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Outsourced? Insourced? Why you should do both for optical system development

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Are you puzzled trying to figure out your outsourced vs in-house strategy?

In new product development, managers and VPs of engineering face a continuous flow of challenges, uncertainty, and change. Top product development teams outsource design tasks like optical engineering and lens design to stay ahead. This approach has been shown to reduce risk, produce more innovative solutions, and decrease time to revenue. By keeping your core team small and outsourcing design tasks, you can focus on what you do best and bring in outside experts as needed.

But there are nuances when completely outsourcing the product development work. When you outsource design work, you give up some control and visibility into the product development process. You also must ensure that intellectual property and trade secrets are protected, and you have a plan for how the designs will be translated into actual products in production.

Going with your in-house team over outsourcing has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. An in-house product development strategy gives you more control over your product roadmap and the product development process. You also have protection of intellectual property. The main drawback of an in-house strategy is that it can be difficult to attract and retain top engineering talent. When you have a small internal team, you may not have the bandwidth to take on large or complex projects. And, if your product roadmap is constantly changing, it can be difficult for your internal team to keep up.

For these reasons, a combination of in-house teams and outsourcing provide the best product development strategy. The most effective outsourced projects are those where the requirements and the design needs are well documented and understood. In fact, the requirements document is more valuable than the design itself. When roles, responsibilities, and deliverables are made clear, the collaboration between your internal team and the outside design team is straightforward and effective. By supplementing your internal team with outside experts, you can focus on what you do best, reduce risk, and get to market faster.

When you are outsourcing optical engineering work, how should you best structure your internal team to ensure success?

While it is possible to fully outsource the design work and it is commonly done, leading product development teams leverage both an internal and an external team to move fast and reduce risk. When you outsource tasks like optical engineering or lens design, it is optimal to have an internal engineer on your team be the owner and recipient of the design. If you cannot support a full-time optical engineer, a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer with system-level experience is a suitable alternative. When properly established, your internal team operates together with the outside team in a highly effective way, completing the product development puzzle.

The benefits of a combined in-house and outsourcing strategy are:

  • You focus on what you do best and leave the design tasks to experts

  • You get new perspectives and insights from working with an outside team

  • You reduce risk by spreading out development work among multiple teams

  • You have more control over your product roadmap and product development process

The top 3 reasons to leverage an internal and external team together:

  1. Keep certain information internal and confidential while leveraging the skill and experience of an outside team

  2. Expand the impact of your internal team through outside resources

  3. Develop the knowledge and capabilities to receive the design and own the next stages in the plan

Outsourcing optical engineering and product development work is often a winning strategy when a company's internal engineering team lacks experience in a certain domain or discipline. Partnering with a design and development firm that specializes in the specific technology and market application will save time and money that would be spent developing the equivalent skills and capabilities internally. Commonly, certain aspects of the technology cannot be shared externally due to trade secrets or other intellectual proprietary restrictions. When an internal engineer or entire team is paired with the external team, confidential work can be handled by the internal team, while the domain experience of the external team can be leveraged to develop innovative solutions and move quickly.

Optical systems are complex, and typically there are aspects related to the usability and function of the system that only internal team members fully understand or have access to. While some work must be completed by an internal engineer, the combined team's impact can be greater when discrete portions of the design can be completed by an outside team.

Having the ability to confirm and vet designs made by the external team is a key benefit of having an internal engineer on your team. Furthermore, the internal engineer can inherit the final design and transfer it into production. When the product is in production, having an internal engineer who understands the technology is critical to resolving production issues quickly and supporting sustaining engineering activities later in the product life cycle. To decrease time to revenue, be more innovative, and reduce risk, top product development teams outsource design tasks like optical engineering. Those designs are guided and reviewed by an internal engineer who ultimately becomes the owner and recipient of the design. By partnering with an external team of experts, product development companies can get to market quickly and efficiently with a high-quality product.

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