Like us, many engineering or manufacturing businesses have aspirations to launch their own products. After all, the equipment and infrastructure are there already, all that’s needed is the product. Simple, right?
Well, actually it’s not that simple.
Across NZ, businesses spend millions of dollars developing and launching new products each year, but the reality is failure rates are extremely high.
It’s an area, as a country, we need to get better at. The Government wants New Zealand to raise research and development (R&D) expenditure to 2% of GDP in the next 10 years. That’s why they’ve introduced an R&D tax incentive.
R&D and product development is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. After all, we supply parts for many individuals and businesses, ranging from back shed inventors right through to companies who invest heavily in R&D. Further, we’re currently going through the process of developing and launching a range of products ourselves. One thing we don’t want to do is make mistakes that could easily be avoided.
That’s why we’ve researched and compiled this list of 5 mistakes to avoid in product development.
This is one for those companies who find their own development project always takes second priority to paid work. In this situation, you need to do your research and work out your potential return on investment. If developing the product makes fiscal and strategic sense then you should find a way to give it the resource and structure it needs. If not, shelve it. Don’t just keep hoping that someday you’ll get around to it, because you probably won’t.
Before significantly investing in a product development project you need to be sure you’re developing a product people will actually need or want. No amount of hard work can make up for pursuing the wrong idea. And the only way to determine how good your idea might be is market research. Research helps manage the risk of taking on a project as well as deriving valuable insights that could help you develop a better product. You need to find out how significant the problem or opportunity that your product addresses is, and only proceed if it’s real. Don’t make the mistake of falling in love your product. Fall in love with the solution to your market's problem.
Once you have resourced your project appropriately and determined it’s likely market appeal, you need to keep track of it. This starts with articulating the product vision – “what we are trying to build here and why” and defining a timeframe and budget for the project. If you want to avoid scope creep and product cost escalations, decisions need to be reviewed against your key objectives.
Sure, you want to keep your project under wraps so you can get an edge on your competition, but not at the expense of the project’s success. As soon as you can you want to be talking about your product with potential customers, suppliers, distributors etc. Having renders, prototypes, or even sketches or a simple value proposition for the product, can help highlight potential problems or opportunities early on in a project when it’s easier and more cost effective to make changes. Securing and building important relationships (such as with suppliers and distributors) early on can also speed up the whole process.
When you’re developing a product it’s easy to imagine that once you’ve resolved all the issues, and developed a product to meet the needs of the market, the sales will start to roll in soon after the product is launched. If only! For your product to be successful you need to have the right sales and distribution set-up, as well as good marketing and sales support. You need a strategy and plan beyond your product launch.
Made any of these mistakes yourself? I know we have. We’re probably guilty of #1 and #5. But not next time! And referencing # 4 Keeping projects secret, as suppliers, we see the benefits of collaborating with our customers doing product development every day. So don’t be shy, if you’d like to discuss laser cutting and engineering solutions for your project, the sooner the better.
How many women do you work with? My guess is probably not many.
That’s because women are under-represented in the engineering field both here in New Zealand and the rest of the world. And we believe this is something that needs to change in order for our field to move forward.
Studies show that diversity within the workplace leads to increased innovation, motivation and creativity by bringing new talents, skills, perspectives and experiences to the team.
Here at FIK Laser, we are proud of the diverse culture we’re creating and want to encourage others to do the same.
Last week I sat down with some of the women from the team to see what they love about the engineering field and what we could do to encourage more females to join the field to help propel it further forward.
Here's what they had to say.
“We are problem solvers, good communicators and excellent multi-taskers. We also look outside the square and bring a totally different perspective to the problem. Innovation is big for me – approaching every problem from a different angle means more efficiency, growth and creativity. Also, I do like to hassle the guys!”
“Women are well organised, have positive attitudes, are great communicators and problem solvers and have a strong attention to detail. All of these things are required and are extremely beneficial in the office of an engineering business.”
“No two days are the same. I love the variety of customers and the work we produce. My role allows me to be creative.”
“I love working in engineering as the people are straight up, easy to get along with and really creative. We constantly work on resolving our customer's problems and we get to do cool things every day. I love that we get to contribute to the bigger picture by being part of a strong, capable team”
“Just employ more women! Females might not have the same physical strength on average, however, we bring plenty of other capabilities. In our workshop, we have three males and three females and we get “sh*t” done. Sarah also has the office, workshops and customers fully organised! We’re a great team together.”
“Give women the chance at the job, we can do just as good as men. Employing more women will make us feel much more comfortable knowing that the business has a great attitude towards women working in engineering businesses. Oh yeah, and maybe more good looking men too!”
“Have a gender-neutral attitude around engineering roles and accept that women have the same ability as men.”
