Delivering hardware on time is really really hard

When I used to work at a consumer electronics company, delaying a product launch and missing the demand season–back to school and Christmas sales–was the worst nightmare come true.

When problems occurred (which was quite often), we had the procurement people going on a scavenger hunt, quality assurance people testing all night , and production planners having teleconferences every hour with factory staff to change and coordinate production schedules. I remember once having to gather 20 assistant staff working overtime to test a problematic PC touchpad by having them swipe it 10,000 times each to push it through QA (quality assurance) just a week before launch. It’s hard to deliver hardware on time.

Things haven’t changed much today with a lot of crowd-funded hardware projects missing their delivery dates. Here’s a little outdated article from December 2012 by CNNMoney that said 84% of top-50 Kickstarter projects missed their target delivery dates.

HWdelays

I looked at the list, and found that 37 of those were hardware projects. Reasons for the delay were problems in:

  • Production and quality assurance
  • Procurement
  • Certification  (FCC (Federal Communications Commission), CE (Conformite Europeene or European Conformity)marking, etc.)
  • Logistics
  • Specification change of dependent products (ie. change to Lightning connector on iPhones)
  • Entrepreneur’s health

Aside from the last two, all other reasons are typical operational problems for hardware products.

While the makers movement really made prototyping fast and cheap, it hasn’t addressed the operational stage, which is detail-oriented and un-sexy compared to the earlier stage. Prototyping can be lead by a very few people (ie. designers and mechanical engineers), but operations require a team with experience, diligence, coordination, and industry network to get things done on time. It’s a different type of skillset–one  usually lacked by a startup.

Perhaps what we now need on top of 3D printers and crowdsourcing websites like Custom Made and GrabCAD is a platform or  services that provide strict scheduling, coordination and QA services. Who can provide that? EMS and incumbent makers first come to mind as Foxconn recently announced their hardware incubation initiative. Perhaps we’ll start seeing a new breed of IoT platforms that can provide those services.

We’ll keep an eye open for initiatives in that front and post them on this blog and VentureScanner to stay on top of things.

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