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Product Development

Product Development: How to Navigate Product Prototyping in China

What do the iPhone, Tesla, and Dyson vacuum all have in common? The answer is that all three are groundbreaking designs; they made such an impact that these products changed the face of their industry.

All these products started life as prototypes. And that’s a fundamental step to turning a good idea into a commercially successful product.

Read on to learn more about product prototyping and some of the advantages of choosing a manufacturer in China to turn your concept into a reality. 

What Is Product Prototyping? Understanding the Basics

Most innovative product designs go through a prototyping phase. It’s a bit like a test. You mock up a product sample – usually without fine-tuning or last-minute touches – and check that the design works as expected.

It’s a chance to feel a product in your hands, rotate it, try its functions, and see if it’s feasible. It also lets you know whether to add or remove something from the design to refine it. 

Prototypes can range from simple to complex, depending on what you are creating. But in either case, they are a crucial step. They help you validate your idea without investing vast money in an extensive production run. 

China, the Manufacturing Landscape, and Prototyping

Unsurprisingly, China is often referred to as the world’s manufacturer.

The country makes up over 28% of all worldwide manufacturing. China’s expertise and capability in manufacturing is unparalleled. And it’s sought after by businesses big and small. 

China has many advantages. It’s got a huge population, of course, which means scaling manufacturing isn’t a problem. And this labor market is highly skilled, with much manufacturing expertise to offer.

It’s also a cost-effective manufacturing source due to scale, high productivity, and labor costs. Plus, since China has become a hub for manufacturing, the supply chains are excellent.

In many industries, you can complete your end-to-end manufacturing process in one region of China.

This manufacturing capability has also nurtured innovation and technological advancements. That means robotics, advanced machinery, and even AI capabilities. 

All this makes China the perfect place for product prototyping. It offers the resources and the technological capability to prototype any design.

That’s true even when you have a highly unique design, unlike anything that’s come before it. It helps you test even the most outlandish or cutting-edge ideas.

Most importantly, you have an opportunity to achieve that all-important first-to-market advantage. 

Finding an Idea

Your first step in product prototyping is to create your concept (or idea.) You’ll need this before you approach a manufacturer about building a prototype. Here are a few tasks you’ll need to complete at this stage.

Market Research

Before creating an idea, you want to establish a demand for that product. If it’s something completely new, this can feel hard. However, you will always be able to research people’s pain points, which can lead to innovative solutions.

Focus on current trends and watch what your competitors are doing. If you have an established business, survey your customers to gather more ideas on what they need from you. 

Brainstorm Some Ideas

Once you’ve researched, it’s time to put pen to paper and jot down your ideas. Have some workshop sessions with your teams to help you brainstorm. Focus on your customers’ needs and how you can translate them into solutions. 

Refine Your Ideas

Your next step is to refine your ideas into something more concrete. If you have a design team, this is when you want to mock up some ideas in more detail, such as sketches and adding features and styles.

At this stage, you can seek more customer feedback; focus groups are often an excellent way to do that.

At this stage, you’ll also want to think about the feasibility of your ideas. Check their profitability potential, and compare your ideas with what’s already on the market. 

Finding a Manufacturing Partner

Once you have your idea, it’s time to find a manufacturer in China that can turn your concept into a reality. You want to find a partner with certain qualities to help you get the perfect result, and here’s how to do that. 

Create a Shortlist

First, you want to narrow the field and create a shortlist. Focus on manufacturers with specialist experience in your fields, with a focus on quality. You also want to check their reputation.

Online platforms offering reviews can help you with that. Or you can use your business network to make personal recommendations. 

Consider Alternative Approaches

There are advantages to manufacturing in China. But if you live outside of China, having those conversations can seem daunting and difficult, especially with a language barrier.

So, it’s worth looking into hybrid approaches when sourcing companies. A hybrid approach is working with a Western company that operates manufacturing bases in China, like Shield Works.

This approach offers the best of both worlds – a local, trusted contact plus an established team out in China with all the expertise that comes with it. 

Assess Each Company

Use standard criteria to compare your shortlist.

The criteria will be personal to your business as you may have specific requirements. But there are certain things it should cover, like its ability to prototype, its technology, approach, and quality standards.

It’s also worth examining what other products they manufacture for their customers. That is often the best way of establishing their capabilities. 

Ask Questions

When you’ve narrowed your shortlist, it’s time to approach the companies and ask some questions.

That will help you determine whether they have the capabilities and equipment to produce your prototype. But aside from the technical element, you’ll also want to know that this company can act as a partner.

So, establish more about their communication, customer service approach, and timeframes. You’ll also want to find a company that’s an excellent cultural fit for your business and understands your business values and priorities. 

Make Your Final Decision

It’s now time to make your decision. Costs will be a factor, but don’t make this your sole criterion. You must balance costs against other vital priorities like speed of delivery and quality.

