If you’ve been keeping up with our flagship product, the CRC System, you know it has been a long journey. From idea to getting it into customer’s hands has been one challenge after another. We thought we’d put together a post talking about our process for creating this product. We’ll talk about the idea, how we went from a concept to reality, and how we overcame the different hurdles along the way. Settle in! This is our guide for “How To Make A New Product”.
I don’t know where ideas come from. The conditions they seem to happen in vary from “the world is ending” to “relaxing in a hammock”. A lot of people have them in the shower. What’s important is being able to spot your good ideas when they occur. A good product idea consists of equal parts opportunity, creativity, and value. Does your product idea have a space in the market? Does it solve a problem, improve something, or instill joy? Will your customers find value in what you have to offer? Is it something people will use for a long time? If you can answer yes to these questions you’re ready for the next question: How do you make this?
The word prototype comes in a variety of flavors. There’s always the “first” prototype. It’s ugly, it only half works, and people’s reactions are generally “What is it?”. This is the point when you can answer questions like “will this even work?”. You’ll also start to learn about everything you hadn’t thought of yet. These are the first hurdle’s you’ll jump in the life-cycle of your product. Making changes to fix these shortcomings means you’ve graduated to “early” prototype.
Early prototypes are the evolution of your idea as you test solutions and implementations of the various components and systems. On the CRC, we built and tested 4 different iterations of our roof rack clamps. Just because your device checks all of the functionality boxes doesn’t mean it’s user friendly. If it isn’t intuitive or takes too much time, the end user will grow frustrated. Other problems require iterations to learn things that weren’t obvious at the start.
At the end of this spectrum your prototype works great but isn’t something you could take to production. You can call it a “functional” prototype.
At this point you’re heading to production. There’s open debate on if a “production sample” counts as a prototype, but we’re not here to settle that…
Up until this point you’ve only had to make one, or maybe a handful, of your product at a time. Transitioning to making several at a time can mean a lot of changes. The process you use to make one part, for instance, may be completely different from how you make one thousand. Changing manufacturing processes can require changes to your design. The 3D printed part we used on the first prototype of the CRC wasn’t a shape you could readily produce with a traditional molding process. We had to update small details to make it compatible with injection molding. Process changes can also mean material changes. Changing materials can completely change the behavior of your product. Every time you make a change like this you need to anticipate the results and test to verify your predictions.
Another big consideration of production is cost. Are the materials you selected affordable or exotic and expensive? Ideally, you have this in mind at the onset of your project, but if not you’ll have to make changes down the line that can have big impacts on time, function and appearance. If you built your prototype using an expensive off the shelf component you’ll need to find or make a cheaper alternative. Sourcing parts like fasteners in small quantities from local vendors is one thing, but if you need 4000 screws there are cheaper places to buy them than your local hardware store.
Depending on the complexity of your product and the necessary production processes, you may have to hire someone to make some or all of it for you. Unless you have a tremendous amount of capital, for example, it’s unlikely you’ll want to build an aluminum extrusion factory or buy injection molding machines. Partnering with a vendor, or several vendors, buys you their expertise and access to their expensive infrastructure. Having production partners can change a project from impossible to possible. Then again, having multiple parties in your supply chain complicates your quality control process and takes more time. For the CRC System, we always chose the painful, but necessary, long road of waiting to perform QC on anything fresh off the production line.
Putting Out Fires
No matter how much planning, anticipation, and preparation you do, there will be unforeseen errors on the road of production. Supply problems, third party vendors, human error, the list of potential pitfalls are endless. Expecting these delays and extra expenses is a must. Predicting them is sometimes impossible. We watched our production timeline for the CRC System creep away from us, gradually taking our 4-month timeline into a year-long slog. Remarkably, people were (usually) not upset and almost always supportive. Bringing a fly rod holder like the CRC to market has in some ways restored my faith in humanity. The kindness, patience, and excitement the fly fishing community has shown us is truly next level.
It’s not over. Ever.
There’s always room for improvement. We don’t ever want the CRC System to become stagnant or stop evolving to fit people’s needs. As more people put our fly rod carrier to work we’ll incorporate their feedback and experiences to make our product the best in the business. If someone using our products isn’t satisfied we want to know why and we want to make their experience the best it can possibly be.
If you’ve got feedback on the CRC, or any of our other products, you can blow up our inboxes here.