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News, stories and opinions for the business innovators of the world.

Why your manufacturer should be helping you drive product innovation

Colin PotterGeneral Manager, PI Manufacturing

Most companies see manufacturing as the end of the product innovation process. Others understand that product innovation never ends.

A good manufacturing partner should always be looking for ways to drive down production costs and improve reliability, but some go a step further. They ask, ‘What can we do to create a significantly better commercial outcome for our client?’ This could be through a step change cost reduction or a new version of the product that opens an additional market opportunity, or both.

To have this mindset you need a commercial focus, a flexible team and access to both product design and manufacturing experts – which is what we have at PI.

One company that has benefited from PI’s integrated and commercial approach to design and manufacturing is TOMI Environmental Solutions, Inc. TOMI engaged Planet Innovation in 2020 to manufacture its two mobile SteraMist products, which are used worldwide for decontamination and infectious disease control. When they came to us, their primary motivation was to increase production capacity and boost their global supply chain resilience following a surge in demand due to COVID-19.

They got this and more.

The manufacturing contract led to a partnership with PI that resulted in the design and development of the SteraPak – a backpack version which uses the same SteraMist BIT patented technology, a superior disinfection and decontamination solution that is already proving a hit with customers.

From a casual conversation to a complete product redesign

The idea for a smaller, more portable version of the product was first discussed during the transfer to manufacture process for the SteraMist Surface Unit. Housed in a large case on wheels, the Surface Unit is a handheld point and spray product that uses an ionized hydrogen peroxide-based mist (iHP®) to kill pathogens. During a conversation between our team and TOMI’s, talk turned to the potential benefits of creating a more mobile, compact version of the product. A lightweight backpack version for TOMI to penetrate market segments where manoeuverability was fundamental, including transportation, healthcare, education, and many more commercial facilities. The PI and TOMI teams agreed the scope of work required a reduction in product cost to be competitive in the marketplace, which could be achieved by some changes to the product architecture.

TOMI gave us the green light to start working on the V2 product and within a month we had a prototype. Less than a year later TOMI is ready to launch the SteraPak on the global market.

A more compact, portable product at half the cost to produce

The SteraPak is smaller, lighter, and more portable than the Surface Unit, and TOMI’s customers love it. We’ve also been able to reduce the cost of production by a whopping 50%. We achieved this by doing a fundamental architecture redesign. This involved identifying components that could be changed to smaller, but equally capable, alternatives to reduce the size, weight, and cost of the product.

Throughout the process, we worked closely with TOMI to ensure the product met customer and user needs. Its form, weight and any vibrations were carefully considered and controlled to make it comfortable to wear for extended periods. The smaller components and a lighter outer shell enabled us to get the weight down to just eight kilograms – less than a third of the weight of the Surface Unit. To improve manoeuvrability, a rechargeable battery was added in addition to the mains connection. The result is an easy-to-use product that looks great.

Applying a manufacturing lens from the start helped future-proof the supply chain and create a seamless transfer to manufacture

With manufacturing involved from day 1 of the design process, we were able to apply Design for Manufacturing (DfM) principles to ensure the design is manufacturable, and that the supply chain is robust and delivered a significant reduction in the product assembly and build effort.

For example, there is currently a global shortage of PCBAs because the pandemic has increased demand for hardware products, which has led to a shortage of raw materials. To avoid supply issues, we selected PCBA critical performance components that have good availability. We also made sure the product was designed in such a way that alternative PCBA components could be quickly approved and replaced if needed.

For sheet metal and plastics, we approached our preferred suppliers early in the design process to confirm that they could tool and manufacture the proposed design. This meant there were no design changes when it came time to transfer to manufacturing.

These are production-focused decisions that many design companies just pay lip service to. Likewise, the scope of the design project was beyond what manufacturers could achieve. PI can do this because of our integrated design and manufacturing teams.

Bringing a manufacturing lens to the design also made the transfer to manufacture process much quicker, as there was no need to adjust the design to accommodate part availability or ease of assembly. With a seamless transfer from design to production, TOMI have been able to get the SteraPak to market three to four months faster than would have been the case if design and manufacturing had not been working together.

A better product and a better commercial outcome

The SteraPak is a compact, user-friendly, customer-focused product that is much more cost effective to manufacture. With the transfer price coming in at less than 50% of the previous version, this is a step change cost reduction, not just the incremental cost reduction typically delivered by contract manufacturers. Because manufacturability was considered from the start of the design process, it shaved months off the usual time for transfer to manufacture – meaning TOMI can get SteraPak to customers sooner. And with strong early sales, it looks like their customers like the product they are getting.

But enough from me, here’s what our TOMI client, Chief Operating Officer Elissa J. Shane had to say.

“The SteraPak combines the high efficacy, superior material compatibility, and other competitive advantageous to the SteraMist technology with a new cordless and compact design for superior maneuverability. Planet Innovation turned out to be more than just a manufacturing partner. With their innovative approach, commercial focus and combination of design and manufacturing expertise, they have helped us create a product that I know our customers will love. TOMI has always strived to provide our healthcare, life science, commercial, and food safety customers a high quality performance disinfection decontamination technology.  Now, with the partnership between TOMI and PI we added to our product line the eagerly awaited SteraPak. We and our customers are delighted with the outcome.”

Summary

When the traditional barriers between manufacturing and design come down, innovation can thrive, and profits rise. Manufacturers have great insight into how products perform in the real world, so with a commercial focus and an integrated design team they can be a huge asset in helping you plan and develop new versions of your product.

Man cleans inside of truck with SteraPak

Find out more about manufacturing at PI or get in touch.

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Colin Potter General Manager, PI Manufacturing

Colin is the General Manager of PI Manufacturing. He has more than 30 years’ experience in new product development, new product introduction and ongoing manufacturing of ISO 13485 / FDA QSR complex biomedical products. Colin’s industry background includes world-first analytical and medical diagnostic instruments.

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