Have it Made: The Basics of the Manufacturing Process


Quality Control Specialist Tim Russell uses a specialized micrometer to measure of machining performed at Port City Group’s Port City Castings Corporation manufactures high-pressure aluminum die-castings, mostly for the automotive industry, in Muskegon, MI, facility on Wednesday July 20, 2011. Port City Group boosted its employment by 12 percent over last year thanks to two Rural Business Guaranteed Loans totaling $9.6 million. In its 80,000 sq. ft. facility, machines that range from 800 – 1,600 tons, and cast A380 aluminum alloy products from melted ingots of aluminum, into automotive components of U.S.A. made vehicles. The process features a variety of robotic presses; computer controlled machining; quality control facility; and complete measurement and testing laboratory. In 2009 banks were backing out of loans for PCG equipment purchase agreements. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan guarantee helped make the loan possible with its guarantee. PCG obtained the needed robotic and other equipment. This resulted in a stable workforce that has since grown. When asked about their USDA experience, Port City Group Sales Manager Laura LaGuire said, “It was great! They were very helpful. Everything that came up was handled smoothly, the money came in place when it was needed, and it was a very smooth transition.” USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

During a recent episode of Fashion Is Your Business, with Nora Levinson and Soyoung Park of Caeden, Pavan asked Nora to walk through the process of getting their headphones and/or their bracelet manufactured. Despite advances in manufacturing and companies like Maker’s Row helping businesses with the manufacturing, the process of making physical goods can still be opaque. Here are the steps that were discussed. We have fleshed them out for your convenience.
The way Nora described it, the first few steps happen nowhere near a factory. Caeden spent months and months narrowing down their ideas into something solid.
1.You may have a basic idea of what you want to make, but you need to question why you are making that item. Ask yourself:
-What are you passionate about?
-Why are you creating this item?
-What problem are you solving?
-Why does it have to be you (making this)?
2. The next step is research. You want to hit the books and find out what you need to get your item made and how it will live in the market. There two major areas you want to focus on.
-Is the current technology available? Will it be possible to manufacture your product and are there others already producing the product you want to make?
-What is the market and how do you fit among the competitors? Talk to consumers to find out their needs. Be open to the fact that your journey into manufacturing might end here if your item solves a problem that few consumers have. Nora said this work requires 3-to-4 months of action.
3. Next, move beyond the concept and start designing your product. For Caeden, the aesthetic, initial design of their bracelet took a month, but this was a team with experience. If you are just starting out, be prepared for this process to last longer. Also, be prepared that your initial design will not be your final design; there will be iteration.
Only after these preparatory steps in the manufacturing process do you start thinking about manufacturers and talking to them.
1.Vetting. You want to get references for factories. Maker’s Row makes this easy with reviews for factories in America. If you are using a factory outside of the US, your references might come from figuring out the brands a factory currently manufactures for and the items they make for those brands. (If it is their first time doing something, you have to plan knowing things will go wrong.) If possible, talk to other brands. This might not be easy, as most brands want to keep that information close to their chest, but the space has become increasingly more collaborative.
2. Start reaching out to factories and figuring out what production will cost and what processes you will need to produce the final product. Finding out the cost of production will help you figure out your pricing structure and profit margin. You also want to find a factory that can scale with you as your brand needs to produce more items.
-The profit margin will determine how your bring your product to market.
-You may also need to refine or change details about your product to bring the price down.
3. You may have to source of materials, depending on the type of materials and the type of product you are making. Some factories will provide this as a service to you. In Caeden’s example, the manufacturer could handle the technology within their bracelet, but the leather strap required sourcing on their end.
4. Get some air miles and clear space out on your calendar: you should go the factory itself during the crunch time of production to best assess progress.
Nora also offered some advice to think about throughout the entire process and when making more things in the future:
1. Design with the manufacturing process in mind. Nora talked her past jobs and how her role was to make sure the designers and the manufacturers were on the same page. When they were not, features and designs required compromised, ending up with a product that no one was really satisfied with.
2. As you make more things, develop a relationship with manufacturers you use. If you are just starting out, you will need strong concept and backing from a reputable source. The latter part is important, as manufacturers are putting their own business on the line when producing items.
3. Do not be afraid to push on what can be done. Sometimes a feature is not physically possible, other times you must be able to find an alternate solution to make it happen. Be flexible and creative.
4. Make sure that you have a realistic forecast of number of items that you are producing and understand your lead-time. You need to plan 4-to-6 months out.



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by U.S. Department of Agriculture

About the author: Alex J. Tunney

Alex J. Tunney is an in-house writer and Content Coordinator for Open Source Fashion. His work has appeared in The Billfold, Lambda Literary, The Inquisitive Eater and The Ink and Code. He lives in New York.

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