Making A Structure Blast Resistant

More structures are requiring blast resistance than ever before. Blast resistance allows a structure to withstand an explosion while keeping occupants safe. Terrorist threats have been increasing the demand to design critical structures, landmarks, and even personal bunkers for blast resistance.

Estimating Risk of Blast Loads

While one could design a structure to maximize blast resistance with more and more reinforcement, it is far more economical to perform a risk assessment. A risk assessment determines the explosion design size for a structure. One of the most effective measures to mitigate risk to a structure is to limit vehicle access to a structure. By completely eliminating vehicle access to a structure you can reduce the blast load risk from 500 lbs of TNT for a compact car to 50 lbs of TNT for a container or parcel bomb which significantly reduces the design requirements and risk.

Estimated Blast Risk (TNT equivalent in lbs)

  • Small Package/Letter: 1 lb
  • Pipe Bomb: 5 lbs
  • Fedex Package: 10 lbs
  • Vest/Container Bombs: 20 lbs
  • Parcel Package: 50 lbs
  • Compact Car: 500 lbs
  • Full Size Car/Minivan: 1,000 lbs
  • Van/SUV/Pickup Truck: 4,000 lbs
  • Deliver Truck: 10,000 lbs
  • Truck with a Trailer: 30,000 lbs
  • Truck with Two Trailers: 60,000 lbs

A structures specific blast design criteria may be obtained from the federal agency client on a need to know basis.

Sources: IED Attack – Improvised Explosive Devices Homeland Security; Blast Loading On Structures

Finding The Optimal Balance

When designing a structure it is important to balance security, accessibility, initial and life-cycle costs, natural hazard mitigation, fire protection, energy efficiency, and aesthetics trade offs. Eliminating vehicle access may reduce blast risks, but it also can significantly reduce accessibility. Vehicles such as ambulances or fire engines may be prevented from gaining access to the structure during emergencies. The optimal balance for a given structure varies on a case by case basis and is dependent on many factors.

Different Blast Load Scenarios

When designing a structure for blast resistance, every possible scenario must be incorporated. Scenarios can include exterior building envelope blasts, interior blasts, and more.

Exterior Envelope Blast Threats

Background

The most common design scenario for buildings are exterior envelope blast threats. One example of exterior envelope blast threats is a vehicle bomb parked on the outside curb next to a structure. Blast threats on all sides of a building that are adjacent to a public street or adjacent property need to be considered.

When an explosive device is detonated shock waves expand outward in all directions. The peak intensity blast pressure decreases as the blast expands away from the source. As the stand-off distance increases the peak intensity blast pressure decays, but the envelope area that is affected by the blast increases. As the shock wave continues to decay it drops below atmospheric pressure and a negative pressure phase occurs.

FEMA - Explosive Blast - Figure 4-1
Source: FEMA 426 – Explosive Blast – Figure 4-1

When a surface blast occurs, as is the case with most exterior vehicle and package bombs, incident waves and ground reflected waves are generated simultaneously. The incident waves are the shock waves traveling directly through the air from the source. The the ground reflected waves is caused from the initial shock wave reflecting and being amplified by the ground surface. During a surface blast, both the incident waves and ground reflected waves are combined to form a single wave called the reflected wave. The reflected wave only delivers pressure to structures that are perpendicular to the path of the wave. Reflected pressure is always greater than the incident pressure.

The coefficient of reflection (Cr) is the ratio between the reflected pressure and the peak incident pressure. The reflected pressure is typically between 2 and 13 times the peak incident pressure and increases significantly closer to the center of burst.

Source: FEMA 426 – Explosive Blast – Figure 4-2

In order to determine the total energy that is delivered from a blast onto a building the impulse is calculated. The impulse is the integrated area under the pressure vs time curve.

Source: FEMA 426 – Explosive Blast – Figure 4-3

Structures that are parallel to the shock wave path such as the roof or adjacent walls only experience the incident pressure.

FEMA 427, Primer for Design of Commercial Buildings to Mitigate Terrorist Attacks (2003)

Source: FEMA 427, Primer for Design of Commercial Buildings to Mitigate Terrorist Attacks (2003)

Perimeter Protection

A buildings stand-off distance can significantly help to reduce blast loads. As the blast wave propagates over distance from the center of the burst the strength and speed decreases delivering reduced load to the structure. For this reason one of the most effective blast protection measures for a structure is to maximize an enforced and reasonable stand-off distance. Some measures to do this include screening vehicles that come within the stand-off distance, anti-ram bollards, and large planters on the curb.

Anti-ram protection systems need to be designed for the maximum vehicle size and maximum attainable speed. One effective way of reducing design requirements is to reduce the attainable speed near the structure. Two ways of limiting maximum attainable speed is the use of tight turns and required stop access points which limit acceleration distance. Vehicle size limits also can significantly reduce both the design requirements for anti-ram protection and the maximum blast risk.

For many structures, the trade off for reducing accessibility and increased costs is not worth the added security. When this is the case and the maximum vehicle size is not controlled, slightly increasing the stand-off distance may not be an effective way to increase protection. This is because maintaining and enforcing the stand-off distance that a substantially large vehicle bomb requires may not be reasonable. During these situations the design focus will need to be on structural damage mitigation.

Facade Protection

When designing for blast protection your first line of defense is the buildings facade. Since the shock wave pressure decays over distance, the ground floor facade of a structure experiences the greatest pressure loads. When designing a building facade for blast loads engineers should consider adding dampening systems, designing systems to catch fragments, avoid the use of materials that break up easily, minimizing and reinforce openings, and adding structural redundancy.

All critical structural elements should also be located within the center of a structure to reduce risk through maximizing the amount of blast energy dissipation prior to contact. At risk structures should also be designed for progressive collapse to prevent structural collapse in the event that an attack damages structurally critical elements. Progressive collapse prevention design requires adding structural redundancies to allow for alternative load paths in case of a local failure.

