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How Hard Is High Tech Manufacturing?

It's one thing for a small team of experts to make a prototype in the lab work. Making the process manufacturable to consistently out our high quality copies all day is a greater challenge. Few succeed, but those that do have a lead not easily imitated.

Most government regulations are intended for public safety and to protect customers. Considering disasters make clickable news and its easy for customers to avoid suspect products is it worth putting effort into ensuring they will be safe and satisfied?  

Large companies have a full department for every function. A growing startup needs to keep staff lean. What if there was a way to get the benefits of a larger company without the overhead?

Does this look like your organization?

Your product is unique, your market is challenging, and your greatest competition may be the status quo. In order to make a complex product you either need to buy or make everything it needs. Even the parts you buy need people to figure out the best way to assemble them and interface with everything.

The small team that proved the concept needs to grow to a large cross functional  team to bring to market

Are you early enough in the development program to make the most difference?

In order to get funded the investors needed a good enough idea of what will be made.  Now the reality of making something actually manufacturable that will meet all requirements means trade-offs.  The fog of war means making choices with limited information and balancing time to understand things and iterating faster. After costs are sunk it becomes ever harder to make changes.  The most impact can be made early.

Leaders get one chance near the start to be proactive before overcome by events

Four Engineering Team Challenges
a Tech Startup Must Overcome to Scale

1.  The small team that proved the core tech works have a similar background and worked closely for long hours to make it work.  To rapidly scale requires many other skill sets, many must come from other disciplines, industries, and ​companies.  Those have different cultures, terminology, and assumptions that add friction.
2. Some engineers want to minimize risk and will add every possible feature and process to make this as close to zero as possible.  This will add cost and delays.  Other engineers may have a fail fast priority to quickly get results and iterate.  This may be good at the earliest stages but the risks of disaster go up with scale, and some customers won't appreciate being used for final quality control and negative word of mouth can kill momentum and ruin the brand when it needs to get traction.  

3.  Many good methods, such as lean, have been made almost ceremonial in the largest legacy companies.  The way they are executed not only don't get all of the benefits originally intended, they also take a lot more time and effort.  This can lead startups to feel it is best to skip  them and miss too much.  

4.  Much of the modern infrastructure that evolved within large companies is missing and has to be reinvented.  Growing this from nothing is time consuming.  Copying and pasting from legacy companies because it is familiar misses the opportunity to do better and make the most of being small and nimble.  

Before Deciding If This Will Work For You

Is your team getting all of the support they need?  

Is marketing getting customer needs clear enough for your team to turn them into specifications? Are these wants or needs?  Are they asking for a faster horse when you are inventing an automobile? 

Is finance keeping your funds flowing and minimizing accounting overhead?  Are you putting technical problems on hold to take inventory?

Is human recourses ensuring new people are compensated correctly and onboarded well? Considering how hard it is to find the right people, and teach them your unique details, how much of a setback is turnover?

Can your information systems handle all of the data you are creating?  How many decisions are being made with poor or missing data?  Can people as well work while traveling as they do in the office?  Is it secure from competitors and countries that don't respect intellectual property?


Provided by Jay Lewis

Over 20 years of experience bringing complex technology products from concept to full production.  Have done and worked with software engineers, operations managers, systems engineers, hardware engineers, manufacturing engineers, data scientists, program managing, and startup investing. Industries include space, aviation, vehicles, and alternative energy.  

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