The future lives in 2019 – Part 8 – Shifting Product Development Models

February 20, 2019

The future lives in 2019 – a 19-part series to kick off the new year exploring products, technology, manufacturing, and how advancements that we may think of as futuristic actually live today in 2019. What are the trends? What are the new exciting products? How are they made? We will take a look at all of these from a market viewpoint and from a rapid manufacturing viewpoint.

For part 7 we take a look at a faster and more flexible product development models that are emerging to match the needs of 2019 and beyond.

So, this is not really a blog about a specific rapid manufacturing technology or specific industry that uses rapid manufacturing, instead more of a commentary and observation on what I am seeing as evolving market trends that are forcing shifts in product development models.

The slow burn product development cycle, the area I used to work in, is long gone. The system where you could take the time to refine and amend and ticker with a great product is too dangerous now in my opinion. You simply need to make things faster in 2019. Take retail product for example, here are a few market realities that have already forced retail product developers to speed up and become more flexible. This trend will be accelerated in 2019.

1. Hyper competition due to an explosion in rapid manufacturing access with 3D printing technologies leading the way. Over the past 1o years access to fast 3D printing technologies has allowed for seemingly instant realization of quick samples for testing and amending. Thus, speeding up any product development time line. The knock-on effect is that faster product development models because of easier access to rapid manufacturing have altered the realities of the market where consumers expect v3.0 before v2.0 is even ready. I am not saying this pace is all good, but it is real.

2. Traditional retail channels and distribution channels disappearing. It seems like every week another major player who has been around for 20 or 30 or 50 years is shutting their doors due to purchasing power shifting to online. While online selling offers a lot, what it does not offer are (for example) many competitive and equally powerful selling channels to move your product through. The very powerful buying channels who would buy by the container load(s) and pay for your all your product development in one go are slowly disappearing. Point being that in the past if Sears said no to placing a huge PO with you, don’t panic as there are 20 other major players to approach. With traditional retail options dwindling and disappearing I feel that any product needs to be made faster because you need to get to yes or no quicker than before or you run the risk of running out of selling options while running out of capital at the same time.

3. Piggy backing on above, the challenge with online sales (as a major selling channel) is having to manage your sales all the way through the entire life of your product. Before online you would get a big PO, manufacture like crazy for a few months, ship containers with a guaranteed L/C payment waiting for you, wash your hands of the rest and move on to the next product. With the online world you still need to manage the manufacturing process but now you are increasingly tasked with managing your online presence, so you need to develop product faster as you need many extra hours on-hand to optimize your online brand and selling channels.

Now we move into faster product development cycles in 2019. In an age of maturing Social Media, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Millennials, and all the other market disruptions out there product developers in all sectors need to be thinking about putting slow burn projects completely out of their minds and focus on flexible shorter fruition projects that can pivot quickly to match an ever evolving market that is being challenged by unpredictable customer loyalty, government regulators whose hands will be forced by green movements, and a continued consolidation of market distribution power. Here are a couple of recent examples pulled from the headlines of major industry leaders who are being forced to rethink their product development strategies.

Honda just announced it is leaving the UK and the rest of Europe, shifting manufacturing home to focus on EV in a response to massive global market shifts and emerging regulatory trends. Think about that, Honda (and other automotive titans) are being forced to rethink their entire business model at a massive expense in an attempt to keep up with a world that is changing at lighting speed (relative to old models). With this shift I must believe that Honda is thinking about EV product development models that is more plug-in play and flexible to be able to scale up or down depending on where unknown future legislation lands. Now, for sure there are multiple forces at work here and I won’t even venture into whether Brexit played a part in Honda’s decision to pull out of the UK. For now, I will take Honda at their word and see if their statements prove to be true in the future, that basically they find themselves in uncharted territory and are acting fast to adapt before it is too late. I think with Honda are seeing a new automotive product development strategy being born today in 2019.

Airbus as another recent example in the news shows the danger of big budget slow burn product development. Some will say that the A380 was a decade to early, some will say that it was a decade to late. I am no aviation expert but as a product developer what stands out to me is how betting really big on a design based on historical market observations is really dangerous with rapidly shifting markets today. I don’t really think Airbus’ initial product development decision for the A380 is to be too harshly criticized. Instead I would argue that when the decision was made it followed existing product development trends in the industry (although very ambitious to be sure). But the end result has taught us that big budget product development projects don’t have a shelf life like they used to. Thinking that used to stand up to reason for 20 years now may last 5 years if you are lucky. If you are going to do a slow burn big project, it better be bullet proof or today and beyond rapidly shifting markets in a rapidly evolving world with demographic shifts like we have never seen will crush your project.

The reason I reference Honda and Airbus is that if rapidly shifting markets can push titans off course then it can certainly happen to you or me. Any product development project that I personally get involved with in the future will be flexible, fast, and have lots of parallel revenue paths built into it because I for one am not big enough to survive some new/emerging disrupting market trend or fast legislative direction. Design fast(er), manufacture fast(er), penetrate the market fast(er), and get to positive revenue fast(er). That is my mantra for rapid product development in 2019 and beyond. Faster and more flexible is the future product development trend that I am seeing emerging and living today in 2019.

Gary Moran

At HLH, we make things for you…fast(er).

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