In the case that a total collapse is not preventable, its important to allow time for occupants to escape the building. This requires using ductile materials that yield for an adequate amount of time prior to complete failure. By designing ductility into a structure it also prevents high load spikes by gradually transferring load from one load path to another reducing the risk of collapse. In order to prevent sudden collapse elements need to be designed to failure flexurally prior to shear to give adequate warning prior to collapse.

To also reduce risk architects can design buildings to eliminate occupied floors from being located on the most vulnerable lower levels of a building. Lobbies should also be designed to keep the welcome desk away from vulnerable exterior walls to increase the distance for a blast to decay.

Sources: Blast Safety Of The Building Envelope – Whole Building Design Guide;
Blast Loading On Structures

Interior Blast Threats

Structures that commonly have interior access for vehicles include such as convention centers, stadiums, and parking garages are at increased risk for blast threats. Particularly when a public parking garage is located beneath a building it opens up the ability for vehicle bombs to directly target columns. One example of this happening was the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing where a 1,336 lb truck bomb was detonated in the world trade centers underground parking garage below the high rise structure. Fortunately, because the world trade center had designed redundancies, the damage from the attack was contained to the parking garage and did not cause a complete structural collapse.

When such threats are present it is critical to perform a progressive collapse analysis to prevent total structural collapse even when a primary structural element fails. For this reason structures that are exposed to blast threats need to have designed redundancy to minimize damage from blast loads.

Even when there is no vehicle access to a building, terrorists carrying container bombs can place explosive next to structural elements. Although these explosives are significantly smaller than vehicle bombs, they can still deliver a substantial amount of damage especially if structural redundancies aren’t in place.

When an interior blast occurs reflected blast waves increase the blast pressure in a room especially in small enclosed areas. In order to reduce the damage caused from interior blasts enclosures should allow for pressure to escape instead of reflecting off of surfaces. It’s also important to consider the smoke and fire risk of explosions. Enclosed areas need to allow for adequate ventilation and evacuation. Areas that are at increased risk for an interior blast should also remain inaccessible to the public and non-essential people.

Bridge & Dam Blast Threats

Bridges and dams are at significant risk for blasts. For the majority of bridges and dams, screening and limiting vehicles isn’t practical due to the need to maintain adequate traffic flow. Blast loads can occur from accidents with trucks carrying explosive cargo or from terrorist attacks using vehicle bombs. A bridge’s or dam’s structural resilience to blast loads depends on the construction material used and structural capacity.

Structural concrete is typically unable to handle significant strain without failing, however when concrete’s strain rate is great enough concrete’s strength increases dramatically helping to alleviate damage. Due to the massive peak pressure loads from blasts the concretes strain rate is significant enough to increase the materials dynamic compression and tension strength by as much as 4x and 8x respectively. The increase in strength is dependent upon the peak blast pressure making concrete an ideal material to handle blast loads.

Another critical design consideration for concrete bridges and dams is to prevent spalling from occurring. Spalling is the effect of pieces of material breaking off of a body. When concrete is exposed to high temperature loads, the water in the concrete can turn into steam creating internal pressures that induce spalling. When spalling occurs the reinforcement rebar which gives concrete tensile strength can become exposed and vulnerable. One method for preventing spalling and crack damage from high temperature loads is to use polypropylene fibers which give pathways for internal gas pressure to be released at high temperatures.

The rebar reinforcement is also susceptible to high temperature loads. At 1000°C rebar’s yield strength decreases to 1/3 of its strength at room temperature. Increasing the concrete cover can help better protect rebar by providing increased insulation. Increased cover also provides increased protection from corrosion caused by salting bridges

Modeling Blast Loads

At ASR we use LS-DYNA to simulate blast loads on structures and vehicles. LS-DYNA simulates high energy events and uses fluid-structure interaction analysis to model stresses. Using this we model the pressure from a blast wave on a structure and use the results to guide further design revisions. We are able to model transient loads to find the total energy dissipation capacity of structure using plastic design limits which allow for yielding but prevent collapse. For substantial loads where collapse is not preventable we are able to model time to collapse to ensure that there is enough time for a complete evacuation from a building.

Using LS-DYNA we also model impact loads which allows for structures to be analyzed to determine if they are bulletproof or if there is adequate protection from vehicle impact.

LS_DYNA also allows for vibration analysis to design structures for earthquake loads.

If you have a structure that is in need of advanced engineering analysis and design, our experienced engineers are ready to deliver the results you need. Contact us today for a free quote!

Sources:

Architectural and Structural Design for Blast Resistant Buildings

FEMA 426 – Explosive Blast

FHWA-HIF-17-032 Bridge Security Design Manual – June 2017

How Spacecraft Survive Launch-Dynamic Analysis

It’s no secret that rockets are extremely powerful. Launch thrusts are as high as 5,100,000 lbf (Falcon Heavy by SpaceX) for today’s rockets and 13,900,000 lbf (BFR by SpaceX) for rockets under development. With such massive forces at launch, it should be no shock that the engines, accelerations, and air resistance also create vibration loads great enough to shake critical components apart if they’re not designed properly. In order to design spacecraft to survive launch loads, engineers perform a dynamic analysis.

How Engineers Design Components To Withstand Dynamic Launch Loads

In order to prevent vibration loads from damaging critical components, engineers perform a dynamic analysis to ensure each component is designed to withstand launch loads while also minimizing excess material to reduce launch weight.

To perform a dynamic analysis of components, 3D finite element models of each component is generated. Once finite element models have been generated, each component first goes through a series of analysis cases including a dynamic analysis. The dynamic analysis is a multi-part analysis including a modal analysis, random vibration analysis, shock analysis, and load combination analysis.

Spacecraft CAD and FEA Mesh
Spacecraft CAD and FEA Mesh

Modal Analysis

In order to determine the resonant or modal frequencies and mode shapes of a component a modal analysis is performed. The resonant or modal frequencies of a components are the frequency at which the response amplitude are a relative maximum. When a component or structure vibrates at its resonant frequency it experiences large oscillations due to the storage of vibrational energy which can cause significant stress or even failure. A mode shape is the specific pattern of vibration executed by a mechanical system at a specific frequency. Engineers use the results of a modal analysis to analyze spacecraft for vibrations experienced during launch including random and shock vibrations.

