Lasso Product Development Phases
You can think of the stages of product development like an iceberg. The final product in the store is the very tip above the water with all the research, development and testing occupying the larger, underwater part.
The prototype being developed at the moment is right at the waterline and is the result of a significant amount of research and development. It is essentially a technology vehicle used to prove that the different systems developed can be combined successfully into a single unit - but to be clear it is not ready to take to the market and sell just yet.
Phases (under the water) - Pre-Study/Research
Most new products launched are not really new. They may have new features or improved efficiencies, but they are typically based on a previous, proven product.
The Lasso appliance is a new proposal with nothing currently in the market to base the development on, so before starting to design and build the prototype a significant amount of background research, investigation and development was required.
As our goal is closed-loop recycling there were three key questions:
- Is there an optimal size, shape and contamination limit for each material to allow it to be accepted by industry for closed loop recycling?
- How can we achieve that target for each material?
- How can we maintain the purity of each material?
We take these key questions and apply them to the product design process which in itself can be split into three broad categories:
- Works like: Where we identify potential technologies and systems from any industry that have the potential to provide a viable solution.
Even though this project was a blank piece of paper there’s still very few cases where you need to totally reinvent the wheel so a significant amount of research involved looking at other, sometimes seemingly unrelated, industries where technology existed that we could use to potentially address the problems we needed to solve. At this point we were not concerned by the size or application of a piece of technology only if it could be potentially repurposed to suit our needs.
- Looks Like: Once a technology or system was identified a design was developed using an industry standard CAD package. The designs were fabricated and each one put through a series of bench tests. Based on the results of each test, modifications were made and then retested until the desired result was achieved.
It’s important to remember that not everything works at this stage of a project, you can easily head down a promising pathway to have it turn into a dead end requiring a step backwards before being able to move forwards again.
- Works like/looks like: Once bench testing is complete; we can start to bring all these systems together in the prototype. There is an additional level of complexity at this point because now all the systems need to combined into a compact space and work together through the electronics and software. Regardless of how much you have considered this integration there are almost always unexpected issues that need to be resolved.
So, this is the current status of the project. The teams in Australia, UK and Europe are currently bringing the developed, bench tested technologies together into the prototype so it can be used essentially as a proof of concept allowing the project to move to the next development phase.
So where do we go after the prototype?
Once the prototype proves that the individual systems can be successfully combined into a single unit the project can move into the next phase. This phase is known by a number of different names depending upon the industry and organisation, commercialisation, industrialisation, pre-production or as Lasso is using Pilot phase.
In the pilot phase each aspect as well as the overall performance of the prototype is ruthlessly analysed in what we call lessons learned, this helps determine which aspects worked, which did not and where improvements can or must be made.
These lessons learned are fed into a further development and testing program to optimise all aspects of the prototype. Performance, size, weight, noise, efficiency, reliability are all assessed and developed as well as ensuring consumer safety and regulatory compliance.
Around twelve months into this phase a final pilot build of around 100 units are produced for field trial. These trial units mirror a final production unit as closely as possible and are placed in volunteer homes for real world testing.
Whilst it is essential for engineers to test systems in a controlled environment when developing a product, the real test for any product is how it performs in its intended location outside of that controlled environment. How a consumer really interacts with the product in their home and the issues they find are invaluable for successful product development.
The field trial runs for around six-months, the participants report any issues with their appliance and are regularly contacted to get general feedback. This feedback allows the Engineers to make further tests and improvements to the appliance. These improvements are then rolled out to the field trial appliances.
At first the feedback and issues found are often significant and extensive but as the trial progresses and improvements are rolled out the issues become fewer and more minor until by the end of the Pilot phase, we have the Lasso appliance essentially ready for manufacture and market launch.