Many people unfamiliar with the process of developing and launching new hardware get confused when it comes to the different validation stages before a product gets into production. Most can’t wait to see a minimum viable product, and forget there is a step right before it that must not be taken lightly: the engineering validation tests, or EVT.
The (in)famous MVP
Once you have designed your new product, it is time to go into prototyping. This stage will eventually take you to create your minimum viable product, or MVP, an expression particularly popular in the startup world. This is a version of the product reduced to its primary function that allows a company to conduct some marketing experiments, or to hand it to customers to see how it behaves in the real world.
The MVP is usually more expensive to make than what the real product might be. It’s normal: cost optimization can be achieved once the MVP is out there.
Before that, however, some measures need to be taken to ensure the proper manufacturing of the product. You would now want that, once installed, some components take too much room, or hide other components that need to be accessed later in the process.
This is why the stage before getting you MVP is very important.
Engineering validation test
Before you get to build the product that will eventually ship to consumers, you will have to make a first batch of early prototypes. This is the engineering validation phase, where you get to test an almost-final version of your product to make sure all its parts behave well once they are put together. The EVT phase is particularly important in the case of electronic products.
For this kind of testing, you will normally have to build a few dozens of units that will look like the final product, that will almost behave like the final product, but that will not be the final product.
At this stage, you want to make sure everything works according to your expectations. You want to avoid interferences, incompatibilities, and some secondary effects like improper heat generation or a shorter battery life.
There prototypes are built by the contract manufacturer, but members of your team should normally assist during the process, since there will be a bit of back-and-forth during the first few runs. In fact, a lot of units built during this phase will be defective.
Not too late…
The prototypes that work allow you to hit two birds with a stone, since you can use some of them to test the interest of customers and possible buyers in different markets, etc. You do not need the product to be final in order to do some marketing around it.
At this stage, it is still not too late to update some specifications either. The validation phase allows to establish some limits for the end product, in order to improve it, or at least, to make sure they are up to the standards you devised earlier in the development chain. This is also when you make sure the product complies to safety and commercial standards applicable where it will be sold.
Alternately, this validation phase will give you an idea of the life cycle of your product, and will help you define when a new generation might be in order. Some materials and final parts can also be modified, revised, up- or downgraded in order to meet specific production costs or a projected retail price.
At the end of the EVT stage the product goes into a qualification process that will test is sturdiness, durability and overall resistance to everyday conditions. Thermal shock and drop tests, electrostatics emissions, etc.
If major flaws are detected, it might be necessary to go through the phase once more, until the final results meet your initial requirements. After that, you get one step closer to the MVP… and the end product.