Random Vibrations

During launch, broad band random vibrations are produced by a combination of engines firing, structural response, and aerodynamic turbulence. These vibrations are non-deterministic meaning that they can’t be precisely predicted. Through using statistics, random vibrations are analyzed for a range of potentialities.

Shock

A shock load is is used to describe a sudden force exerted on a structure such as a hammering action or a falling object hitting the ground. Spacecraft experience shock during mechanical actions such as release mechanisms for stage and satellite separation as well as deploying mechanisms such as unfolding solar arrays.

Dynamic Analysis

With the modal analysis completed, a dynamic analysis is done on the spacecraft in order to ensure that the vehicle can withstand loads from random vibrations and shock. This analysis is performed by using the mode shapes and resonant frequencies found as a result from the modal analysis.

Combined Load Cases

A combined load case is then  generated which includes loads from shock, random vibrations and ongoing static loads. The combined load case results predicts the stress the structure experiences which is plotted as a stress contour.

Dynamic Analysis Results
Dynamic Analysis FEA Stress Contours

Designing For Dynamic Loads

Through use of the stress contour plot generated during the dynamic analysis process, engineers compare the peak stress of a structure to the structure material’s properties to ensure that the allowable stress of a material is not exceeded. At this point it’s also common to check for locations that have excessive material which increases weight of a spacecraft adding significant unnecessary cost to a launch. With these results engineers will add and remove material  as well as perform a redesign on sections in the finite element model to give a spacecraft more optimized geometries. With the updated design, engineers will then run another analysis on the new design to ensure that it meets performance specifications and that the excess material has been removed.

ASR Engineering provides mechanical engineering analysis & design services for spacecraft and other structures. Contact us today for a free quote!

Consumer Adoption Curve

Product Development – Launching & Growing Your Product

Now that you’ve put in the countless hours perfecting your initial product and preparing for launch, it’s finally time to launch your product!

What should be done thus far

If you have any questions about how to get to this point please refer to one of the following previous blog posts.

Product Development – Pre-Launch Checklist
  • Identify a problem
  • Determine and design your initial Minimal Viable Product (MVP)
  • Build a prototype MVP
  • Test your prototype MVP with potential customers and gain feedback
  • Iterate on your MVP or proceed
  • Choose your launch method
  • Determine your budget and business plan
  • Build your sales and marketing plan
  • Source production
  • Line up fulfillment
  • Price your product

Launch Your Product!

Launching your product may be one of the most anti-climatic experiences of your life or one of the most stressful depending upon the existing demand for your product. With the exception of the rare brilliantly positioned products that have massive market demand on day 1, most products don’t fly off the shelves during launch. Instead, most products and brands take years of hard work building market demand and educating the market on product advantages.

Note: If you are launching with a large crowdfunding campaign you will need to meet about half of your goal within the first 48 hours of launch to gain the momentum it takes to succeed. Please refer to “Crowdfunding” under “Choosing Your Launch Method” in Launch Preparation – Part 1.

Start Growing Your Product and Brand

Now that your product is launched, its time to drive traffic, make sales, and build your brand!

Before you get started its good to understand how new products are adopted by consumers. Initially you’ll be targeting only a small segment of your total potential customers. The following consumer adoption curve is an approximation of typical market behavior, your experience may vary.

Consumer Adoption Curve
Consumer Adoption Curve

Innovators – 2.5% of total potential customers

Customers that fit the innovator profile are a small but critical segment. Innovators will be your very first target customers and typically have the following profile:

  • Actively search the market for new products
  • Want to be the first to try new products
  • A high risk tolerance allowing them to adopt technologies and products that may fail
  • Greater financial resources to help absorb taking on risks with new products
  • Closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators
  • Enjoy researching products and technology
  • Strong interest in data and evidence
  • Highest social status
  • Highly educated
  • Disagreeable going against the accepted norm

*Your typical super backer on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites are innovators.

Early Adopters – 13.5% of total potential customers

Once you begin selling to early adopters your sales should see a substantial increase as your customer base roughly increases by 6x. Early Adopters are the second fastest customers to adopt new products and solutions.

  • Highest degree of opinion leadership
  • Great influence over others
  • Higher social status
  • Financial resources that allow them to accept moderate risk
  • Typically have advanced degrees and are open to rationalize new technologies and products
  • More discreet in adoption choices of new products and technologies than innovators
Crossing the Chasm

The chasm is a hard to cross growth barrier that typically occurs between a technology being adopted by early adopters and the early majority, though it may also occur during the early adopter segment.

Crossing the chasm requires convincing the skeptical majority, who are less inclined to accepting risk, of the benefits of your product or technology. During this time you may face push back from dissatisfied early customers, tough competitors, and unhappy investors.

In order to cross the chasm you may need to increase your marketing and branding efforts to win the approval of influencers within the market. Once enough influencers accepts the product or technology it will begin gaining traction and start to become the new paradigm. After you cross the chasm growth typically explodes as you now have access to a much larger market and can expect a substantial word of mouth campaign.

Early Majority – 34% of total potential customers

Now that you have successfully crossed the chasm you will have access to the majority of the market who less accepting of risk.

  • Wait until a technology or product has been proven
  • Only buy from established brands
  • Above average social status
  • In contact with early adopters
  • Financially better off than late majority
  • Comfortable with their ability to master new technology and products
Late Majority – 34% of total potential customers

The late majority share many similar characteristics to the early majority. The major difference between the late majority and early majority is ability to accept risk and confidence to master new technologies and products.

  • Wait for products to be developed and designed for the mass market
  • More interested in user-friendly products with a low learning curve
  • Lower financial resources make them more risk averse
Laggards – 16% of total potential customers

Now that you have saturated the market with a new solution, the last to adopt it are laggards. Laggards many times only buy into a new solution if it has become so pervasive in the market that they have no choice but to use it. They typically do not offer strong profit margins as they require low prices, and a lot of support in training.

  • Strong resistance to change
  • Only adopt a solution if required by the market

Initiate Your Sales & Marketing Plan

With your product launched and available for purchase its time to tell the world. Don’t expect anyone to simply stumble across your product because it’s on your website. If you aren’t actively getting out your message and product advantages then it might just as well not be released at all. Your sales & marketing plan should have been made while preparing for launch.

If you have any questions about different sales & marketing options, please refer to the launch preparation – part 1 post.

Grow Your Brand

Have you ever wondered why you have never seen a soft drink supplier surpass Coca-Cola® and Pepsi®? It’s because of how strong their brands are. Building a strong brand requires a lot of time and effort, but offers massive returns. With a strong brand, you can launch new products and reach the majority of the market far faster thanks to lowered skepticism due to consumers being comfortable with your brand.

Having a weak brand can also be detrimental to future success. If you don’t outright lose a customer forever due to a bad experience, it can take about twenty good experiences with your brand to counteract one bad experience. This is why customer satisfaction should be at the forefront of your strategy. When a customer feels that their experience was above their expectations they are far more likely to recommend your brand to those they have high influence over. However, a customer who had a bad experience will also go out of their way to warn others to stay away and can destroy your ability to grow.

By building a strong brand that customers have associated with consistently exceeding their expectations you can grow a strong word of mouth campaign and earn life long customers.

Congratulations on launching and growing your product!

We wish you the best of luck in your journey to market adoption.

If you have a product idea and are in need of engineering assistance, our experienced mechanical design and analysis engineers are ready to assist you make your idea a reality with our engineering services!

Please comment below if you have any recommendations on specific topics to be covered in the future.

Product Development – Launch Preparation Part 2

Get excited because you’re getting closer to your anticipated product launch!

Part 1 – Covered in last weeks post

  • Proceed or pivot
  • Choosing your launch method
  • Determining your budget and business plan
  • Making a sales/marketing plan

Part 2 – Covered in this weeks post

  • Sourcing production
  • Attaining proper documentation
  • Product packaging
  • Lining up fulfillment and shipping
  • Pricing your product

Please note that you don’t have to follow any specific order while completing these tasks. For instance, you may find it necessary to determine that you can source production of your product prior to even determining whether you should proceed or pivot. Everyone’s situation and product is unique and therefore you should follow the path that best suits your needs.

Sourcing Production

Production is one of the most critical decisions in your business, after all without product inventory you won’t have anything to sell. One of the biggest decisions when sourcing production is deciding whether to outsource production or to keep production in-house.

Outsourcing vs In-House Production

Who is going to manufacture your product? Will you keep manufacturing in-house or will you outsource manufacturing.

Outsourcing Production

Pros

  • Less work to worry about during what can be a very stressful work period during product launch.
  • Gain access to large production facilities with advanced manufacturing equipment and expert manufacturers.
  • Large manufacturers place large order volumes for material allowing them to secure lower prices.

Cons

  • You are removed from the manufacturing process preventing experience that could lead to design improvements to increase manufacturability and reduce your product cost.
  • Delays product iteration from customer feedback due to large initial inventory.
  • Need to pay for overhead and profit margins for the manufacturer.

In-House Production

Pros

  • Easily iterate on your design based on customer feedback.
  • Prevent excessive inventory from cluttering up warehouse space and hogging initial funding.
  • Gain a better understanding to the manufacturing process to allow for making better business decisions.
  • Scale production with demand.
  • Stronger intellectual property protection.

Cons

  • Typically prevents access to advanced manufacturing methods without investing large amounts in equipment which can limit design and manufacturing options.
  • Lack of access to experienced manufacturers without hiring.
  • Lower production rates due to a smaller workforce and lacking of manufacturing equipment.

In-House Production To Outsource Production Recommendation

  • Initially launch with in-house production if possible.
  • Iterate on your design to improve manufacturability and satisfy initial customer feedback.
  • Once sales demand increases beyond your capability and is adequate to justify placing an order volume that meets with the manufacturers minimum order volume then look to outsource all or part of the manufacturing of you product. Many brands keep assembly in-house while outsourcing the manufacturing of components.

Note: Save yourself a lot of work by looking for Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) provided components that can be used in your design and procured at low cost and volumes prior to redesigning the wheel.

Instead of placing an initial order of thousands of units to meet manufacturer minimum order volumes prior to understanding market demand, begin with in-house production and then shift to outsourcing production as demand grows beyond your capabilities. By keeping initial production in-house you will gain insights into your products manufacturing process. Understanding your manufacturing process allows you to make better decisions down the road. Keeping manufacturing in-house initially also allows for rapid design revision in response to customer feedback giving you the ability to quickly implement product improvements to better meet market demand and impress early customers with responsiveness.

Most products and brands do not sell high volumes during their launch and take significant time and effort to scale sales before reaching demand that is adequate to satisfy even a minimum order volume from manufacturers. This is because many minimum order volumes from manufacturers are in the thousands of units while most products start with struggling to only get their first sale and then begin scaling in volume with market acceptance and time. Unless if you have a large marketing budget, a rare product that goes viral, industry or PR connections, or a large retail order chances are that you won’t have the initial demand required to move thousands of units within a reasonable amount of time.

Once your product has market acceptance and increased demand that you’re having trouble keeping up with, then its time to decide whether you want to outsource production, invest in in-house fabrication capabilities or do both. Outsourcing production will allow for access to advanced fabrication equipment along with expert manufacturers that can rapidly turn around high volume. Investing in in-house production can keep manufacturing costs lower in the long run because you don’t need to pay for your manufacturers overhead and profit, but it requires higher up front investment to acquire fabrication equipment.

One common solution that I recommend is to outsource the manufacturing of components which have significant advantages from using high cost fabrication equipment, such as injection molds and stamping presses, while investing in an in-house assembly process which is typically more unique to a product and may require designing and fabricating custom tooling.

On-Shore or Off-Shore Manufacturing

Should you decide to outsource the manufacturing of your product or components you will need to make the important decision of whether you want to manufacture on-shore (domestically) or off-shore (internationally).

On-Shore

Pros

  • Gain greater oversight on your production.
  • Eliminate the long shipping times.
  • Gain the marketing value that comes with a Made in the USA product (be cautious of using OEM components if you’re seeking Made in the USA status).
  • Retain stronger intellectual property (IP) protection to reduce the risk of copycat products.
  • Prevents delays due to customs or weather transoceanic during shipping.

Cons

  • Typically significantly higher cost

Off-Shore

Pros

  • Typically significantly lower cost

Cons

  • Can lead to quality nightmares due to lack of production oversight.
  • Long shipment times with the potential for significant delays due to weather, customs and other uncontrollable factors.
  • Weaker intellectual property protection increasing the likelihood for copycats.

Whether you should manufacture your product on-shore or off-shore will greatly depend upon your product. If cost is a driving factor in potential customer purchasing decisions you may find yourself forced to go off-shore to meet pricing requirements. However, if you have a product with strict quality and performance requirements that also has high margins it may be more beneficial to keep manufacturing on-shore to allow for improved oversight.

Another factor to keep in mind is that if you sell through retailers they expect punctual delivery. If you’re late retailers typically reserve the right to cancel the order. A canceled order can lead to significant losses and hurt your relationship with the retailer. Retailers do typically allow for you to specify delivery date, however the faster your delivery turnaround the happier the retailer is and the sooner you will get paid since retailer payment is typically set at net-90 payment terms meaning you get paid 90 days after delivery. By Keeping manufacturing on-shore you will be able to reduce shipment time and avoid potential delays. During transoceanic shipping, delays can occur from oceanic weather and customs. You can avoid these potential delays by manufacturing onshore. If you do decide to manufacture offshore these potential delays will have to be included in your lead time.

At ASR, we offer services including manufacturing support, tooling design, product life-cycle supportproduct design, engineering analysis, and more. Whether you need engineering help with your design, want to optimize product for unit cost or performance, or need help sourcing manufacturing, we have the experience and capabilities to help drive your success.

Attaining Proper Product Documentation

Documentation requirements will depend on your product and market. Two things all products require are a Universal Product Number (UPC) symbol and a Stockkeeping Unit (SKU). Depending on your product you may also need a Safety Data Sheet (SDS), Product Certification, and more.

Universal Product Number (UPC) Symbol

The UPC symbol is the most common barcode in the United States. UPC symbols are assigned by GS1 which is a non-profit organization. You will want to obtain two UPC symbols for each product, a 12 or 13 digit Product UPC Code and a 14 digit Case UPC Code. UPC codes are used in all retail and are unique to each product.

Stockkeeping Unit (SKU)

SKU’s are internal item identifiers and are unique to any organization. SKU’s are used to track individual units of a product. You will want to create an internal SKU system to track inventory, keep track of manufacturing errors, prevent copycats and more. Since SKUs are unique to a given organization its common for retailers to create their own SKUs for your products that are different from your own. Many manufacturers use lasers to label individual units with unique SKUs.

Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Form

If your product uses hazardous chemicals you will have to track down SDS forms which are provided by the chemical manufacturer. Refer to OSHA for more information on SDS forms and requirements.

Product Certification

Depending upon your product it may require certification. If your product failing can put lives at risk, lead to significant damages, or is hazardous for any other reason then its likely that your product will require a form of certification. For instance fall protection products require meeting with OSHA 1926.502, ANSI A10.32, ANSI Z359.14 and more.

If you have a product that requires testing and certification, then ASR’s analysis services can help ensure your product meets required specifications prior to expensive certification testing by using advanced computer modeling. ASR also offers product testing and validation services to help get your product the certification it needs.

Product Packaging

Depending upon your product and sales channels, product packaging can be a critical component to your success. Some products are susceptible to damage during shipment and need to have packaging designed that can keep products safe if they are dropped. Packaging design and unboxing experience is also critical to sales and branding.

ASR offers analysis services and testing and validation services to ensure that your product packaging is adequate to prevent your product from being damaged during shipping.

If you have plans on selling your product on the shelf of a retailer then your packaging will need to stick out against the competition in order to generate sales. With the typical consumer only looking at your product for a few seconds your packaging will have to stand out to earn a chance at converting customers. For this reason we recommend hiring out packaging design to a professional. We can work with the designer you have chosen to ensure packaging meets with strength requirements to prevent your product from arriving damaged.

Lining Up Fulfillment and Shipping

There are a few options when it comes to fulfilling orders. You can use a 3rd party fulfillment services that will warehouse and fulfill orders for a price. You can also fulfill orders in house. If you fulfill orders in house then you will need to procure packaging material for shipping including shipping boxes, fill material, packing tap, and a shipping label printer and paper. Depending upon shipment volume you will also want to look into creating a packaging station with a packing table to increase productivity.

If you plan on shipping directly to customers you will have to determine shipping costs. Start by researching different shipping companies such as USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL. I have found USPS flat rate shipping which includes free boxes to be the most affordable, easiest to manage and the fastest for shipping initial lower volume orders. However, you will want to research all of your options for shipping prior to settling on a shipping service. You may also decide to offer multiple options to your customers at varying price points. If you decide to ship internationally you will also have to research international shipping costs and any custom requirements. As your volume increases different shipping companies can become more competitive as you receive volume based pricing.

If you’re selling through retail then its typical that the retailer will cover shipping costs as long as you use their requested shipping provider and account. It’s also common for suppliers to cover shipping should a minimum order volume be made which is specified by the supplier as an incentive for larger order volume.

You may also decide to include the cost of shipping in your product pricing in order to offer free shipping.

