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Want to boost efficiency and cut down on costs within your product development? We certainly do. That’s why today we’re diving into the small batch production method and why product design firms like ours are switching to this model.

Product designers and manufacturers have used the traditional models of manufacturing for decades, but some companies are trying something different. Today’s brands are seeing the benefits of running small batches instead of large batches and there are plenty of reasons why they’re doing so.

But first, we’ll define it for you.

What is Small Batch Production? 

Small batch production is a process during the manufacturing phase where your product is created in specific groups and smaller quantities than traditional batch processing. During the manufacturing process, each step starts and finishes before proceeding to the next one.

Similar components are produced together to allow for more flexibility than traditional large batch production methods because you change the next batch easily if you need to. It also increases efficiency when compared to a continuous manufacturing process where many different steps are occurring at once.

For example, let’s imagine you are manufacturing a children’s toy with various pieces, like a dollhouse. After uploading the specs, the factory makes 10,000 dollhouses with furniture and sends them to you. Once you get the product, you realize the design was too small and is a choking hazard. Now, you’ve got 10,000 dollhouses that you can’t use.

Instead, with a small batch model, you can catch errors and make changes more easily with each version of your product. That’s just one of many reasons to use it, but there are plenty of others.

Benefits of Small Batch Production

While it might seem groundbreaking it’s actually been used for a long time. The fast-food industry and clothing industry are just a few that manufacture their products in small batches. 

Taking inspiration from car manufacturing plants, McDonald’s famously implemented their “Speedee Service System” back in their early days to beat their competition. Their fast processing time and low-cost strategy lead them to become the international fast-food giant they are today.

Let’s see how smaller batches can improve your product development process.

Improves Quality Control

Remember that epic cooler from Kickstarter? Well, what wasn’t so epic was that their product completely failed to live up to the expectations and many buyers never even received their product. 

If you have an issue with your design, you can catch it a lot sooner with small batch processing. Ideally, you fix it before it reaches the end consumer. However, if it does make it into their hands, you’ll at least know it may only be a small number of products that suffered.

More Flexibility

Since you’re more flexible in your manufacturing princess, you can make changes on the fly. If a new trend comes along, you can tailor your product to it. Additionally, if initial user feedback shows there’s a simple feature missing that would make their lives easier, you can add it in for the next batch.

Remember when jewel tones were all the rage in the 1990s? For video game manufacturers who saw how successful colourful Gameboys were, they could’ve responded quickly and captured part of that market by releasing their own colourful versions of handheld games.

Plus, when things go wrong—as they inevitably do—you can react act easily and quickly with a small batch method. If your supplier for one part is suddenly unavailable, you can find a new one for that part asap.

Better Affordability

For first-time inventors and product designers—cost is everything. Thankfully, small batch manufacturing lets you save money, meaning you need less funding when it comes to your startup costs. This allows you to focus more efforts on other aspects of your business like marketing and advertising.

Because you’re producing fewer components and parts, small batches are cheaper to manufacture. On top of that, they take up less storage space. That means you don’t need huge warehouses to store your product because there just isn’t as much of it.

Increased Efficiency

Finally, our last point is that small batch production is a huge time saver. You can test your components in small batches more often to catch errors and greatly improve the function of the end results. 

It also allows product designers to focus on one project at a time, reduces things like context switching. Instead of working slowly on multiple tasks or projects, you focus your efforts on one task and produce more efficient and higher-quality results. 

We’ve been implementing small batch strategies in our own processes, and it results in faster turnaround time and shortened the product development process for us. Instead of taking years to create a product, we’ve brought our clients’ ideas to life in as little as 3 months. 

Downsides of Small Batch Production 

Now, nothing is perfect. There are some pitfalls that you can experience when using small batch production methods. Even though there are fewer of them overall, the problems are worth noting.

Here are some of the issues with small batch manufacturing: 

More Downtime

Since you’re starting new batches more often, there is an increase in downtime. Each time you change something in your product design, you have to change something on the manufacturing line.

Constant Attention

Because you’re running more batches, you do have to stay on top of it. Instead of placing a factory order for thousands of units and forgetting about it, you have to keep monitoring it. 

Small batches require more quality control testing and assurances because you’re making a new batch every time. Even if you’re not changing anything, you still want to ensure it’s working as you intended.

Less Product in Stock 

When you have less product available, you’re more likely to run out of it. While scarcity is a great marketing tactic to entice buyers, it’s not great when you miss out on sales. By selling in smaller amounts, you risk lowering your profits just because you ran out.

