New Product Introduction: Does your Supplier Excel at NPI?

Plastics Manufacturing Resources logo: New Product Introduction: Does your Supplier Excel at NPI?

Plastics Manufacturing Resources, a FORGE partner, connects companies to a wide range of plastics manufacturing options, from injection and blow molding to additive manufacturing, thermoforming and more. In this Tools of the Trade, they share one thing they’ve learned over years in the industry: how to assess a plastics supplier’s ability to launch new products. Here’s what you need to know about new product introduction.

How can you determine if your new injection molding supplier excels at New Product Introduction? It’s a critical area to evaluate during a new supplier qualification. Determining if a supplier has adequate resources to manage tool design, tool build, first shots and validation protocols can be daunting. In light of the complexities, we thought it would be helpful to put together a few tips for you.

It’s important to remember that there are multiple gears turning during any new program launch at your injection molding supplier. So how do you know that your plastics supplier will excel in this area?

Here are some key questions to ask the injection molder with some answers to look for.

“Can you tell me about the NPI Team that will be assigned to our project?”

Look for a well-defined team that operates cross-functionally. You should have a main point of contact, but you should know who else is on the team.  If the answer is “Joe will be your contact”, that is a red flag and you should proceed with caution. Remember that it’s the people responsible for the program that will primarily drive its success.

What you should look for:
  • Engineering Manager. This position has overall responsibility for the team’s performance. While you may not interact with them often, they will be a path to escalation in the event that you need it.
  • Program Manager.  This position will be your main point of contact throughout the NPI process. The Program Manager pulls all the moving parts together and reports internally to the milestones and externally to you.
  • Tooling Engineer.  They will oversee the internal/external design and tooling fabrication.
  • Process Engineer.  The PE will be responsible for first shots and refining the injection molding process. In addition, they will also be running the quality validations for submission
  • Supplier Quality Engineer (SQE). They will be responsible for determining which inspection methods and equipment will be required and drafting any product validation like IQ/OQ/PQ validation protocols. They will also have first-hand knowledge of any dimensional concerns or issues.
  • Supply Chain/Buyer/Planner.  They will order and manage any suppliers for polymer materials, additives, packaging and/or inserts. They will be responsible for machine scheduling and making sure all equipment (molding machines) are available at milestone dates.
  • Customer Service.  They will handle purchase orders, invoices and other administrative items. They will be an ally for you during the NPI Process. There are some amazing Customer Service people out there but they are usually one step away from the real action. If they are identified as your main point of contact, we suggest caution but it is not necessarily a deal breaker.
  • Salesperson.  They are your top ally and therefore are available to you if you should run into any issues. Don’t be afraid to call on them, they are one of your strongest supporters and can effect change internally.

“How does the team interact internally?”

What you should look for:

The NPI Team should meet at least once a week to review their milestones. Look for evidence of consistent team meetings and communication. You want to make sure that the team members are not operating in silos. The Buyer/Planner should know where the tool is in process and the Quality representative should know when materials will be arriving.

 “What metrics do you use to measure performance for example – On Time Delivery (OTD)?”

What you should look for:

This question is not as straightforward as the others are. Most injection molders measure OTD as it relates to production. However, they do not always measure OTD for NPI.  Do not eliminate them if they don’t measure it, but make sure to look for evidence that drives performance.  Ask for things like an example of a Gantt chart from a previous project or a copy of meeting notes from previous NPI Process Meetings. It is important to respect that they cannot divulge any confidential customer information. Explain to them that you understand but that you need to see evidence of formalized procedures used in the NPI process.

It’s important to remember that NPI is a highly dynamic process. Because of the complexities, one delay can spiral other processes.  Most importantly, you need to know that the team is responsive and can adjust rapidly. Given that you are also a part of the team, here are some things that YOU can do to help.

  • Layout your expectations of how progress will be reported to you. Weekly, via email, Gantt charts, conference calls or Zoom meetings?
  • Be responsive to messages and answer any questions your injection molder has to keep the program in motion.
  • If you have to report progress to your Team on a weekly basis, explain that to your NPI Engineer and agree on a type of communication that works for you both.
  • There will be times when the team needs you on standby. Ask what dates and make sure you are available.
  • Be flexible. If the supplier is struggling with a dimension and asks if the solid file/print can be adjusted, accommodate the request if you can. They would not have asked you if they did not need to.

In conclusion:

All injection molders develop their own processes to manage New Product Introduction. As a result, there are many ways to achieve success. The process is important but never underestimate the importance of the professionals that are going to make it happen. Experience is important so be sure to align yourself with those professionals that have solid experience in the process.

If you found value in this article, consider signing up for our blog!  At Plastics Manufacturing Resources, our Blog focuses on issues to help you succeed.  Stay tuned… month we will be writing about Understanding the Differences in Tool Steels

If you have a current project, reach out to the Professionals here at PMR. They can guide you through the complexities of supplier selection and will be your single largest ally in making your next project a success!

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