Pricing Your Product

Product pricing is one of the most critical components of your business model. Should you price your product too low you can be losing necessary profit for growth or even selling at a loss once all costs are accounted for. Should your price be too high potential customers may not even consider it for purchase.

Determining Your Minimum Price

In order to determine the minimum price of your product you will have to first determine your product’s unit cost and required margins for reasonable growth and development.

The unit cost of a product is the cost incurred by a company to produce, store and sell one unit. Common things included in unit cost include but are not limited to:

  • Manufacturing & assembly
  • Shipping to warehouse, assembly line, etc..
  • Warehousing
  • Packaging & packaging materials
  • Payroll

You will also want to determine the necessary minimum amount to cover single time expenses and business growth and development. Typically this will be between 18% and 35% of the Manufactured Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of your product. This is what you pull from for your advertising budget, single time expenses such as manufacturing equipment, and overhead costs. You will also have to add in the retail margin which is typically about 50% of MSRP which is also known as keystone pricing. In practice retail margins vary depending upon the product, retailer volume, market and more.

A good equation to determine your minimum MSRP is:

MSRP >= 2*(0.18*MSRP + Unit Cost)

Where:

  • 2* represents keystone pricing
  • 0.18*MSRP represent the minimum amount a company needs for growth and other expenses without risking losing money on an order

Using the above equation your minimum cost to the retailer would be.

Retail Cost >= 0.18*MSRP + Unit Cost

Determining Your Final Pricing

Now that you know the absolute minimum price, its time to determine the price that you will actually charge. Outside of determining a minimum cost, the unit cost of a product should have little to do with it’s pricing. Instead you should use your market research that you did while finding your idea and beta testing to help determine the best price of your product. You will also want to take another close look at the market and current pricing of similar products to ensure that you’re competitive. Should you price your product too low, customers may assume that it is too cheap and overlook it. Should you price your product too high, customers will overlook it as it is outside of what they have gotten used to as the value for such a product. You may also look into more complicated pricing strategies to better satisfy different potential customer expectations. If you are unsure about pricing it is typically better to error on the high side during launch. Customers are more accepting of price reduction compared to price increases after launch.

Once you have determine a reasonable price that your believe the market will accept check that it is greater than your minimum MSRP. If the price determined is not greater than the minimum MSRP then you will have to revisit a previous step to work on lowering unit cost or increasing product value.

Please comment below with any questions. Launching your product will be covered in next weeks blog post!

Product Development – Launch Preparation Part 1

Now that you have a product that you’ve done your homework on by going through countless iterations while getting feedback from every potential customer you could, it’s nearly time for these past few months or years of hard work to pay off!

By this time in the product development cycle, you should have:

  • Identified an idea
  • Verified your idea with potential customers outside of your friends and family.
  • Done market research to determine if the market is large enough to make your product viable.
  • Done an initial patent search.
  • Developed and fabricated a minimum viable product (MVP) prototype.
  • Tested your MVP with potential customers to confirm your hypothesis while potentially iterating on your design.
  • Received confirmation for your MVP hypothesis from potential customers. This includes confirming the products value.
  • Obtained a Provisional or Utility, Design, or Plant Patent.

If you have questions regarding any of the above, please visit our previous blog posts on finding an idea and prototyping and beta testing.

Once all of the above is done, its time to start the launch preparation phase! Getting launch ready requires doing the following:

Part 1 – Covered in the post:

  • Proceed or pivot
  • Choosing your launch method
  • Determining your budget and business plan
  • Making a sales/marketing plan

Part 2 – Covered in next weeks post:

  • Sourcing production
  • Lining up fulfillment
  • Pricing your product

Proceed or Pivot

Once you decide that it’s time to go to the market, your spending requirements will increase dramatically. Between the upfront cost of your first production run, and the cost that a successful sales and marketing campaign requires, your cash burn rate will increase dramatically. This is why it’s critical to review all previous information to determine whether or not you’re ready to place your bet and launch.

Prior to launching its critical to make sure everyone in your team is ready to go all in. Your business plan should be reviewed, product pricing should be agreed upon, product advantages and sales points outlined, potential negative feedback determined, market advantages reviewed and more. Once you finish your pre-launch preparation meeting if the agreement is unanimous to move forward then its time to proceed to start becoming launch ready.

It should be mentioned that some may never feel ready to take the plunge to launch and while you can always do more homework at some point there are negligible returns with more effort. It’s impossible to know with 100% confidence that your product will be a success, all you can do is prepare adequately and work hard to make it succeed. It’s also good to get in the mentality to be prepared to hear “no” a lot. Launching a new brand and product requires a lot of grit. Most successful founders had to get used to hearing “no” or “not at this time” over and over again from retail buyers and those who are established in the market or may have other brand loyalties during the start of their companies. Luckily for founders, many times it only takes one “yes” from a serious customer or buyer to get off the ground and what you learn from getting to the “yes” is crucial in building your business and brand moving forward.

Today’s market is very skeptical of change including new brands or new solutions. This is why it was important to get out the door during the development phase to test your hypothesis with as many potential customers as you can in order to gather honest feedback so that you can proceed through the initial rejections most face while entering the market with more confidence. In the end the most important component for a launch team is to completely believe in the product with strong market reasoning and data. Should there be good reasoning to change your product offering for example, you can target a larger market by making a simple change, or you need to allow more competitive pricing through designing for manufacturability, then you may want to look into pivoting prior to proceeding to the next phase. However, every time you pivot you are also eating into your budget that could have been spent on marketing and sales efforts or production, and it further delays your launch which is why its important to weigh the pros and cons of the pivot to determine whether its worth it or if you should move forward to launching.

Choosing Your Launch Method

Congratulations, you’ve reached the point at which you’re deciding to go all in on your launch! Take a deep breath, celebrate your accomplishments by treating yourself for getting this far and get ready to begin moving to the next phase.

