The Documents You Need to Progress to Manufacturing

As part of handing your new hardware product off to your selected factory for manufacturing, you'll need a double handful of documents.  

Some are for the manufacturer, some for government or industry agencies, some for your own use. Some will be generated as a by-product of designing and developing your product; some you have to apply for, and some are your responsibility to create. Some can't be done until you're on the home stretch of handing over to your selected manufacturer, and some you want, or even need, to begin working on from Day 1 as part of your product design and development process.

Here's a starter list:

Bill of Materials (BOM)

The package of documents (electronic and/or printed) you provide to the manufacturer to start the "start making them" step includes a Bill of Materials (BOM).

"The Bill of Materials lists out each individual component," says Greg Fisher, founder of the Berkeley Sourcing Group, Hardware Con, and also Hardware Massive, a global platform for hardware startups to meet locally and connect globally with the hardware startup ecosystem. "BOMs make sure the pricing for each of the pieces are all accounted for and that assembly of those pieces is considered."

Depending on what software design tools you're using, your tools may generate some or all of your BOM. For example, notes Keaton Anderson, a business applications engineer at Arrow Electronics, a global provider of products, services, and solutions to industrial and commercial users of electronic components and enterprise computing solutions, "Arrow's Cadence OrCAD Capture Cloud prototyping tool includes integrated reference designs, and a complete BOM transfer tool." The BOM transfer tool, Keaton explains, "means that OrCAD Capture Cloud includes connections to Arrow.com, so you don't have to manually check Arrow.com for which of the components in the BOM we carry – all that information is already waiting for you in our BoM tool."

Product Requirements Document (PRD)

"The Product Requirements Document (PRD) is the most important – but often unknown – document, and in my mind, the key to manufacturing," according to Berkeley Sourcing Group's Greg Fisher.

"The PRD explains all the important details about the product," says Fisher. "It can be high-level, like what the market expects it to do, like 'be outside 250 days a year and last for 10 years,' or 'kids will drop it regularly.' But the PRD should also be specific, like have an IP (Ingress Protection) rating of 6.6, which defines how dust tight it will be, etc."

Also, says Fisher, "The PRD tells all the details in a general sense of what the product needs to do. Anything that's important to your customers should be in the PRD. It will be one of your main ways of communicating not just to your factory but all of your partners. A PRD can be four to eight pages, a quick 20-30 minute read but should give factories and partners and investors a clear idea of what the product needs to be."

"The factory can also use the PRD to determine a lot of things you weren't even thinking about, like tolerances, and suggest ways of manufacturing the product. Your marketing and financing teams can use the PRD to figure out how to convert your manufacturing plan to your marketing plan and finances."

The Manufacturing Build Package (MBP)

"The Manufacturing Build Package (MBP) provides the complete product record needed to procure, create, build, test and deliver an assembly," says Scott Reedy, Senior Director, Marketing, at Arena Solutions, which provides product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions to speed new product development, reduce cost, and streamline supply chain collaboration.

"The MBP is a key package used for outsourced manufacturing," says Reedy. "For companies that have complex, global supply chains, a manufacturing build package may be the only key information needed beyond the existing organizational knowledge."

How is the Manufacturing Build Package different from the Product Requirements Document, you may wonder?

Answer, says Arena Solutions' Reedy: "The Product Requirements Document is used to gather and document all requirements between the product management team so engineering can design the solution. The Manufacturing Build Package contains the latest details used by manufacturing team to build the finished product. The PRD comes before the product is designed by the engineering team. The MBP comes after the product has been designed so that manufacturing teams can build it."

Technical Files: CAD, Gerber, etc.

Technical information like CAD files and Gerber files are part of the Manufacturing Build Package, says Arena Solution's Scott Reedy. "The product will include mechanical, electrical, and/or software components and the design and source code files come from those engineering teams, and contain the deeper technical information about your product, like all the details about heat and cooling."

Inspection Guidelines for Quality Control

How do you determine whether the product has been manufactured correctly and well?

Comprehensive inspection guidelines.

"You have to take all the information you've created for the product and create inspection guidelines for incoming, in-process, and outgoing/final product," says Berkeley Sourcing Group's Greg Fisher. "This has to include what tools will be used to inspect and measure the products, what you are looking for, how you will do inspections, and what the sampling plan will be," according to Fisher.

"The factory or a partner can help you create inspection guidelines, but you have to be aware of the process, and ensure the final guidelines will catch any design or manufacturing problems that could become big problems when they reach your customers," says Fisher.

Manufacturing and Service Agreement (MSA)

Often in parallel to the Design for Manufacturing & Assembly (DFMA) analysis, DFMA review, you negotiate the Manufacturing and Services Agreement (MSA) with the factory," says William Drislane, SVP, Engineering and Manufacturing at Dragon Innovation, Inc. "This document governs the relationship between customer and factory, including covering what happens if customer or factory goes bankrupt, so everybody knows their rights and obligations."

Don't Forget Your Manufacturing Certifications

Don't forget to have/get the various compliance/testing certification documents (and the associated "mark" icons that go on your product, and on the packaging and documentation).

For hardware creators, "There are four kinds of compliance certifications to typically be concerned with," according to Dragon Innovations' William Drislane:

  1. Any legally required certifications.
  2. Any required non-governmental certifications from organizations that hold some right or license you need, like Bluetooth, WiFi, or USB.
  3. Optional certifications – not legally required, but sometimes a good idea. UL (also referred to by its generic equivalent NRTL) compliance falls in this category.
  4. Certifications for which compliance is legally required, but for which testing and certification are not required. Examples of this include Proposition 65 in California and RoHS, WEEE, and REACH in the EU, which govern toxic materials and recycling.

Working With a Chinese Manufacturer? Add These Documents to Your 'Must Have' List

  • Do an NNN Agreement, Not (Just) An NDA:

According to Song Zhu, who litigates IP disputes between US and Chinese firms at California-based law firm Ruyak Cherian LLP, in his article, How We Had Our First Product Manufactured In China, "Businesses can take certain legal precautions to reduce the risk of getting copied. A first, crucial step, according to Song Zhu  is to apply for utility and design patents for a product that’s valid in the US, China, and anywhere else one hopes to sell.

"Entrepreneurs should also sign 'NNN agreements' – Non-use, Non-disclosure, Non-circumvention – with potential Chinese partners before revealing any intellectual property," states Song Zhu. "This contract prevents partner factories from using the intellectual property themselves after first view ('non-use'), sharing it with others ('non-disclosure'), or inking a partnership and then selling extra units on their own ('non-circumvention')."

But even with these protections, there’s no guarantee that you can stop someone from copycatting your product.

  • Have a Mold Contract:

Because of differences in the law in China versus the United States, as part of working with Chinese manufacturers, you also want a Mold Contract, advises Berkeley Sourcing Group's Greg Fisher.

"Have a Mold Contract in place, written in Chinese, and executed in China," says Fisher. "We've had instances where we can call the police to pull the molds out of the factory. Make sure your partner can do this – legally pull the molds – if necessary."

There may be more documents you’ll  need to proceed to manufacturing and shipping. Even if not, you’ll still need more for marketing and sales, of course, like your product description, photos, web pages and social media posts, instructions, tech support, etc. The good news is this is all something you can keep working on while waiting for factory turnaround.

For additional reading, here’s some of my related GrabCAD blog posts: