should be starting to think about processes. Pre-production gives you the opportunity to properly put your production hypotheses to the test.
What is pre-production?
As its name would suggest, pre-production is the stage that comes before series production. The aim is to produce your innovation in real-life conditions. Pre-production gives you the opportunity to iron out any wrinkles before launching series production. Think of it as your dress rehearsal before opening night.
What pre-production actually involves is producing a substantial number of products in order to confirm that the logistics chain, the equipment and the production framework are all in place and operational. Like a stage director, it is your job to make sure that the backdrops are ready, that the lighting is as it should be and that the actors all know their lines.
As you may have understood, the focus of pre-production is not so much on manufacturing itself as it is on the organisation required in order for manufacturing to take place.
Pre-production – it’s all about organisation
There are two main stages to pre-production: technology readiness et la manufacturing readiness.
Readiness is the stage at which your product is ready to go to market.
You will have validated the functions of your prototypes and made a final decision on design during the prototyping stage. Your product is ready, having reached technology readiness.
However, what we want to focus on during the pre-production stage is manufacturing readiness. This is when you validate and test out your manufacturing processes (tools, specialist processes, etc.). You should also be thinking about components. You should have reached a final decision on your nomenclature (your list of components) and identified and qualified your suppliers.
Let’s take a look at what’s involved in assessing manufacturing readiness.
Assessing manufacturing readiness and limiting risk
Like many start-ups, you are going to be working with different manufacturers, all of whom have to be factored in when assessing your manufacturing readiness. Make sure that your suppliers are able to meet your requirements, both from a qualitative point of view (e.g. that checkpoints are in place) and a quantitative point of view (e.g. that they are able to meet the demand forecast). Similarly, you will have determined the incoming goods checks for components (e.g. critical measurements) and will have in stock components that meet the purchase specification.
All manufacturing equipment (for assembly, testing, etc.) will have been developed and qualified and will be ready to go, allowing you to use it with confidence.
Pre-production also gives you the opportunity to test your organisation of production.. Have the teams who will be assembling and testing the product been given the appropriate training? Is the necessary documentation available? These are all things you must take care of prior to launching pre-production.
Finally, make sure your product is still in keeping with your technical specifications and with your requirements.
So, what’s after pre-production?
The big day is here: it’s time to launch your pre-production. Fine-tuning your manufacturing readiness will help to ensure your pre-production is a success. However, bear in mind that you will have one or two adjustments to make.
You will also need to pay close attention to the time spent to produce parts (labour costs), the quality yield of the production line (the cost of poor quality), and your organisation of production (skillsets, versatility). To do so, you need to be at the heart of the action, enabling you (or your industrial partner) to identify any areas for improvement or fine-tuning in order to ensure the smooth running of the next phase: series production.
See also: Production: From Minimum Viable Product to Minimum Viable Processs