Introduction to Electric Battery for Aero-Space applications
The Engineering Company has decided to buy a small firm that has designed and developed an electric battery for aerospace application. Technological feasibility of the battery (rechargeable secondary battery) is established, and the final product needs to be designed for commercial use. A secondary battery is used as energy storing device, which is connected to and charged through a primary source of energy. The secondary battery will deliver the stored energy to the load on demand. Secondary battery has various applications in an aerospace environment, especially providing power remotely from a discrete source of power. Application of the developed battery in aerospace includes power for astronaut suits, planetary and lunar rovers, satellites and surface equipment during night-time operations. Launch vehicles, payloads, and aerospace related portable devices, such as mobile computers and camcorders, may also use this battery. The current design of the battery has demonstrated substantial cost savings, needs less number of recharges and has a longer life. But, the battery needs to be tested in real aerospace project.
The design of the battery has focused on a continuous supply of power, mechanical stability, and controlled thermal discharge. In the lab test, the battery has shown both the capacity and current needed within the energy limits of the application. Individual battery can be easily converted into a multi-cell battery, which can enhance performance. The design of the battery has kept the aerospace environment in mind and has used special container material, insulation, potting compounds and packaging method. The battery materials used are compact in size and low weight; these attributes have tremendous implication in aerospace projects. The components used in the battery are individually tested and has safety devices with robust current interrupt systems, vent disks, diodes, fuses, switches, and relays. The battery is designed to survive many environmental conditions of a space mission or aerospace application. By design the battery is suitable for launch/abort/landing space vehicles, aerospace transportation, and stationary environments.
Product launch Plan
The product development team
As part of an initiative to launch a new product i.e. secondary battery for aerospace, the company has decided to develop an intact and dedicated team. As the leader of the product launch team, the Vice president of engineering need to be recruited. The vice president needs to have sufficient experience, since he has to deliver the results soon, and the launch of the aerospace battery must be completed as early as possible. Apart from technical knowledge and competency, the required president vice president needs to have twin capabilities of product development and design, and market strategy implementation. The incumbent vice-president engineering must drive the product development (technical as well as non-technical features), develop brand and implement sales strategy. When the product starts penetrating into the market, periodically analyze the brand performance and product improvements. The recruitment methods may include newspaper / business magazine ads, engaging headhunters and other HR consulting organizations.
Once the vice president has taken up the office, a team for product launch needs to be constituted using the internal human resources. The team should comprise of head of R&D, Finance manager, marketing manager, operations manager, Human resource manager, legal officer and a representative from the board or top management. The launch team’s role is to plan and implement the product launch in a time bound manner. The team should have representation from all the functions because it can work in a focused way, and all managers can give priority to the launch project. The following are the steps the launch team needs to carry out in a predetermined schedule.
In technological terms, a new product is already in existence, i.e. secondary battery for aerospace applications. But, several key ideas and decisions need to be taken to mature the product for commercial purpose. The launch team must hold brainstorming sessions to decide the outer case design for the battery, the brand name, the model, the package, pricing strategy, etc. They have the liberty to develop several models and variants, but must pay keen attention to solve the customer’s power need or unresolved issues. The market size and profitability of the product need to be evaluated in this stage before making investment on manufacturing facility.
Based on the brainstorming sessions, the launch team should convert the product idea into a product statement. A concept statement is a better-articulated version of the product idea or concept. The product statement must describe how the product will look like, its style and dimensions, its function and benefits to the customer, the market where it can be sold and probable pricing of the product. The product statement is like a lighthouse, which helps a sailing ship. At every stage, the actions are guided by the product statement. The launch team can think diversely and create many product ideas, but they must choose one idea and convert that into a statement. They may take input from a prospective customer also to enrich the process.
Organize Focus Groups
Focus groups are a gathering of prospective customers, buyers or users in which the product idea is presented, or their energy needs may be explored. The launch team may engage a professional moderator or facilitator to conduct a focus group. This person introduces the topic or issue and initiates a discussion on a given topic. The facilitator may ask the participants to comment about their energy needs or the product idea. The launch team must listen and observe the customers participating in the focus group and note the key customer concerns and the pain areas. The launch team must use the input from the focus group to tweak the product idea and sharpen their product statement.
