Before you hit the go button on a project, I strongly advise arranging a visit to go and see the factory in person. There is so much to gain from visiting a potential manufacturing partner before production starts.
So just what can you expect from a factory tour?
It lets them see you are keen and serious about the project you are about to engage with them on. If you are new to the world of manufacture it is also a really good learning curve; you can see first hand how production tools are made, what is involved in setting up a machine ready to produce a product, and any other labour involved in the production line.
As a professional visiting a new factory there is also a lot to learn. Each factory has its own ways of working and its own specialities. The big one for me at the moment is materials. During my last factory visit, I learned about a microbial additive that can be added to plastic granules before the injection moulding process that leaves the finished product antibacterial. It is used in showerheads for the NHS. Clever or what?
It is also a good opportunity to gain an understanding of the factory culture and form relationships with the staff. Are they proactive, are the factory workers happy, do they care about the products they are working with? What is the level of quality control? I have visited some small family-run factories both in the UK and overseas that are SO welcoming to clients and come across really passionate about their work and take great pride in their projects. Equally, I have visited some very large operations that cover several football pitches in terms of space that just don’t have a good feeling about them.
If there are questions around the project (which there usually are) then visiting a factory is a great way to work through any problems before production starts. It is so much easier to sit down with the production staff and managers to talk through questions than it is to send emails back and forth. A morning in a factory us usually about as productive as a few weeks' worths of emails or phone calls.
There is a lot to gain from a factory tour, and it can be an essential part of the design process. To get the most out of a visit planning is key. It helps to write down questions you have around the project. Take any prototypes or samples you have of your product as having a physical object there to talk about will be a great conversation starter. If you do not yet have prototypes, images are also a good idea. Ask if you can take photos of the factory before you go, and make sure you have a camera or a fully charged phone is the answer is yes!