6 Signs That it is Time to Redesign Your Product


Forward

All companies are financially incentivized to extend the product lifecycle for as long as possible to maximize their return on the initial development costs.

The product has been a good seller. The CFO is happy, but product management is starting to get nervous as the accrual of hidden costs is beginning to erode margins.

Is it time to refresh your product design?

Here are 6 signs that it might be time to redesign your product:

  1. Component Lifecycle Issues

The global electronic component shortage with its related supply chain disruptions in metals, resins,  and even common screws, bolts, washers, and clips continue to make life interesting in the {hopefully} post-COVID environment.  Components are still challenging to secure; price increases are eroding margins. Supply chain disruptions are limiting distribution options forcing larger lot purchases that bloat inventory costs while tying up precious capital.  While single-source components should always be minimized, the dwindling number of alternates further reduces options. The dramatically escalating workload for supply chain, sourcing, and engineering teams is sucking up their bandwidth to evaluate and approve Engineering-Change-Orders (ECOs) to keep the current design shipping. And, the accumulating pile of excess and obsolete (E&O) components is beginning to add up to real money.

Look out for indications that manufacturer component support is waning such as ICs with reduced package options, reduced SKUs, higher minimum order quantities (MOQs), or those that are designated Non-Cancellable Non-Returnable (NCNR). While most components may not be End-of-Life (EOL), those that are designated Not-Recommended-for-New-Design (NRND) must be addressed quickly before other market participants secure the scarce supply to mitigate the inevitable price hikes that occur as the remaining supply is exhausted.

  1. Non-Optimal Manufacturability

Does your product require craftsman-like skills to be properly built?

There are (3) three areas that drive hidden manufacturability costs.

First, the unnecessarily complicated assembly process that your manufacturer has quietly worked around for years continues to deliver inconsistent product quality. Consider that latent deficiencies in the design itself may be the root cause instead of the variability of the production process, itself.

Second, custom parts that are designed without proper process considerations produce parts with marginal yields and higher than expected scrap rates.

Finally, inadequate test coverage inhibits the detection of manufacturing defects at the earliest, least costly stage; this is especially true for products with minimal test point access or those that require time-consuming disassembly to debug. Also, aging manufacturing test equipment that needs constant maintenance and repair causes unplanned downtime, decreases throughput, and impacts on-time-delivery (OTD) metrics; it likely uses proprietary test software developed by a former, offsite contractor in a Perl script that executes in a Cygwin shell that only runs on Windows XP SP2.

  1. Technology Advancements

Is your product a generation or two behind the current technologies?

Silicon giant TSMC’s advanced architecture process technology continues to decrease the costs for ICs.

New wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi™ 6 (802.11 ax) and Bluetooth 5.1 (AOA/AOD) offer new capabilities, not just speed improvements.

While touting a 5G future, the wireless telecom industry has moved to sunset 2G/3G networks which will effectively disconnect millions of devices that will need to migrate to more expensive cellular modules.

Even if your product doesn’t need bleeding-edge technologies to remain viable, the existing design may be based upon an older generation platform that is now more expensive than new solutions from dozens of low-cost suppliers.

  1. Competitive Threats

Have your competitors launched new products recently?

Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone apps are now expected by customers.

A functional yet boring product design with dated styling and legacy components such as 7 segment displays won’t cut it in an age of affordable OLED touchscreens for premium user experience.

  1. Regulatory Changes & Environmental Responsibility

Will your product be legal to sell in the near future?

With compliance to RoHS 3 already required in 2019, the updated regulations will be extended to medical devices in mid-2021.  While a few industries and products are still exempt, the availability of non-compliant components for them was significantly reduced as the first RoHS regulations were rolled out. The decreasing demand for leaded parts led to fewer design options and higher costs for exempt products.

As e-waste continues to be a growing global menace, compliance with WEEE encourages companies to consider e-recycling and disposal costs in the design of their products.

Even without governmental regulations to ensure responsible corporate behavior, alignment with green initiatives can be an important market differentiator.

  1. Security Concerns

Is your product protected from cybersecurity threats?

Every day, new exploits are discovered for major operating systems and software which are rapidly patched. However, specialized products may have few protections from emerging threats. Products that use wireless networks are especially vulnerable since they can be attacked from the Internet without an attacker obtaining physical access.

Unsecured devices can provide an entry point to networks that enable costly hacks or ransomware extortion causing damage not only to your brand but may open the company to potentially exorbitant liability.

Conclusion

While this post is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all the signs that your product design needs a refresh, it should be a catalyst to begin your assessment.

Product roadmaps cannot be staked to rigid timeframes but require flexibility.

It is almost always better to begin the product planning process earlier to avoid a rushed development cycle that needs to respond to competitive threats, changing market conditions, and rapidly evolving technologies.

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