10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Manufacturer for Your Product

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“Choose a manufacturer as you would choose a partner, with the same level of care and attention to detail. The right manufacturer can build your product and become an invaluable asset to your business.”

When it comes to bringing a new product to market, one of the most important decisions you will make is choosing the right manufacturer. The manufacturer you select will play a crucial role in the success of your product, so it’s important to take the time to find the right one. At Design 1st, we assist clients throughout the entire process of selecting a manufacturer. While some clients may choose to find options independently, they often rely on us for feedback and support.

To help inventors, startups, and established businesses avoid the pitfalls of choosing the wrong manufacturer, we put together 10 key questions to answer when before choosing a manufacturer.

1) What is your experience with my product type and materials?

It’s important to work with a manufacturer with experience in your product category, as they will be better equipped to handle any challenges that may arise during the production process. For example, if you building an inflatable plastic product you want to make sure the manufacturer has deep experience in this space to guarantee product quality.

2) Can you provide references for other products you manufactured?

Ask for references from other clients and reach out to them to ask about their experience with the manufacturer. If this is not possible,  do online research to flag any potential negative reviews or feedback.

Face mask prototype product samples
Face mask prototype product samples

3) What is your manufacturing production capacity?

Manufacturer production capacity refers to the maximum amount of products a manufacturer can produce within a given period. This can be expressed in terms of the number of units produced per day, week, or month or in terms of the total production time required to produce a specific number of units.

Manufacturer production capacity can be influenced by a number of factors, including the type of equipment and machinery used, the availability of raw materials and components, the workforce’s skill level, and the manufacturing process’s efficiency.

It’s important to understand a manufacturer’s production capacity when you want to work with one. It will help you determine whether the manufacturer can meet your production needs and, if not, help you plan accordingly. For example, if you need to produce 5,000 units in a month and the manufacturer can only produce 3,000 units in that time, you will need to look for another manufacturer or adjust your production plan.

The Design 1st team meeting clients and manufacturer in China

4) Can you provide samples of products from your manufacturing?

Ask for samples of the manufacturer’s previous work to ensure they have the capability to produce the quality of the product you require. More important is getting samples of your product’s production process and materials.

At Design 1st, we go through several processes to dial in your volume manufacturing run. This includes developing a “pre-production” prototype that uses the exact manufacturing process to identify any risks. Another option is to travel to the factory, meet with your manufacturer, walk the shop floor, see samples, and ask questions.

5) What is your lead time for new product production runs?

Find out how long it will take for the manufacturer to produce your product and ensure it aligns with your business plan. If manufacturing in China, consider national holidays like Chinese New Year and any component supply issues you may face. If you have a hard deadline to have a product ready for market, start working with the manufacturer at least nine months in advance. The last thing you want is to rush!

To ensure manufacturing quality, you need to follow a strict quality control process that your manufacturer agrees to. At Design 1st, we do this by setting up a low-volume production run, where initial products get manufactured, assembled, and shipped to our office for review. For complicated builds involving connected electronic products, or products with dozens of parts, we prefer a visit to the factory and invite our clients to join us.

Example of Design 1st Product Development Timeline Chart

6) What are your minimum order quantity and unit pricing?

Find out how many units the manufacturer requires you to order at a minimum and ensure it is feasible for your business. When engaging with manufacturers directly, inventors and startups will often face steep costing for low-volume production runs. Or, in many cases, the manufacturer will flat-out refuse to work with you beyond a certain minimum quantity.

Working with an established partner, like Design 1st, can help give you leverage during negotiations on minimum order quantity pricing.

7) What are your manufacturing pricing model and service offering?

Ask about the manufacturer’s pricing structure and service offering. Do they include product assembling? Are there minimum order quantities? Do they have a strong product quality control process? How is shipping handled? You want to understand the entire financial picture, so there are no surprises.

For example, when manufacturing injection plastic parts, you will need to pay for tooling ($10,000 – $100,000+) to get the mold made for your parts, plus costs for the manufacturing run and shipping.  The complexity of your product (i.e. the number of parts) will impact the total costs related to manufacturing, assembly, and delivery of your product.

chinese quality inspection
Design 1st VP of Manufacturing, Dave Ingram conduction a quality control audit in a client's manufacturing facility

8) What is your manufacturing quality control process?

A manufacturing quality control process is a series of steps and procedures a manufacturer takes to ensure that its products meet certain quality standards and specifications. These steps typically include inspecting and testing the materials and components used in the production process, monitoring the manufacturing process itself, and testing the finished product before it is shipped to customers.

The specific steps in a quality control process can vary depending on the manufacturer and the product being produced. Some common steps include:

  • Incoming inspection of raw materials and components to ensure they meet the required specifications
  • In-process inspection of products during production to ensure they are being manufactured to the correct specifications
  • Final inspection of finished products before they are shipped to ensure they meet all requirements
  • Testing of finished products to ensure they meet performance and safety standards
  • Keeping detailed records of all inspections and tests to ensure traceability and accountability.

A quality control process aims to identify and prevent manufacturing defects and non-conformances before the product reaches the customer.

Design 1st helps support clients by creating a custom quality control process that reviews products as they are manufactured, assembled, and packaged for the market.

manufacturing-assembly-quality inspection
Design 1st VP of Manufacturing Dave Ingram conducting a quality control audit

9) What are your payment terms?

Ask about the manufacturer’s payment terms and ensure they align with your business plan.  Do you have the funding for tooling and a large volume production run? If not, you will want to negotiate payment terms that align with your needs. Working with a manufacturing partner with strong existing relationships with suppliers and manufacturers can often provide better payment terms both in the short and long run.

10) What is your communication process?

Find out how the manufacturer will communicate with you during the production process and ensure it aligns with your needs.

By asking these questions, you will be able to select a manufacturer that is capable of producing a high-quality product, within your budget and timeframe, and that is a good fit for your business. Remember that good communication and transparency with the manufacturer will be key for a successful partnership.

By asking these questions, you will be able to select a manufacturer that is capable of producing a high-quality product, within your budget and timeframe, and that is a good fit for your business. Remember that good communication and transparency with the manufacturer will be key for a successful partnership.

tRemote meeting with manufacturing team
Remote meeting with manufacturing team to review part samples

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