Remember that a good manufacturer will become a partner for your business and that it’s a long-term relationship. 

Getting Started on Your Prototype 

Once you have chosen a manufacturing partner, you can start creating your prototype. Here’s what to expect and how to get the process right. 

Planning Your Product Development

Before manufacturing can begin, you’ll need to plan the development and finalize the design.

Manufacturers need a detailed specification for your idea, so it means adding relevant information to your product design, such as measurements.

The more thought you can put into your spec, the higher the likelihood the prototype will meet your expectations. The manufacturing partner can also use their experience and know-how to help you do this.

They’ll be able to guide you on aspects such as machine capabilities and choosing a specification that will improve the final product quality. 

Materials 

Once you have the product specification, it’s time to finalize the materials. By this point in the process, you’ll probably have a reasonable idea about the material you want.

Still, a manufacturing partner can help refine these choices. You may even prefer to create prototypes in different materials to compare the finish and cost.

This phase will also shape the final manufacturing method used to produce your prototype, such as 3D printing, precision machining, or other appropriate techniques. 

Assembly of Your Product Prototype

Your product may need individual components made before the final item is assembled. You’ll establish that by working directly with your manufacturing partner during the design and planning stage.

This stage will often help you find ways to refine your manufacturing process to improve the quality of the product or lower the costs, so it’s an essential stage of prototyping.

It’s also a chance for you to modify the final design. 

Testing 

Once you’ve manufactured your prototype, it’s time to begin the first formal testing and quality assurance phase.

That is why it’s crucial to choose a Chinese manufacturer with stringent quality procedures, as they can help ensure you have the proper checks in place from the start.

This step is your chance to test the functionality of your product and ensure it works as you intended during the design phase and will meet your customer’s expectations.

The testing should also mimic how the product will be used in the real world to ensure it’s robust enough to withstand use.

Testing a baby’s high chair for stability and weight is a good example of why this aspect of testing is necessary.

Iterative Development

While prototype development may seem step by step, it’s not a linear process; it’s iterative.

You’ll take feedback from your first production and use that to refine and improve your product. And you’ll likely do this several times before you’re happy with your final design.

Work with your Chinese manufacturing team to get a streamlined system in place to do these checks and refinements. 

That’s vital to any successful product as it will improve the function and quality of your design, ultimately making it more attractive to customers and improving your chances of commercial success. 

User Testing 

Up to now, you will have made many assumptions about how your target customer will react to your new product design. But it’s essential to test these assumptions before you plan a large-scale product launch.

So, you can do beta testing or focus group testing to get real customers’ feedback about your product. That will help you iron out any problems that could trigger poor reviews or high returns.

Customers often spot minor niggles that design and manufacturing teams miss. 

Post-Prototype: What Happens Next 

When you are happy to sign off on your prototype, your next task — together with your manufacturing partner — is to turn this prototype development into a mass-produced setup.

It might mean some tweaks to the manufacturing process to help cut costs. It’s also when you’ll start thinking about how to source raw materials and how to do that cost-effectively.

The best way to approach this stage is to run a review of your prototype development. Look at what went well, and spot the areas where improvements could have the most impact.

An experienced manufacturer will be able to add much value to this stage with their professional advice. It’s crucial you adopt a collaborative approach throughout.

Remember to monitor quality throughout.

Each time your manufacturing process changes, you’ll need to check this has no detrimental impact on quality; otherwise, your commercial product may be too far removed from your original prototype.

At this stage, you’ll also negotiate the final costs for product manufacturing.

You’ll need your marketing team to provide sales forecasts for this so that you have an accurate idea of what you want to make in the first year.

Working With Manufacturers in China for Your Prototype: Legal Issues

There are other pressing matters to remember when using a Chinese manufacturer or another overseas supplier, like regulatory, legal, or quality standards.

You must ensure your standards meet all the rules for where you intend to sell your product.

You must have this conversation with the manufacturer. It will need to be incorporated into every aspect of the supply chain before you finalize your prototype.

Working with a manufacturer that already produces goods for the region you intend to sell in is always helpful.

Some of these standards will be related to manufacturing, such as using safe materials in your product. But you may have other factors to consider, like environmental and labor laws. If in doubt, get legal advice. 

Product Prototyping: Improving Your Odds of a Successful Launch

When approached with care, product prototyping can have a massively positive impact on your business success.

It gives you the opportunity to create something truly innovative that will stand out in the marketplace. But this success rests on finding a manufacturing partner to help you achieve your aims.

That’s why businesses choose to work with our expert team at Shield Works Precision Manufacturing Co., Ltd.

With our team, you get award-winning experts who understand your local market and all the advantages of manufacturing in China. Contact us to have that first conversation.