Producing a new product using a sheet material (paper, textile, film, nonwoven or composite) involves overcoming a lot of obstacles and rocky patches, especially when moving from a small concept sample to a commercial product. How to scale up and achieve success despite the roadblocks? Realize that changes will likely be needed in the product and process – and the sooner these are found, the better.
1. Be Sure You Have a Sense of Urgency
Time is of the essence: you and those around you must be filled with a sense of excitement, timeliness and the importance of your challenge. If you fail, you just might run out of time. Move quickly.
2. Have a Clear Plan to Scale Up
In the quest to make a good lab scale sample – do not cheat! Producing a beautiful, small sample at slow speed is not the goal. It only gets harder as you scale up. At Micrex, we have seen too many customers take a short cut and get excited about a small sample, assuming it will successfully scale up.
Lab scale is where you look for truths:
- It is more difficult to run wide than narrow. As an analogy — a long bridge is harder to build than a short one.
- Run speed – slow is easy, fast is hard.
- Many processes fail over time, as dust or other contaminates build up, or process components wear.
At lab scale, the severity of these issues become apparent. How do the results change if you double the width, length or speed? This might indicate a limitation or provide an opportunity to prevent a problem.
3. Don’t Assume the Raw Material Will Be Consistent
As in cooking and wine making – the ingredients are important! We often have customers who claim that one batch of roll goods is “exactly the same” as another. This will be documented with a data sheet or C of A. The reality is that no two rolls of material are the same.
The real question is: “How does the process handle normal variation of the raw material?”
4. Keep in Touch with Marketing and the Customer
Most of roll goods product development is tied to specifications. In the broader world of product design, there is often no specification. As a result, the entity running a trial may make assumptions that will not align with the end customer. Be sure to ask yourself: are you using the right specification?