In order to ascertain the potential duration of developing an electric motor, we first need to look at the complete life cycle of the project. We can then estimate the timelines associated with each phase to get an idea of what the total duration might be. The product life cycle starts with an idea, followed by the concept, creation of a prototype, pre-production sample and production, and finally the after-sales and end of life phases.
Functions that go into the development of a new drive system include the development of hardware (motor and controller), firmware and software, along with integration of these into the final product. The process will also include development of manufacturing methods, identifying the supply chain, work on logistics planning, product testing, qualification and compliance certification, and more.
Generally, we can expect the standard duration of a drive system development to be between 12-18 months, however this is changeable depending on the scale, specifics or uniqueness of the application.
The ideation and concept stages are vital parts of the development process - defining the needs to be fulfilled and the desirability of the product. It is worthwhile spending the time in these beginning stages to really get clear and give everyone involved exactly what they need to work towards. This phase may not be fully completed, or changes may be required further down the track, however, it will save time and money in the later stages of the project to include as much as possible during this phase.
The first two initial phases, including early prototype building, will usually take a few weeks, or can sometimes extend to 2-3 months for complex projects. Prototyping can be an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of the final product, with a modified existing drive system. Alternatively, the drive system can be prototyped from scratch, utilising 3D printers, development circuit boards, wire cutters, and talented model builders in the workshop. Later prototypes and early samples focus on feasibility, Design for Manufacturing (DfM), Design for Quality etc.
Materials and components are tested and selected, the design gets refined and finalised, software and firmware are written, important technology or manufacturing partners are identified and qualified, and quality process planning takes shape.
This phase often requires soft tools and assembly fixtures, along with dedicated test setups. The lead time for such tools and fixtures can be up to 4-6 months. Using a plastic mould tool as an example, with a soft tool, the designer and the toolmaker/manufacturer learn about the part and material behaviour for the tool production and design later.
The testing of components and the final application are closer to production reality and can help to uncover any issues that may arise. Compliance testing and certification tests can also be performed at this stage, at least partially. Doing so may help to shorten final testing time and approval after the production equipment is ready.
This phase typically takes between 6-12 months. This is due to the lead time for complex production tools and major equipment often being 6 months or longer. We end up on the shorter range if we utilise existing equipment in-house or work with trusted external partners who have equipment available. It can be worthwhile to start production with lower output on existing equipment and scale up as the product gains momentum in the market. This will of course depend on factors such as the industry, company, product, etc.
Pre-production samples are made on the production tools by production vendors and assembled and tested on production equipment. The quality inspections are leading to the PPAP (Production Part Approval Process).
Supply chain and logistics processes are also put to the test in this phase. An example of this would be checking the run-at-rate to proof all processes, and that machines and staff can deliver the required volume. Also, checking for any challenges in the supply chain, such as chip shortage, restricted production in regions due to energy shortages, or limited shipment capacity.
The production and in-house processes typically only take a few weeks. The final testing of components and final application, along with final certification runs will depend on the industry and customer requirements. The duration can be a few weeks up to several months for full durability testing.
Following the start of production, the relentless value engineering continues, product improvements are integrated, connected products gather data and insights and are updated over-the-air.
After briefly looking at the complete product life cycle, it becomes clear that there are many stages, all of which require sufficient time to complete thoroughly. The times indicated here are approximate, however the standard duration of a development will typically be between 12-18 months. As noted, this is dependent on a number of factors including scale, specifics or complexity of the individual product.