“I do really enjoy the work, the people and seeing the work being accomplished. There is something so rewarding about seeing the project come together. I also love the physicality of the job and the different work styles coming together to form a great team environment”
“The most important thing for any business is to have clear, concise communication and training so that all staff are able to carry out their jobs successfully and with a sense of achievement and enjoyment. With the right tools at their disposal, everyone can succeed.”
"A well-rounded team doesn’t consist of just one skill-set, so why should it consist of one gender? A diverse team encourages growth, enjoyment in your role and innovation."
In my experience, having women on the team adds another set of eyes and a different perspective when problem-solving. I also find that women bring a focus to the shop. They make the rest of the team focus toward the goal of getting a job done well and on time.
So what do you think? Could your business benefit from some “girl-power”? Let's all be more open to having women in the industry. Unfortunately, engineering is often still considered a “mans job” when really employers should be looking at the skills women bring and being a good fit for your business.
For many businesses, outsourcing profile cutting work makes sense. It’s a specialised process using specialised machinery. No point investing time and money in it when you can contract the service as needed (especially to pros like FIK Laser!).
But it pays not to rush out and chose the first supplier you come across or the one offering the cheapest deals. You need to do your homework to ensure you select the best option for your business’s needs.
And it doesn’t stop there.
If you want to get the best results from outsourced profile cutting you need to do your bit too. Here are 7 common mistakes engineers make when contracting profile cutting.
If you provide scale drawings but don’t include key dimensions you can run into trouble. When the cutting machine software converts, scale errors can occur. It is always best to include dimensions to avoid any errors creeping in.
The quality of the material you cut will reflect in the finished product. Make sure you specify or agree on the material to be used for your job. Don’t go for the cheapest, always think fit for purpose.
Profile cutting businesses will often have better buying power over certain materials than what you do. Don’t assume providing your own material will be cheaper. Get a quote.
When it comes to profile cutting there are several tools for the job. The right choice depends on your finished product and what is important. Here are the main differences between Laser, Plasma, and Water Jet cutting.
Laser cutting: Uses laser beams to cut materials.
Plasma cutting: Utilizes an electrically-conductive gas to transfer energy from an electrical power source through a plasma cutting torch and into the material that is being cut.
Waterjet cutting: Uses a high-pressure jet of water to cut a wide variety of materials.
It’s tempting to jump right in and start cutting to save time and money. But as a precaution, it’s always a good idea to start with a test cut to ensure you get the results you want.
We often see people making a decision based on their current volumes and product mix. That’s fine if things are likely to stay the same, but if you have growth plans, make sure you pick a profile cutter that can adjust to your changing volumes. Talk to them about lead times, capacity, volume pricing, troubleshooting, service etc.
Shopping around for the best deal does not always get the best results. Instead look to form a long-term working relationship with your profile cutter. That way you’ll get better service and advice.
As a family run business, here at FIK Laser, we pride ourselves on our service and the excellent working relationships we develop with our customers. We are dedicated to delivering quality precision laser cut profiles and parts and can cut almost any material, from one-offs to mass production.
Talk to us today about how we can help you.
Do you have a good work-life balance?
That’s the question I asked the audience at the BOP Entrepreneur Social this month. And you probably won’t be surprised to learn that hardly anyone raised their hand.
I was giving a presentation about my journey as a business owner and my struggle with work-life balance. By the lack of hands raised at the question it seemed I'd chosen a hot topic.
That’s why, today, I’ve summarised the key points from my presentation. (Or, if you prefer, you can watch the video of my talk)
If you’re struggling with work-life balance you might relate and find a couple of handy tips at the end.
My father and I started FIK Laser almost 8 years ago. We identified a gap in the market and set about building our business as a laser cutting specialist — providing accurate and precise cutting with quick turnaround.
It was epic. We were totally focused on growing the business. And to be honest, it didn’t worry me that I was spending so much time at work. It was exciting, dynamic, and fulfilling.
But over time, the hours crept up on me and the pressure grew. Pretty soon I had no time for virtually anything but work. Things that had been important to me — family, friends, biking and the outdoors got less and less of my attention. I felt the constant pull of work. It became all-consuming.
One day Clyde, my father, called in sick. Long story short, he went on to have a couple of massive heart attacks, narrowly cheating death. Now that starts to put things into perspective. He was my partner in crime, we made all our business decisions together. Not only that, his illness meant we were one man down in a small tight team.
Don’t worry, he made a full recovery. But at the time it was too much to handle. My father and my business partner almost dying. One day I was at work and I simply broke down. I walked off the job and down the road.
That was the turning point. I realised something had to change. I needed some work-life balance. So with the help of my wife, Paulina, that’s what I set about doing.
