The Plan: Build, Test, Build, Test, Build…
How a product goes from a drawing to being mass produced.
There are a few things you may have heard about hardware development and manufacturing: a lot of it is done in China, it costs a lot of money, and it takes a long time. We’ll come back to write about the first two points another time, but we’ll start with describing the long development schedules that hardware engineering teams have to contend with.
Hardware, unlike software, doesn’t have the benefit of being able to (easily) push updates after the product ships. Consumers can’t just download an updated version of their toaster over the internet if the knob breaks off. If even a small percentage of units fail in the field, we have a serious problem with both the bad units and our relationship with customers. Hardware engineers stress over even the smallest failure rates because, at scale, those few failures can spell big trouble.
So the industry has a process for scaling manufacturing. We have “builds” that start with relatively primitive prototypes at low quantity and increase in fit, finish, and quantity all the way through mass production (or “MP”, as we mechanical engineers call it). Each build takes at least a couple months due to the fact that all of the parts need to be made, assembled, and tested. String them together and these builds make up the roadmap we’re using to bring Round Refill from zero to 100 (or 100,000).
Since we’re taking you along for the ride with Round Refill development and production, here’s a cheat sheet of the traditional build names and definitions (although the build names and acronyms can vary by company).
Hardware Production Steps
POC — “Proof of Concept” — Quantity: a couple — In the earliest stages of development, we build these prototypes as experiments. They don’t look anything like a real product, but they test the underlying architecture or key technologies in the product design. To date, we have built dozens of POCs to evaluate different forms, technologies and purposes.
Proto — “Prototype” — Quantity: a few — These are the first units that look and work like the final product. All of the key components are included, but the parts are made using prototype-level manufacturing processes. In general, prototyping processes are easier, faster and more cost-effective for when you’re building only 5 of each part instead of 5 million, and include methods like 3D printing, CNC milling, and hand fabrication. Depending on the complexity of the product design, a team may need one or many Proto builds, named “Proto 1”, “Proto 2”, and so forth.
Fun Note: The Round Refill units you see in our pre-order campaign were machined in Asia and hand assembled in San Francisco during our Proto1 build.
EVT — “Engineering Validation Test” — Quantity: tens — Usually the first build done at the production manufacturing facility. The parts in these units should be made with MP processes. EVT units function as intended, but may not be cosmetically perfect. The units will be used for intense reliability testing.
DVT — “Design Validation Test” — Quantity: hundreds — Units meet all functional and cosmetic requirements. Issues surfaced during reliability testing of EVT units should be resolved, and these units are production ready. At this point, >90% of the units should be perfect (pass the criteria to be approved for our users), and the issues causing the ~10% bad units should be related to dialing in the manufacturing and assembly processes, versus being issues with the functional design of the product.
PVT — “Production Validation Test” — Quantity: ~1000 — PVT is like an MP practice lap. If all goes well, the units from PVT should be able to ship to customers, and the percent of good units coming off the assembly line should be above 98%. PVT is the production line’s opportunity to stretch its legs and make sure it can hit the MP manufacturability metrics we’ve set. This is when our early reservation customers will start getting their Round Refills!
MP — “Mass Production” — Quantity: thousands — High volume, continuous production. Engineering teams are completely hands-off, and shift their full focus to designing the next new product. This is when we start shipping the product in large volumes to our users.
So that’s the next few months for us! We’ll do our best to keep you updated as Round Refill progresses from Proto through to mass production. You can also follow us on Instagram @roundhealthco where we will post behind-the-scenes snapshots.