Conduct Marketing Research Survey
Marketing research shall help to confirm what is concluded in the focus group and quantify whether the proposed product appeal to the prospective customers. It is better to have a face to face survey rather than a telephonic or online survey. It is better the launch team do this survey rather than entrust the job to professional marketing agency. Gather both quantitative and qualitative data on the survey, analyze it, and reach valid conclusions regarding the product idea.
The launch team must discuss the survey results and the focus group observations and reframe the product statement as the final one. If the opinions of the customers match with the product statement, it may be considered for prototyping, testing and producing. The team can develop a few prototypes of the product and study their performance in-house. The prototype development can give the launch team a firsthand feel of the engineering aspects and performance of the proposed product. By gathering the experiences in making the prototypes, the launch team should move towards product testing phase, production planning mode, marketing strategy formulation, acquiring finance for the project, and the launch of the product.
When the launch team is confident about the needs of the customer and its solution, they may initiate the process of beta testing. Make a few prototypes of the secondary battery prototypes and offer them to known customers who can give valuable feedback on the usage. Beta testing is a controlled experiment using the proposed product. The beta testing may take few weeks to several months before planning for commercial production. When the beta testing is going on, the launch team must plan for an official launch, advertisements, and promotions.
As the beta testing is in progress, the launch team must contact the customers and regularly gather feedback on the performance of the product and the customer’s feelings. When the beta testing is completed, the launch team can plan for marketing strategies.
Investigate the competition
One intermediary step the launch team must take is to scan the environment for identifying the competition. If any competition is present, conduct an evaluation on how their product functions and who are their customers. Incorporate better features and attributes into the proposed product so that the customers can make decisions in favor of a new product. The launch team must talk to a competitor’s customer to find the competitive advantage of the competitor and to plan to develop competitive advantage for the engineering company. The company also must look at the competing technologies and sectors.
Organize focus group for product launch
Again the launch team must organize a focus group to plan for the promotions. The company should engage a facilitator to conduct a focus group. This time the launch team must invite the real users of the product and the decision makers for the product. The focus group must discuss on the preferred promotional method by the participants. The team members must observe the participant’s responses and gather data for planning the promotions.
Initiate pre-launch promotions
Product launches utilize promotions of many types. Online promotions, radio, television and newspaper advertisements, and email campaign are found to be effective. A website, social media presence and blog can be a concurrent support to the traditional media. The launch team must decide on the public relations program. The team approaches the credible and respected experts to write articles about the product and publish it in the blog. The team must make every opportunity to present the product launch to more prospective customers and influencers. Once the launch is decided, the company must carry out it as early as possible because product launch has a life cycle. It must start and end within a reasonable period.
Uncertainties, risks and their solutions
As the launch team moves ahead with the planning steps, there can be unexpected issues and problems. The most probable uncertainties, risks and their solutions are listed below. The ideas are the key to business development, and they can fail in the market. Ideas are generated based on various assumptions that a particular solution will solve the customer’s problem. Also, the assumption that the product developed will be accepted by the customers is untested and carries the risk. Another uncertainty associated with idea generation stage is that, by the time product is available in the market, the customer’s need would have changed, or a substitute product by another company would have reached the market. Several pre-launch experiments and studies regarding the validity of the product idea must be conducted before moving on to the next stage.
The risk associated with the product statement is that, the effectiveness of it cannot be known before it is tested and disseminated in the real world. The solution to mitigate the risk associated with product statement is to apply rigor to the idea generation and selection stage. The product idea must be looked from various angles and subject to debate by the experienced managers. The company needs to test the aerospace battery products and the product statements prior to the real launch. All the intermediary steps up to the final launch of the product are important, and help the company to track the customer perception and preferences. The product statement, like a light-house or beacon, would guide the company in designing and marketing the product. Hence, final product statement will not be ready until all the key steps are completed. The product managers need to change now and then they discover the real needs of the customer. For example, if the focus group shows that customers prefer low maintenance of the battery, the product statement should emphasize the low maintenance feature of the battery and thereby the design too.
