This was Richard’s first visit back to the inventors group as a speaker since January 2009.
Richard has been running his company, Pd-m International, since 2005. The company specialises in product design and manufacture, taking products to market and making sure that they comply with the relevant regulations. They have a very diverse client base – from individuals to large companies – but the process they go through is the same.
In all cases carrying out some patent searching in the early stages of a project is important. Is the product as new as you think it is? If something similar has already been done can you get round the prior art by ensuring your product is different enough? If not then it may be as well to drop the idea at this point – infringement can be expensive! Of course although protecting a product can be a good move intellectual property does not guarantee success.
Richard pointed out that design is subjective and there may be several different solutions to one problem. An important feature of the process is Proof of Concept. It’s important to test products out to see if your ideas really do work. This is something which often evolves and the time that it takes to develop a product should never be underestimated.
Product compliance is something which is mandatory but many inventors don’t realise that this is the case. There can be a number of regulations which apply to any one product covering such things as toxicity of materials used, electrical products etc. If components which you put into your product are already compliant when you receive them this does not guarantee that your overall product will be compliant. Compliance can potentially add tens of thousands to your costs.
When it comes to manufacturing, sometimes it can be difficult to get the right manufacturer who understands your vision, and that is important. They can work with you to help you adapt your product where necessary.
Manufacturing in the Far East can work well if you’re likely to be producing large volumes but manufacturing abroad is not always cheaper. You also need to understand the customs and social mores of the country in which you are intending to produce. And transport costs need to be added in to your budget. It is also not as easy to visit the manufacturer to monitor.
Getting contracts in to place with manufacturers from the outset is critical. Everyone needs to know where they stand – and particularly if things go wrong. If you have a “golden sample” which works well you can use this as a standard against which subsequent samples can be compared. One example which Richard gave where this would have been useful was when one company replaced stainless steel screws in a product with cheaper screws, and the product failed. Had the screw type and material been specified by the product owner this could have been avoided. The manufacturer who can produce the product at the lowest cost is not always the best.
Richard finished by summarising his main points:
- Carry out an IP check. Is your product different enough from what has been done before?
- Make sure the design has a commercial advantage.
- Check for compliance.
- Choose your manufacturer carefully and get written agreements in place.
- When it comes to product quality in particular, make clear what you want and avoid ambiguity.
- Get a good team around you.
- Never underestimate how hard it is to develop a new product.