How long does a custom product development take in China?
By Renaud Anjoran
Let’s say you have been developing a new product. The plan, of course, is to bring it to market as soon as possible. Your company’s strategy is to ‘produce it in China’.
How long will it take?
Probably longer than you’d guess, as we are going to see.
From a project management point of view, you would need to plan for all the steps to take — selecting a Chinese partner, getting tools made, starting up production, and getting the goods shipped out.
The first time you attempt to create a project plan that encompasses these elements, it can be difficult to get it accurate. In fact, it is very common to vastly under estimate the length of time it takes for each of the tasks.
Your initial plan might look like this (31 weeks):
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And in the end, it might look like this (64 weeks):
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NOTE: the number I use a naturally very rough averages. They would apply to an electro-mechanical product of average complexity, to be made in a Chinese factory that has never made that exact product before.
Let’s explore a couple of typical mismatches between estimates and reality — sourcing and tooling.
1) During the partner selection phase, you might think you will be able to find a suitable manufacturing partner simply by looking up a few companies on Alibaba, exchanging a few emails, getting some quotes, and sending an order to the supplier who is more responsive and has a good price for your product.
In reality, finding the right supplier takes time and should be done methodically, by following a step by step process. The partner selection phase is often estimated to take around 4 to 5 weeks but in reality it is more like 6-8 weeks.
2) Another big mismatch in planning is the actual time the non-recurring engineering takes.
The supplier will often state 35 days to produce tools. However, this does not take into consideration the design for manufacture (DFM) analysis, tool designs with you signing off the design, or a mold-flow analysis — all these steps, which you should probably not skip, take place before tooling starts.
A 35-day period is also often stated for 'first off' samples from the tool; in reality, the 'first off' sample inevitably requires some modification to the tool in order to bring the part into specification. All this takes time and is outside the quoted 35 day processing time. A more realist time from start to finish for tooling is more like 70+ days.
So remember when you are planning, the actual timescale is a least twice as long, and in some case up to four times as long, as the initial estimated timescales for your project plan…
Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on qualityinspection.org.
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