We saw this when the PlayStation 5 sold out around the world because of supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. While they are creating more models, it still doesn’t look like they’ll be able to fully meet the demand until 2022. 

Harder to Find Factories 

Finally, it can be difficult to find suppliers when you’re placing small orders. Factories have to adjust their setup each time and when they’re only making a small batch, it’s worse for their bottom line as well.

Also because you’re ordering less stock, you have higher unit costs, too. As such, you’ll either have to raise your pricing or take a somewhat worse profit margin. 

Pros and Cons of Small Batch Production

Now that you read them all, it’s easy to see why small batch production is taking over the product design industry. To summarize here’s a quick table on the pros and cons we discussed today:

PROSCONS
Improved Quality ControlMore Downtime
More FlexibilityConstant Attention
Better AffordabilityLess Product in Stock 
Increased EfficiencyFewer Factories Available

Key Takeaways

Not every business uses the same model for their manufacturing, but it’s important to consider all the different methods you can use in your product development. For some products, small batch production might be the answer; for others, the traditional model might work just fine.

At Ventrify, we use the latest strategies to design and develop successful products for our clients so they can save more time and money. If you want to learn more and work with us, contact us today.

Finally, if you found this article helpful, don’t forget to share it and subscribe to our newsletter for more useful content like this.

About the Author: 

Ventrify is a product design and manufacturing firm that helps entrepreneurs bring product ideas from concept to market. We take in fledgling ideas and bring them through our iterative design process to create products our clients can be proud of. Then, we work with manufacturing facilities worldwide to bring our clients the highest quality products at competitive prices.

If you have questions about using prototypes in your product development journey or need help, reach out to us through our Website, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Article by Victoria Fraser

If you’re an entrepreneur wondering about the product design process, your first question is probably how long does it take? There are a lot of steps between coming up with an idea and actually selling your product. After all, you need to make sales if you hope to get your money back. 

Taking your product to market is exciting, but too often many of us want to start designing it right away. That’s not where the journey actually starts and we’ll explain why. 


Phase 1: Research & Planning

Before you can begin the design phase of your product, you need to do a marketing report. This is a collection of data from different sources that will help you decide if the product idea is something worth pursuing. 

Here are just a few factors you’ll consider before knowing if you have a good idea. 

Competition

Is your product a completely new invention? Probably not. There’s nothing wrong with creating something that already exists, but you need to look at how many other companies out there are solving the same problem. In marketing, this is referred to as Points of Similarity. 

If there the market is oversaturated, you will need to ensure your product has important points of difference that will make it stand out. Not surprisingly, this is referred to as Points of Differentiation in marketing. Looking at these different things helps you position your brand in the eyes of your consumer. 

Target Audience

Who are you trying to sell your product to? Often people like to think their product is for everyone because that means you have a larger audience. This isn’t the best strategy because people won’t have a clear connection to your product. It’s better to have a focused target audience so you can market to them personally and speak the same language. 

Would you sell pens to people who work in an office the same way you sell pens to an artist who works at home? Not likely. Different target audiences will have different needs and concerns. To be the most successful, you want to focus on who your audience is and how you will market to them. 

Cost

How much will it cost to make your product? Let’s say you have an idea for an amazing new rain jacket that has a ton of features. You’re going to sell it to sailors who need the best gear for their watersports. It’s waterproof, lights up, has tons of pockets, and even a built-in life jacket! Well, that’s probably going to cost a lot more than a normal rain jacket. Is this justified enough that your target audience will buy it, or are they going to stick with what they already have for cheaper? 

After looking at all the different variables of your product idea to see if it’s viable, you’ll know what to do. Sometimes, you won’t pass phase one. That’s alright. It’s better to scratch a bad idea before investing too much time and effort into it. 

According to a study from Harvard, there are 30,000 new products designed and sold every year, but over 95% of them fail. That’s why product research is so important. Many people skip this step which can affect their success in the long run.  

Approximate Timeline: 1 – 4 weeks

Phase 2: Prototyping

Everyone loves this step, and you might have even started putting things together in your garage if you’re an inventor. At this point, you’ve decided you want to pursue your idea and create a fantastic new product. 

If you’re a small business owner, it might only be you and a small team creating the prototype. If you’re a large corporation, then there might be a whole team of developers and designers collaborating to create a new product. 

