How to design for export

For many companies who design and manufacture a physical product the start point is the domestic market, their local customer base.

Key factors that influence the design are things like functionality, reliability in service, style and appearance and usually manufacturing cost too.

Having worked hard in the home market the product has evolved and had success. Then thoughts turn to export. An enquiry on the website or contact at a trade show leads to quotations and sales to another country, great! It’s at this point that aspects of the product, its design and components can start to become challenging, does it meet safety or other legislative requirements in the destination country? Is it dimensionally suitable for economic transport? Does it contain components that are not easily serviced outside the UK? This and many more questions begin to surface.

Considering exports right from the outset of the design can reap very significant rewards later on and can result in competitive advantage being “engineered in”. Having spent almost 30 years in international businesses involved in design manufacture and distribution of capital goods all over the world I have faced challenges of many kinds, here’s a few areas to think about when designing a product for export;

  • Research the markets you intend to sell in
  • What are the legislative requirements?
  • Does your product require certification?
  • If so to what standard?

…It may already meet the standard but you don’t know it! You need to know what rules apply before you start to quote or ship.

 Other key questions might be related to electrical voltages used, ambient temperatures, humidity levels, altitude, local fuel quality etc, these things can have a significant influence on the performance and durability of your product.

Customs rules and import taxes may also apply. Each product will be defined under a commodity code and often different taxes apply to different codes . Mixing products of different codes in a shipment can sometimes lead to the whole lot being classified under the most expensive tax bracket! Clearly set out paperwork and defined packaging can often overcome that.

Shipping and transport methods should be investigated too. Key dimensions of a standard shipping container should be known for instance, along with costs and any volume breaks if using a groupage service. Involving a good freight forwarder early in the process can pay dividends when it actually comes to making a shipment. You may even do as I once did with a factory in the USA that was new to export, we actually bought our own shipping container, parked it outside the design office and used it to develop optimum packing methods for the product. Until that time the design team never considered shipping at all. As far as they were concerned the goods were sold “ex-works” and transport  was someone else’s responsibility. True, but as I pointed out at the time, the product does not stop incurring cost at the factory gate, efficient shipping contributes to a cost effective product reaching the hands of the end user, who at the end of the day is ultimately the one bearing all of the cost as part of the price paid for the product.

Now its time to work on the design, obviously the product still needs to function and perform well and these thigs should not be compromised, but a few things you should consider;

  • Will the product stack up or load into containers optimally?
  • Could it be designed to “knock down” for transport and easily reassemble at destination?
  • Is there some low-tech bulky parts that could be made or bought easily in the destination country so you only ship the high value parts from your company?
  • Can you incorporate bought-in components that are known and recognised in the destination country helping credibility and market acceptance?
  • How will the product be protected during shipping? Don‘t forget containers are sometimes subjected to rough handling in ports or road journeys and this can lead to expensive damage. Containers undergoing long sea journeys are also exposed to hot/cold temperature cycles creating condensation, is your product capable of surviving that or does it need more protection for the journey? Maybe by specifying a different material or surface finish you can design this protection in rather than adding expensive additional packaging
  • Installation and operating instructions will need to be made available in the local language of the destination country. This is often part of the local legislation you need to comply with too. So consider using as many pictorial instructions and symbols on controls as possible. Optimise the word count in documents to make translation easy and cost effective and consider multi-lingual documents to save cost and avoid mistakes of the wrong documents going out with the product

All this might sound daunting but handled in a methodical way it isn’t and can really make your product be successful in international markets and steal a march on competitors who did not design for export.

So embrace the opportunity and take on the challenge, myself and the team at International Trade Matters Ltd will always be on hand to guide you through every step of the journey…

Jeremy Burgess is international supply chain & distribution specialist at International Trade Matters LtdJeremy-burgess-product-design-export-specialist-web