Product teams experience a common pitfall during the design and production of a medical product. A specialty tape converter explains how it can derail efforts to launch a new product, and offers a simple solution for doing things the right way.
When you’re in the converting business, everything matters and anything can cause problems. One small overlooked component in a new product can cause delays, wasted resources, and ultimately jeopardize the product’s likelihood of success.
Just ask Mark Cheatham, Vice President of Engineering at Strouse, an adhesive tape converter. They’re often involved in new product launches, when the assignment is to create something that has never existed before.
Mark Cheatham, Vice President of Engineering at Strouse
“As an engineering team, we never know exactly what opportunity our sales team is going to uncover, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter,” he said.
What does matter is when in the product development process Strouse is called by the design and production team. When you ask for input on a product, it has to be sooner than later, otherwise you could face some serious consequences down the road.
A Product Team’s Most Common Pitfall
One of the most common pitfalls product teams make is to bring their converter into the project at the end of the design phase, when the R&D has been done and the development team has a strong sense of what they want to produce.
If an adhesive converter is not called in earlier in the process, they often don’t get a chance to fully understand what the company is trying to achieve with the product, and they can’t point out any potential production issues that can significantly impact the project in a variety of ways.
Why is it problematic if a converter is brought in during the later stages of a new product launch?
It’s Not Just About Materials Selection
For starters, the material has already been determined without any regards to the actual application of the product.
But the whole materials selection is only 10% of the effort. “It’s critical – but not necessarily the most difficult,” Cheatham notes. “The real challenge is getting the product development team to understand the end goal.”
This is when everything is being developed, not just the part that Strouse is asked to produce. It’s at this point that the converter can point out production elements that can impact the whole process.
“Our job is to identify and solve a problem you didn’t even know you had,” Cheatham said.
The only way Strouse can help a company “know what you don’t know” is to get integrated earlier in the process and understand your product goals. Too often, however, the following scenario occurs.
Why Success is Less Likely When Procurement Calls
Let’s start out with the worst-case scenario for any supplier. Cheatham describes a typical phone call he receives from a company’s procurement department.
A representative will inform him that the development team has completed the product development, and they need a bid on a certain set of specs. “At this point we start to ask questions,” Cheatham said. “Lots of questions.”
From an adhesive converter’s perspective, these might include:
- How long does the adhesive have to stick?
- Does it have to be water resistant?
- Who is the end user?
- Does it need to move with the body?
Cheatham and his engineers will ask questions that vary based on the product. Unfortunately, that poor procurement officer won’t have the answers.
In many cases, procurement is under a strict deadline, and has a whole list of components that need to be sourced. They often don’t have the time to go back to the product team and serve as a middleman between suppliers and their internal teams.
More often than not, procurement teams will push forward, asking suppliers to quote based on the provided specs. That’s typically where problems begin to arise, and companies have to learn their lesson the hard way. Just ask NASA.
Silo Mentality Often is the Wrong Approach
No one experiences higher stakes when launching (literally) a new product than NASA. Heather McCloskey assembled a list of epic failure points in this great post about the steps NASA takes prior to a launch. The list of 7 includes:
- Not planning well enough
- Announcing a launch date too soon
- Ignoring other internal teams
- Not training key stakeholders
- Neglecting pre-launch testing and feedback
- Not preparing feedback and support processes
- Not learning from the launch
Take note of #3 and #5. As McCloskey notes, “Failing to include other people in the launch means that you’re missing out on a ton of smart opinions that can make your product better.”
That’s why operating in a silo, without input from co-workers, partners and suppliers, can negatively impact the likelihood of success.
What Can Go Wrong When Launching a New Product in a Silo
Working with adhesive materials is challenging, as most product development teams have limited background knowledge or expertise in adhesives. As a result, these teams write specs that won’t actually work from both performance and process standpoints.
So what can go wrong if the supplier goes ahead and bids on the specs at the request of the procurement officer? The product is manufactured, and either during in-house testing or clinical trials, the product can fail — usually for a variety of reasons, such as:
- The adhesive might not work in all applications
- There might be an issue with a liner
- There are issues during the manufacturing and assembly process because the adhesive was not built to do what it is being asked to do
The product launch is then held up, deadlines are missed, and the team returns to the drawing board. For medical devices, this can result in a variety of short and long-term problems, including:
1. The need for new FDA 510(k) approval
The product (and the company) will once again have to submit the parts for 510(k) approval, a process that can take anywhere from two to six months. The FDA will have to approve the new materials.
2. A failure in clinical trials
In the medical industry, when your product fails at this point, it comes at the expense of your organization’s reputation, in front of a group of doctors enrolled in the trial. That sets a negative tone for the product launch among a highly-skeptical audience.
3. Squandered money for company and partners
There is no money made for a company when a product is in development — both for the manufacturer and the partners helping with the production. When a product fails, it costs everyone money. That money will need to be recouped when the product is finally launched, putting even more pressure on the need for bottom line success.
4. Loss of product features
When you fail at the finish line, what often winds up being sacrificed in the redesign are some product features — often cherished ones that were the selling points of the product. It might have been something you could pivot with earlier in the process, but it will be increasingly difficult at this late stage.
A Product Launch Strategy That Increases the Likelihood of Success
Adhesives may be a small percentage of the overall cost of a product, but they often play a significant role. “If the adhesive fails, the component fails,” says Cheatham.
So how do you increase your odds for a successful product launch?
It’s simple: Get your converter involved early.
Cheatham said that medical device companies they’ve worked with, such as Medtronic, Abbott Laboratories, and GE, know that the ideal time to involve a converter is when your company has completed a solid business plan for a new product.
At this point, the function of the device has been established, and the project is turned over to the designers to make it work. To make it work, and work well, you need solid advice from all parties that will be involved with the production of the product.
Why It’s a Converter’s Duty to No-Quote a Project
How strongly does Cheatham and Strouse believe in getting a converter involved early in the process?
They’ll actually pass on potential business if they’re invited late to the party. The responsible converter, they believe, should actually no-quote a project if they are not part of the design process.
“The converter’s focus should be to help their customer get the most return from their component,” said Cheatham.
When you’re producing a medical device, the costs of a mistake grow exponentially when they’re discovered after the product launch. It’s why the most cost-effective way to fix a mistake is to work with your suppliers early and often to help you prevent it from happening.