6 Lessons Learned from Getting a Pizza Automation Machine to Production

Getting a hardware product to production is challenging. We can learn a lot from the experience of others, so in this article we'll discuss the key lessons learned by Picnic, a food automation company that automates pizza making.

25 Aug, 2022

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In the Design to Product episode 3, Clayton shared six main challenges, and subsequent lessons that they learned while taking their pizza automation machine from pilot to production.

In the Design to Product episode 3, Clayton shared six main challenges, and subsequent lessons that they learned while taking their pizza automation machine from pilot to production.


Getting a hardware product to production is challenging. We can learn a lot from the experience of others, so in this article we'll discuss the key lessons learned by Picnic, a food automation company that automates pizza making.

Although Picnic had the ultimate plan of completely-automated pizza preparation, achieving that goal required more effort than expected. The team had to account for the numerous complexities that came with trying to automate something as seemingly simple as making a pizza.

In the end, they were successful in getting their machine to production, but not without learning some valuable lessons along the way.

In the Design to Product episode 3, Clayton shared six main challenges, and subsequent lessons that they learned while taking their pizza automation machine from pilot to production. 


Challenge #1: Insufficient resources and expertise

As Clayton mentions in the podcast interview, one of the challenges that they faced at Picnic was a lack of resources and internal expertise to get their machine to production. They had to instead rely on external consultants to help them with the design and implementation of their machine.

This is a common challenge for many startup companies in the hardware automation space. Often, there is a lack of internal expertise and resources to get the project off the ground. This can lead to delays and cost overruns.

Lesson: Ask for help from advisors and suppliers/manufacturers

The solution to this challenge is to seek out help from external advisors, suppliers, and manufacturers. These parties can provide the necessary expertise and resources to get your hardware product up and running.

These experts can help you get your machine to production faster and avoid costly delays.


Challenge #2: High variable input in hardware food automation

The second challenge Picnic faced was the fact that, as Clayton puts it, “hardware is hard”. And implementing automation into hardware is even harder.

To get the machine to work properly, the team had to design and build custom hardware, write software to control the machine, and then integrate all of the components.

This was a time-consuming and complex process that required a lot of trial and error. Additionally, equipment for food application has a range of different considerations than other types of machines.

For example, the machine had to be designed to be easy to clean and sanitize, and, if it was required to hold food, then there needed to be a refrigeration component.

Each of these additional factors required expertise that the team had to learn or bring in new talent to consult on the project.

Covering all the requirements of an automated food creator, from recipe development and food safety to packaging and logistics, is a daunting task for any one team.

Different skill sets are required at different phases of the project. For example, during recipe development you'll need a culinary expert. In the packaging phase you'll need an engineer with experience in material science. 

Not having the right team member with the right skill set at the right time can result in costly delays.

Lesson: Have confidence in your team, but recognize the skills they’re lacking

Some tasks are just beyond the scope of your team’s abilities. It’s okay to need help and to ask for it. Trying to do everything in-house can lead to subpar results, unrealistic expectations, and wasted time and money.

Moreover, instead of simply hiring the people you need for the phase you're in, try to anticipate the skills you'll need in the next phase and hire accordingly. That way, when you're ready to move to the next phase, you'll have the right team member with the right skill set in place.

It's also important to keep in mind that as your product evolves, so too will the skill sets required to bring it to market. As your product becomes more complex, you'll need to add team members with more specialized skills.


Challenge #3: Transitioning from a prototype to a product

In Clayton's words, "there’s actually a lot more work to go from pilot to production than there is to go from ideation to pilot." Moving from prototyping to commercialization is its own process and should be treated as such.

All the same challenges that applied to the pilot stage still apply during commercialization, along with several additional challenges, including how to properly design a manufacturable product.

Lesson: Start considering manufacturability during the design stage

Manufacturability should be considered from the very start of the design process. Design for assembly (DFA) and design for manufacturability (DFM) are two methodologies that take into account the ease of manufacture when designing a product.

Consider things like part count, tolerances, materials, surface finishes, etc. All of these factors will affect manufacturability and ultimately the cost of goods sold (COGS).


Challenge #4: Tight deadlines and limited runway

When you're a startup, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and forget about the bigger picture. It's important to take a step back every now and then and remind yourself of why you're doing what you're doing.

Getting a viable product to market could be the difference between the success and failure of your entire business.

Lesson: Don’t waste time or resources making mistakes you could avoid

Taking a holistic view of your product development process and making sure you have the right team in place from the beginning will help you avoid making costly mistakes down the road.


Challenge #5: Poor supplier relationship

Suppliers are a critical part of any manufacturing business. Sadly, a lot of companies consider their supplier relationships as purely transactional. It’s important to establish and nurture true partnerships with your suppliers, so you can be confident that they will deliver quality materials and components on time and at a fair price.

Lesson: Find someone who has supplier relationships or knows how to manage it

If you're a small team, you might not have the bandwidth to properly manage all of your supplier relationships. Outsourcing this process to a company that specializes in supplier relationships can be a great option in many cases. This could also include firms or platforms that let you have direct contact with suppliers instead of mediating every transaction.

These relationships are beneficial not just in the prototyping stage, but also long into volume production and commercialization of your product.


Learning the keys to product development

Developing a new product is hard enough, but getting it to market is an entirely different challenge. With these six lessons learned from Picnic’s experience, navigating these many challenges can be a little less painful.

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25 Aug, 2022

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