Here’s what I learned:
While Clyde was ill and I was trying to cut back my hours and get my life back, things didn’t collapse. Quite the opposite. The team picked things up and ran the place without us. Sure, not everything was perfect but it was pretty darn good. I learned that when you have
good staff, they’ll step up when you need them to. And as the boss, you need to give them the freedom (and expectation) to do that. You need to make sure everyone is working to their full potential. You can’t be responsible for everything.
Here’s my advice:
Based on what I did to get my work-life balance back, these are my top five tips.
Striving for a work-life balance doesn’t mean slacking off. It means being laser focused. What are the important things you want to achieve for your business? Set your business goals and make them audacious. Your thinking is different when you think big. Refer back to them all the time
A daily ritual starts with writing down what I need to do today to work towards the goals we’ve set. Priorities become pretty clear. And delegation is essential!
Now the team come to me with solutions not problems. They’re taking responsibility for stuff that previously they would have deferred to me. The key here is good two-way communication.
Diet, exercise, sleep. It’s all important to ensuring when you’re at work you’re ‘ON’. For me, mountain biking is beneficial because when I’m biking it’s physical and mental. I can’t think about work when I’m hurtling down a steep track, so it’s a real release.
This applies to your team, but also networks and mentors. Groups such as BOP Entrepreneur Social are fantastic at getting you to think differently and do things you didn’t know you could (like public speaking in my case).
Don’t wait until you reach crisis point like I did. Take some action now and start getting some work-life balance back.
And I’m always keen for a bike ride. Just give me a call!
Ricardo joined our team earlier this year, and boy are we pleased to have him! Hailing from Portugal, Ricardo is actually an Aeronautical Engineer. He worked for multinational companies in South Africa and Germany before coming to New Zealand in search of surf and snow. And now that he’s off the computer and on the tools, he’s loving it.
We love him because he’s sharp and witty. He’s making our days a lot more fun. But best of all, he has a wealth of engineering knowledge from his corporate days. He’s an awesome problem solver and is helping us improve efficiencies. That way we can get products to our customers faster!
“I got sick of being on the computer all the time, just a cog in the wheel and only doing theoretical stuff. It’s great to be doing physical work. And to be working for a family business where I can really make a difference. Then when I finish work each day — I can jump on my bike or go for a surf. I love the Bay lifestyle”
“Ricardo brings awesome engineering nous into our business. He’s obviously very sharp, but he’s also very proactive and practical. He’s really going to help us step it up a notch and is already bringing in efficiencies and process improvements. Plus he’s a great guy and super quick on his mountain bike!”
Ever been to EMEX?
This year three people from our team went along to check out EMEX 2018 in Auckland.
EMEX is New Zealand’s largest engineering, technology and manufacturing expo. You get to see all the industry supplier innovations and developments in one place.
It was so worthwhile, that next time we think we’ll take the whole team. It’ll be a great learning experience and also good for team building and comradery. Yes, that’s quite an expense when you take into account a whole day of lost production, plus the costs of travel and sustenance, but we believe it will be an investment
And here’s why.
Time away from day to day business looking at the latest developments and technology is inspiring. We all got to see and experience the bigger picture of what’s out there (and not just in our industry). It inspires the whole team, focussing everyone on the future.
If you go to the expo alone you only see things one way. Going with team members with different skill sets and experience opens opportunities. You might walk past or dismiss something but a team mate might see the opportunities.
Spending the day together seeing and talking about innovation and technology builds bonds between team members. You have a shared experience. And one that keeps giving long after the show. It gets your team more invested in the business. Especially if their opinion is being heard and implemented.
And lastly, it’s more fun with people to talk to. As much as there is exciting stuff to see at these events they can also be dull in parts. So it’s good to share.
If you’re planning a visit to a trade show such as EMEX in the future, here are a few tips from our team.
Although it’s not big compared to international expos, there’s still a fair bit to see (and there are many distractions and ‘toys’ that can eat up your time if you’re not careful.) If you’re going to the show to research particular equipment or expertise then mark out your route in advance. Download a floorplan and highlight your must stop stands. That way you’ll be sure to cover off what you planned (then you can look at the ‘toys’ later)
With multiple sets of legs, you can divide and conquer. Split up and scout out the stands of most interest. Then get back together and share your intel. That way no one misses out on any of the good stuff.
We had a great debrief in the car on the way back to Tauranga, but you may prefer a nice cold Ale at a nearby pub. Make sure you get the most out of your day by capturing any actions and learnings. That’s best to do while it’s fresh in your mind.
And one last tip - bring your own food! One criticism of the event would be the food. It wasn’t that great, it was pretty pricey and there were long queues. We reckon next time we’re going to pack our own lunch.