Hardware Creators: Make Sure You Learn to Speak ‘Manufacturese’

Every discipline and "domain" has its own unique jargon, vocabulary – including slang, acronyms, and more – and associated concepts. This is as true for cooking (e.g., sautee, carmelize, roue), baseball ("bases loaded," etc.), and the like.

For hardware entrepreneurs and start-ups, it's important to become familiar with manufacturing terminology. And not just when it's time to go from prototype to ordering a large batch, but preferably while you're still in the early idea phase so, like with compliance certification considerations, you'll be able to include and address manufacturing concerns as you go. Rather than facing ugly, expensive learning experiences later on.

"Manufacturing is a technical field like any other," says William Drislane, SVP, Engineering and Manufacturing at Dragon Innovation, which provides manufacturing expertise, connections, and a platform for hardware creators. "If you use the terms improperly, or don't understand what you've been asked, you won't get what you want, or may have other problems likely to lead to schedule delays and higher costs."

"One of the key steps for makers and hardware innovators is to learn about basic concepts of manufacturability and manufacturing which, of course, includes mastering the vocabulary,” says Professor Marty Culpepper, who teaches an undergraduate class in design and engineering at MIT and is the university’s new “Maker Czar” for campus-wide maker spaces and fabrication facilities.

"When you create, you may just make a few. But for manufacturing, you have to worry more about the cost per unit, along with the rate that units can be created, and concerned about consistent repeatable quality," says Culpepper. "From a terminology perspective, a creator also has to understand 'flexibility,’ meaning: 'is your product as its designed flexible enough to be changed if you find it isn't really what your customers want? Can you make changes to give it uniqueness for competitive advantage?’”

"Clear communication is especially important when dealing with overseas providers, for whom English is usually not their first language," says Dragon Innovation's Drislane. "That often makes it harder for each side to make sense of things from context. This is particularly challenging on voice-only calls, and even worse with bad connections. They understand the terms correctly, but you may say the wrong thing, and they don't pick up on your mistake. And you may mis-hear or mis-understand what they are saying to you."

And clear communication is increasingly important, says Steve Chalgren, executive vice president, product management and chief strategy officer, Arena Solutions, which provides cloud-based  product lifecycle management (PLM) for manufacturers.

"Designers are now just as likely to work with someone across the world as across the building, and the compressed product lifecycle demands higher efficiency from product development and production," says Chalgren. "Neither engineering nor manufacturing can afford to waste time searching for the product specifications and fixing mistakes that stem from miscommunication."

"Each niche has its own terms, of course," Dragon Innovation's Drislane notes. "Robotics, aero and medicine each have their own concepts and vocabularies, for example. And there is often variation with an industry, or one factory may have slightly different names for a process or step than another factory. For example, 'engineering prototyping' versus 'engineering build' versus 'engineering sample' versus 'engineering validation test.'"

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, you'll be exposed to some of the manufacturing-related terms you're likely to encounter. Knowing them won't just help you sound less like a product newbie, it will also help you know what manufacturing considerations to include in your design process.

Find out how a gold club is designed and made.