Today there are three primary launch options.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is becoming a popular choice today with Kickstarter, Indiegogo, RocketHub, Crowdfunder, and many others. Today the crowdfunding market is a $1 Billion industry and is still quickly growing at 10% annually. With the largest crowdfunding campaign, Pebble Time, having raised $20 million and the average raising $5,500.

  • Crowdfunding Pros
    • Retain 100% ownership of your company in most cases by raising money through reward-based platforms instead of equity.
    • Determine product/market fit by pre-selling your product prior to needing to pay for your initial production run.
    • Gain access to a large groups of early adopters who unlike the majority of consumers get excited for supporting new brands and ideas.
    • Gain sales numbers to defend your idea while talking to investors, buyers, and others.
  • Crowdfunding Cons
    • Crowdfunding typically requires campaigns to reach 50% of their goal within the first 3 days of launch in order to be successful. This requires you to have secured acknowledgement from potential backers for about 50% of your goal prior to launch in order to have a successful campaign, which means you need significant marketing and sales efforts prior to launch.
    • Many professional media companies won’t cover unreleased products.
    • Typically need to offer a discount to backers as an incentive.
    • Many times all production and fulfillment costs aren’t understood completely prior to campaign launch leading to major financial difficulties in order to fulfill successful campaigns.
  • Other Important Points
    • It’s common to have venture capitalists and angel investors require a startup to prove market demand with a crowdfunding campaign as its a low-risk way to determine demand.
    • Many who launch successful crowdfunding campaigns also seek venture funding to raise further cash for launch and growth.

Venture Fundraising

Venture funding is becoming huge today. With billion-dollar startup exits in the spotlight and Shark Tank becoming a popular show many are looking for ways to join the excitement by building a startup or through becoming an angel investor.

  • Venture Fundraising Pros
    • Ability to raise significant funding for launch and rapid growth.
    • Gain access to additional resources and experienced advisors with market influence.
    • Investors can many times introduce you to key people within an industry, whether they’re successful salespeople, marketers, buyers, customers, or other investors.
  • Venture Fundraising Cons
    • Requires selling company equity.
    • Typically makes you plan an exit strategy in the form of either being bought out (more common) or an IPO (rare).
    • Doesn’t allow for making a lifestyle company.
  • Other Important Points
    • Be prepared to need to raise multiple rounds including a seed round, Series A, Series B and potentially more.
    • Many predatory venture capitalists take control of companies to best increase their profit margins while potentially eliminating your vision.
    • Ensure that your visions are aligned with an investor prior to accepting funding.

Bootstrapping

Another popular option that has allowed many companies to exist today including the majority of lifestyle businesses is bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is when you raise funds for your launch and growth out of your pocket and from friends and family.

  • Bootstrapping Pros
    • Retain full ownership and control of your business.
    • Allows for creating a lifestyle company that isn’t profit driven.
    • Allows you to focus entirely on growing your business and your customers without needing to worry about investors.
  • Bootstrapping Cons
    • Reduced access to funds for rapid growth through marketing and sales efforts.
    • Harder to find experienced advisors to help with business decisions.
  • Other Important Points
    • This method typically has slower initial growth but also allows you to make business decisions that better align with your vision even if it means sacrificing profits.
    • This is the most common method for starting new companies.

Determine Your Budget And Business Plan

Once you have a launch method chosen, its time to look at your overall required budget and form your business plan.

Crowdfunding requires heavy investment in marketing, sales, and PR starting about 4 months prior to campaign launch and then continuing throughout your campaign then slowing down significantly while working to fulfill initial crowdfunding orders.

High growth venture capital launches require heavy marketing spending starting about only a month prior to launch to gain momentum and then tapering off to a steady stream of marketing starting about a month or so after launch.

Bootstrap launches typically are lower profile as most money is spent on production leaving minimal funds for marketing and sales. Most successful founders who bootstrap their initial growth get creative with gaining initial sales and have to be the first salesperson for their company knocking on customer doors.

To come up with your budget, you will need to determine the minimum amount you will need to successfully launch and grow your company. Understanding your cost per conversion or the amount of money you need to spend to gain a new customer and the average anticipated value of the customer can help significantly when laying out a budget. Successful products will typically have a sales conversion cost of between 20% and 50% of the manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP). With time after you collect data and gain early adopters, the sales conversion cost should decrease due to word of mouth sales growing, early skepticism declining, and refining of your sales and marketing tactics.

Production costs will also be a major portion of your budget and depend upon initial anticipated volume, minimum unit order sizes, and manufacturing requirements. While some products can be made in the founder’s garage or kitchen, other products have significantly greater requirements. If you’re lucky enough to have a product that doesn’t require significant up-front investment to fulfill early orders then you can get started right away at making your launch inventory. If your product requires more advanced manufacturing methods or upfront costs such as a plastic injection molding then you will have to add these costs to your initial budget.

If your product requires more advanced manufacturing requirements, we can assist you with our manufacturing support services to line you up with a qualified suppliers and provide engineering documents that will be required for manufacturing.

Making Your Sales and Marketing Plan

Your sales and marketing plan will greatly depend upon your product and the market you’re targeting. Is your product a lower cost business to consumer (B2C) product, or is it a high-cost business to business (B2B) enterprise product?

Low-cost product marketing typically targets wider audiences through the use of magazine ads and digital marketing. It’s also good to get out the door to sell your product and get one on one contact time with your customers. This will help develop your selling points and make you aware of any negative feedback customer have. Using this information you can further optimize your marketing content, target demographics and more.

High-cost B2B enterprise products require sales teams that can get meetings with decisions makers at companies large enough to afford your solution. These sales can require significant product research to show strong data backing claims, long wait times as they research the costs vs benefits of adopting your solution, and significant upfront costs as you manufacture and deliver a product on what could be as much as net-90 payment terms.

There are many marketing and sales options, and the best choice will depend upon your market, product, goals, and target demographic.

  • Public Relations (PR)

Public relations involves contacting relevant publications and news organizations with a strong and likable story about your company in exchange for exposure. The publications and news organizations can be local or even national, though be prepared to have many turn you down.

