From time to time, I talk with an inventor who is planning to have his/her new-to-the-world product made in China. And they often need to get from initial designs to production… Which means they need to get the “development” done.
Unfortunately, some inventors have no idea what the development phase entails. Here are a few questions I ask them:
1. What type of engineering skills will be needed?
What type of factory do you need to work with?
- Medium size?
- Large? (Only possible if projected volumes are quite large, pretty much from the start)
Who should do the development?
- An R&D company
- The OEM manufacturer
- A trading company with very strong engineering skills
Then I explain the common challenges that await them in China, a few of which are below:
- OEM factories don’t like projects for which design is not complete, and won’t assign good engineers to projects that (in their mind) are not 100% sure to lead to large orders.
- OEM factories generally don’t invoice customers for new product developments — that cost is factored in the product price.
- Chinese companies tend to believe the IP rights of the products they have developed are theirs — even if they assure you that’s not the case when you interview them. When the time comes to give you critical files, they might say no.
- If development is done by engineers who are NOT familiar with Chinese production, then the designs are “sent over a wall” to a manufacturer who might say “this is impossible to make”. It means you may well have to start the development phase again.
Fortunately, there are a few solutions. Here are a couple of shortcuts that have worked well for certain startup buyers that couldn’t commit to huge orders:
- Finding a manufacturer that already makes products that are similar (in terms of key components and production processes).
- Working with an engineering/R&D company based in China that can guide them through manufacturing.
- Working with a 50-100 people factory that has good engineers for the first orders, and then moving to a different manufacturer if volumes pick up strongly.
For further reading on this topic, you can read 6 tips to design products to be made in China.