Start Manufacturing Your Product With the Right Documentation
In the following article, I am going to introduce the concept of Tech packs or technical packages of your product invention. The basic information for your product launch.
What is a Tech Pack?
In brief, a Tech Pack is a set of technical documentation about your product. The name Tech Pack is commonly seen in the soft goods and fashion industry and not so much in other industries, however, this collection of documents is used everywhere in the development of any type of product. These sets of documents are created by a designer, mechanical or electrical engineer or other technical person or a combination of them. The documentation defines the main aspects of your product or components such as dimensions, aesthetics, materials and any important instructions that a manufacturer needs to know to understand the design intent and fabricate your product accordingly.
Traditionally Tech packs consisted of just printed or scanned blueprints shared with suppliers. Currently, they are mostly a set of digital files that are shared via email. With the growth of cloud solutions, new options are being available to manage your documentation online with the benefits that come with it.
Why should I create a Tech pack?
These are the main reasons why you need a Tech pack:
- Communication — The tech pack can be used as a tool for designers and engineers to effectively communicate with manufacturers and suppliers.
- Agreement — Since it is documented and shared between parties, it is commonly used as a somehow formal agreement for the manufacturing of your product.
- Tracking — It can be (or should be) used as a way to track the evolution of the design intent and requirements. The tech pack is a living set of documents that must be updated as the product matures.
- Requirements — Designers and Engineers define every aspect of the product so there is no guessing or ambiguity for manufacturers.
- Cost — A complete Tech pack will guarantee more accurate quotes from suppliers and will ensure you get better cost estimations. Avoid cost surprises down the road.
- Quality — By defining dimension controls and inspection criteria of your product you will ensure that your product is manufactured with the expected quality.
Which items should I include in my Tech pack?
Tech packs can be created in different formats such as a standalone text document with images and drawings of your product, or most commonly a combination of digital files defining different aspects of the product. This is a list of the most common documents included in a Tech Pack but it may vary depending on your product:
- Computer-Aided Design files (CAD files) — 3D models of the different components that form the product. Separate files for each component and a file of the product assembly. There are different CAD systems to design the components, so files are commonly converted into a generic format such as STEP or IGS (also as a means of protecting the historic of your design).
- Blueprints or 2D Drawings — The drawings will normally come from the 3D model, although they may be created separately for specific components and artworks. They include dimensions and tolerances and some details related to the cosmetic requirements and surface finishes. They have their own format in CAD or graphic design software but it is usually shared as a pdf to ensure accessibility by everyone.
- Specifications — The technical specification is a text document listing many of the product requirements, such as cosmetic, functional, critical dimensions, specific manufacturing processes or anything not covered anywhere else. I have seen this merged with the 2D drawings as comments or separate sheets, both options are good.
- Bill of Materials (BOM) — The BOM is a list of all the components (and quantities of each) that make your product or are used to build it, this includes labels, packaging and even consumable materials used during production. A BOM can be seen as a summary of your product specifications, in some cases, BOMs are fully detailed including materials, colors, finishes and more. It is usually created as a spreadsheet.
- Volumes & Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ) — This could be easily integrated into the BOM document, but it could be used separately to get information on costs for different volumes. The cost of every component usually varies greatly based on the volume. Suppliers will often have MOQs that can have an impact on your product and logistics costs.
- Assembly instructions — This can be part of the Technical specification, but for products with many assembly steps, it is recommended to have a specific document explaining the assembly step by step and the requirements for each process. This could be created together with the supplier as they know better their own manufacturing processes, but it is important that you understand and document their process as well.
Which are the most important parameters that I should provide?
There are many different parameters that must be defined and specified for your product. It will depend mostly on the type of component and manufacturing processes. In general, these are the most important parameters that you should provide:
- Materials — You should specify the exact material and grade (this is the commercial name from material manufacturers). Define the color and any additional finish or post-process such as protective coating or paint.
- Critical dimensions — Define which dimensions are important for your product. Think about the dimensions that will affect the fit between components, any mechanical movement or function of your product. Limit these dimensions to less than 5 to make it manageable for the manufacturer, since these will be tightly controlled and thus will impact the cost.
- Tolerances — It is crucial to define tolerances for your dimensions, especially for those defined as critical above. The manufacturing process usually drives the tolerance range achievable, but the part geometry affects as well. Do not constraint too much if it is not critical as this will also impact the cost.
These are very technical aspects of your product. Consider checking with experts or get help from your own manufacturer.
What details about my product should I provide?
Each product is different and each product is made of many different components. Each component has its own characteristics and manufacturing processes. I will list the most common processes and their particularities, except for the main parameters already discussed above:
- Plastic injection molding — In plastic parts, it is important to define the surface finish, polished or texture (SPI standard) for visible surfaces. Also, define the maximum draft angles (ideally this will be already designed in the 3D model).
- CNC (plastics and metals) — Define holes that require threads. Surface finish is limited to that of the tool but you could specify a polish or surface treatment that will be done as a post-process.
- Metal Stamping — Define the thickness of your metal is the most important parameter for stamping. Apart from linear tolerances, angular tolerances for bends should be defined. Indicate where burrs in edges or holes are not acceptable.
- Product assembly — The assembly consists of a series of steps that need to be followed as the components are being mounted into the final product. You could define those steps with some images. You should also specify any controls to be made during the assembly, such as inspections or testing.
- Cut & Sew (fabrics) — This is a whole topic on its own but I will list some important parameters. Define the yarn type and color. Specify fabric type and weight, stitch & seam construction, Stitches Per Inch (SPI), and thread type and size. Define any labels or tags positioning.
- Electronics (PCBA) — Specify the type of substrate (rigid or flexible) and the layers for the board. Define welding inspection as well as components positioning which can be manual or with automatic optical inspection (most costly). Define any functional tests to be performed on the finished PCBA.
Preparing a Tech Pack is highly technical and requires various types of expertise. During the initial stages of your product development, you can simplify and limit the information in your tech pack, probably because you may not know all the information yet. However, it is important to at least go through the basic technical details as you iterate your product since it will make you think about all aspects of your product in advance.
Abilista guides innovators to develop their product ideas from concept, prototyping and all the way to manufacturing following our own step by step framework. We are already helping several entrepreneurs and startups to build their ideas by giving them access to simple and agile tools and expertise on-demand.
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