It’s also important to offer something more than “I have a shiny new product”, that works for companies such as Apple with a large consumer backings, but for new companies it’s much better to tell a story. For example, did you come up with this product out of a personal need and is there a story behind that? Or perhaps you’re a family ran business trying to make ends meet. Or maybe you’re trying to help your community by donating part of your profits to a group in need because of a life experience. In the end, publications and news organizations need stories to run and if you can offer a compelling one that can reach their viewers you’re a lot more likely to be aired or published.

Many companies also do PR stunts as an effort to get media attention. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, is famous for PR stunts and I strongly recommend looking up some of his. Organizing a PR stunt can be a fun and creative exercise for your team, but they can also be high risk and time-consuming in the case that media organizations don’t take notice.

This should go without saying, but when you contact news and media organizations be sure to treat them as another person and not someone whose job is to simply tell the world about your product. There needs to be a quid pro quo when working with them and they also deserve respect. Tell them why you believe it can be a good fit, do your research on whether they typically write about the story your imagining, approach them with respect as you should with everyone, and don’t overload them with information. It’s best to keep initial emails short and sweet, about 3 lines max, and wait for a response prior to giving them more information. Forming a good relationship with writers can help your brand significantly with future PR efforts.

  • Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is similar to PR, however in this case you’re looking for individuals who have influence over your target customers decision making. Influencers also vary significantly in both influence over their audience and audience size. One common observation is that as an influencers reach grows, their influence over their entire audience decreases. Many times it can be better to target 10 influencers with only 5,000 followers than it is to target one influencer with 50,000 followers.

The goal with an influencer marketing campaign is to give potential customers a clear and trustworthy review of your product. In my opinion, this may require declining to offer payment for a review which often comes with strings attached. Instead of paying influencers, at least initially, seek those who have a real use for your product and offer it to them for free in exchange for an honest review after they’ve had ample time to use it.

These campaigns can range significantly in cost from either being free minus shipping and product costs to costing hundreds or even thousands every time the influencer advertises the product. There is also a wide range of influencer platforms to choose from including Youtube, blogs, Instagram, Podcasts, and more.

  • Referral Marketing

Referral marketing is becoming very common today. It’s the strategy used when companies offer discounts or give a free gift when you refer a friend. Referral marketing has proven to be extremely effective at driving significant growth. This is because people trust those they’re closest to the most. While potential customers may remain skeptical about a new product while only seeing ads online, many times someone they know can bring down their skeptical barrier by explaining how much they enjoy the product or service and recommending it to you. By running a referral marketing campaign you create an incentive for people who are already your customers to go out and recommend your product or service to those who they have significant influence over in exchange for an initial discount.

  • Trial Offers

Another common practice today is giving away a trial of the product or service. 3D printer companies typically give away sample prints, ride share customers receive their first ride for free, many online subscription services offer a free month trial and more. Trial offers are a great way to gain early customers. Depending upon your product and reach these offers will look different. While ride share companies can offer your first ride for free, a company selling a $100 single time purchased product couldn’t just give away their product. One option is to offer a trial period of your product to early adopters nearby your location where you can pick up the sample at the end of the trial period or offer it to them for sale at a slight discount.

  • Digital Marketing

Digital marketing involves paid ads on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Snapchat, Linkedin, Google AdWords, search engine optimization (SEO), Bing, and more. Digital marketing is great for low budgets as the minimum price for an ad on Facebook is only $1/day. However, like all other ads, digital marketing success requires having a strong understanding of your target demographic, determining what content is appropriate for the platform, running A/B marketing tests, and more. A digital marketing campaign can be very powerful at a low cost, but it requires a strong understanding of how to run a proper campaign.

  • Publication Ads

    While newspapers and magazines seem are being replaced with online media, publications may still be a great place to reach your market at an affordable rate. If you have a tight budget you can look for last-minute empty slots that publications are willing to give away at significant discounts (can be discounted as low as 50% of their standard rate). There are also still many professional magazines that are given away for free to professionals within an industry. For instance, Modern Steel Construction is given away to all AISC and ASCE members which include the majority of civil engineers and heavy steel fabricators.

  • Radio Ads

    Radio Ads can be a great marketing option for local businesses such as restaurants, clubs, stores, dealerships and more. Like any other advertising method, creating an effective radio ad requires understanding your target demographic and the radio stations audience.

  • Trade Shows

    Trade shows can be very effective are generating powerful leads if done properly. Preparing for a trade show should start almost a year in advance when you reserve your booth. At this time you should note down all of the important deadlines and included offerings which may include things like new product announcements, press releases, white paper submissions, speaker applications and more. You will also want to look for any of the top potential customers, and buyers who you would like to target during the trade show and find out if they will be attending the show and who to contact to schedule a meeting. Many top buyers and large customers will book their entire show schedule months in advance so it’s important to start on this as soon as you can. Some buyers will also simply wander trade shows looking to discover new products while keeping their name tag concealed to prevent being bothered. Submitting a white paper and becoming a speaker can also significantly increase the credibility of you and your brand. This is one of the ways that 23andme went from their initial sales of only 10 units per day to where they are today.

    After the trade show, you will want to have about two weeks cleared to follow up with all of the leads obtained during the trade show. Also be sure to note on your lead capture device any requested content or information that you agreed to provide to a lead. Many times exhibitors don’t follow through with promises to potential customers and buyers, so following through can be the start of a strong business relationship.

Afterthoughts

Most companies never took off with crazy growth and required time and effort to grow to what they are today. Some companies are profitable immediately and others require significant time to grow to a large enough scale prior to becoming profitable. Sales and marketing strategies will vary widely depending on your product. Its always a good idea to get familiar with your customers by getting out the door and speaking with them.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions regarding getting ready for your launch. If you are also looking for engineering services to help bring your idea to life, contact us today to learn how we can help!

Stay tuned for next weeks blog post on part 2 of launch preparation.