In either scenario, you’ll create the first prototype and then some iterations of it until you finalize the product. Depending on the complexity of your product, it can take a short amount of time or a longer amount of time. If there are many electronic components, then you will likely add an extra 2-4 weeks to this stage. Of course, it can take a lot longer than that, the Dyson vacuums are an example of that.

James Dyson spent 15 years perfecting his vacuums until he was satisfied.  He made over 5000 prototypes throughout the product design process. While that’s an extreme example of how long it takes to design something, it does happen.

At Ventrify, we try to do this step efficiently so you’re able to move forward quickly. Many companies can take a lot longer to do this step. 

Approximate Timeline: 1 – 8 weeks

Phase 3: Sourcing & Logistics

At this stage, you have a solid prototype and you need to start contacting factories that will take your product and scale it up. If you’re working with a company like us, we’ll have plenty of contacts in the industry that we can recommend. We will always help you find the best factory to work with.

Then, they take your product and find out how to create it on a factory line. They’ll customize their machines to create your product. At this stage, you need to make sure you have the funds to pay the factories to create your product. If not, you aren’t going to get very far. 

Often while this is going on in the background, your team is sorting out logistics and pricing as well. Many factories exist overseas in other countries. While it might seem simple to bring over your product in a shipping container and start selling it, it’s not that easy. 

With tariffs, imports fees, and taxes on certain types of products, this can get complicated quickly. Even importing something as simple as shoes has its drawbacks. Because of that, you might decide to change certain aspects of your product. Many companies have found creative solutions to address issues like this. 

Have you ever wondered why Converse shoes have a thin layer of felt on the bottom? It wears off after a few weeks outside and you can’t see it while walking, so the felt serves no practical or aesthetic function. Converse does this actually because of taxes. By adding a small amount of fabric, the sneakers are technically categorized as slippers. At some point in the design process, the brand discovered that slippers have lower import tax than shoes, so they added felt as a workaround. 

Approximate Timeline: ~ 4 months 

Phase 4: Production

After you’ve chosen a manufacturer to create your product, you have to wait for it to be produced. Now, you might think that a large project takes longer than a small project, but in our experience, the amount of product you order doesn’t affect the timeline as much as you think it does.

If you think about it from the manufacturer’s point of view, they have to change all their machines each time they create a new product. Regardless of producing 1000 or 10,000 copies of your product, the set-up time is likely to be the same. 

For a larger project, the manufacturer might start on your project sooner to get it done quickly as they’ll make more money. For a smaller project, you might be added to the queue until a day when they have time to do small batches all at once. 

This step can get messy for various reasons: 

  1. Laws & Random Factors—This is often outside your control. With Covid-19 we have seen a lot of disruption in the shipping industry, not to mention the Suez Canal incident which cost an estimated $400 million per hour in goods delayed. 
  2. Product Certification—You can’t sell your products until they pass certain testing and certification requirements which also add time to this step. 
  3. Customs—Some countries are a lot stricter with their customs than other countries.

This phase can be quick, but it can also last longer than you expect. You also design the actual packaging for your product and optimize it to fit in the shipping containers when you’re bringing it over. While it’s at the factory, you will still have a lot to sort out. 

Approximate Timeline: At least 6 weeks

Phase 5: Shipping & Distribution

At this point, the product has been designed, produced, and is landing in a warehouse. After it’s in the warehouse you’ll now be in contact with a distributor who will then get your product in stores or in your consumers’ hands directly. 

Once you’ve made it this far you are going to focus on selling the product and marketing. At Ventrify, we’re no longer involved anymore. You’ll be working with your distributor to make sure shipping to your customers and buyers goes smoothly. 

***

Now, to answer a complicated question, your total timeline from an idea to going to market can take anywhere from 3 to 16 months. Problems can arise as well lengthening the process even if you’ve planned it out from the start. There are a lot of decisions to be made which is why it takes so long. 

While there are a lot more steps including marketing and selling your product, we wanted to focus on the product design process itself.  

We believe in transparency and sharing practical advice to help entrepreneurs and inventors be successful. If you’re looking for more information on product design and development then make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter.

About the Author

Ventrify is a product design and manufacturing firm that helps entrepreneurs bring product ideas from concept to market. We take in fledgling ideas and bring them through our iterative design process to create products our clients are proud of. Then, we work with manufacturing facilities worldwide to bring our clients the highest quality products at competitive prices.

If you have questions or want to discuss going remote, reach out to us through our Website, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Article by Victoria Fraser