Though the focus groups can be a tool to know the pulse of the market, it has several disadvantages. Experience indicates that focus groups sometimes overwhelm the process by taking the discussion to unrelated areas. Another commonly observed phenomenon in focus group is that a few people dominate the process and do not allow all the members to participate. Focus group alone cannot be a decider for the product development process. The company has to conduct confirmatory market research using rigorous tools such as survey and personal interviews.
When a company initiates market survey, it assumes that the survey will be administered to the right sample. Many surveys have turned out to be useless because the survey was administered to the wrong sample or to a limited section of the total sample. Who to question or survey is a very important aspect of the survey, especially for battery for aeronautic purpose. What seemed like a random, balanced sample of customers may turn out to be wrong population. The marketing team must map the sales process and the buying behavior of customers about batteries, before administering the survey. Who conduct the survey is also important. There is a tendency among managers to outsource the survey data collection. The outsourcing of survey will diminish the chances of discovering customer insights. Hence, the product managers themselves must visit the customer and do the survey.
Many excellent products fail in the market, not because the product is bad, but because the company did not understand the market. One of the significant pitfalls in product development is confusing the company’s need with the customer's or the end user's needs. Product development is an emotional process, the product idea, and the production process will be dear to the stakeholders in the company. The emotional attachment to the product launch may blind the decision makers from the real market scenario. Second problem associated with product development is the confuse buyers needs and desires with the end user’s needs. The company must map the market and find out the needs of the deciding customer, buying customer, end users and the customer’s customer. The product development must address needs of the customer cluster.
Understanding the completion is very challenging. During every product launch, the company must watch the competitive forces around it. Lack of assessment of the competition may sometimes lead to market surprises and shocks. A major problem in assessing the completion is lack of awareness about who the completion is. There are direct competitors (manufacturers and suppliers who sell secondary source batteries), and indirect competitors who have the potential to satisfy the dame need as the company is addressing. The may be solar panels or magnetic dynamos that can provide energy directly to the load. It is not enough to look at the direct competitors alone; the company must scan the market for identifying companies who competitors are by looking at companies who are providing solutions to energy needs.
In the beta testing stage, the customers can give overwhelming feedback to the company regarding the product. The product managers are supposed to listen to the feedback and make amendments to the final product. But the problem is there will be unmanageable volume of feedback, which will make the product developers’ choice difficult. The product developers must be able to choose the appropriate feedback and ignore others, or else the product development cannot complete. The product developers must follow the product statement and the key market
Pre-launch promotions are tricky ones and can easily get the company into troubles. The company might attempt to save cost by engaging the in-house marketing managers to do the promotions, but it is appropriate to seek the professional help from the event managers. The professionals who have experienced many promotions will be ideal for the situation.
Failure-proofing the New Product launch
In spite of an elaborate study of the market, the products can fail. In order to avoid failure of the product in the market, the launch team must review the following points rigorously.
1. Check the competitive point of difference between competitor’s product and a new product.
2. Positioning the product with a brand name, message and care for the customer
3. Improve the quality of the product by complying with quality standards
4. Ascertain whether the product is fulfilling its promises.
5. Ensure sufficient marketing support is in place
6. Apply strategic pricing
7. Determine the market potential accurately
8. Develop proper estimates of production and marketing costs
9. Establish a network with appropriate channels of distribution
10. Check for customer’s response once the product is launched.
Selling to the market is the final step in which the company commits its full resources to introduce the product into the marketplace and the customer. During this stage, not only the launch team must take efforts, the whole organization must focus on the success of the launch. The product must be incorporated into the organization, and proper organization structure must be designed. The company as a whole must focus their talents to implement a solid marketing strategy. At this stage, the company must focus on finding bugs in the product design, reducing production costs, strengthening quality control, and optimizing inventory control. This step is for penetrating deeper into the market and gaining profits. The launch team can achieve its goals through the steps described earlier.
Judith Jeevarajan, Eric Darcy, & Patricia Petete. (2005).Battery Processing, , NASA Johnson Space Center, Engineering Directorate, EA-CWI-033, January 2005.
De paz, Chris Musso, Eric Rebentisch and Nisheeth Gupta ( 2009). The Path to Developing Successful New Products, November. MIT Sloan Management Review Press.