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What goes into the launch of a new irrigation product?

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Newly created irrigation products go through several stages of testing before hitting the market. (Photo: Hunter Industries)
Newly created irrigation products go through several stages of testing before hitting the market. (Photo: Hunter Industries)
Newly created irrigation products go through several stages of testing before hitting the market. (Photo: Hunter Industries)
Newly created irrigation products go through several stages of testing before hitting the market. (Photo: Hunter Industries)

Long before contractors hear about the release of a new controller, nozzle or other irrigation product, manufacturers spend countless hours bringing them from concept to completion.

Gathering information

Coming up with a good irrigation product idea is the easy part, says Joe Porrazzo, marketing group manager of the contractor division at Rain Bird. The difficult part of the process is going from that abstract concept to the finished good because no two people see everything the same way.

An important aspect of the development process is customer feedback. Rain Bird uses a combination of formal interviews, questionnaires, surveys and in-field meetings to drive most of their feedback.

The development process varies by product, but Porrazzo says Rain Bird increased the velocity of its timelines during the past five years through new manufacturing processes, technologies and other innovative means to test products in the field with customers. The company uses a testing facility at its Tucson, Ariz., corporate office and performs testing in-house at its manufacturing facilities.

“Rain Bird works with independent testing facilities outside of the irrigation industry to ensure product longevity and reliability,” Porrazzo says. “Rain Bird also works very closely with the Irrigation Association and other industry peer groups to ensure our product development plans help drive their core initiatives with conservation and sustainability.”

Crowdsourcing feedback

Irrigation contractor feedback is central to developing product ideas and efforts, says Jeffery Kremicki, manager of business development for Hunter Industries. Customers can submit their ideas to product development teams on the company’s Great Ideas for Innovation site. The company also actively reaches out to customers through surveys and site visits to confirm the product they plan to develop will meet the contractor’s needs.

“In addition, our employees take an active role in the collaboration around our next new products,” Kremicki says. “Product advisory groups consisting of members from sales, engineering and marketing are tasked with ensuring that the voice of the customer is present in our development activities.”

From inception to launch, a project could take several days to several years. Generally, implementing enhancements and new features to existing products takes less time than the development of a completely new product, Kremicki says.

“Product enhancements to our web-connected irrigation controllers, which have firmware and software, allow Hunter engineers to release new features quickly ‘over the air’ to our customers,” Kremicki says. “The design, development and testing of a new rotor product is a much more involved process.”

Hunter forms product development teams after the product idea is approved. The company creates product design specifications based on customer requirements. Then, the engineers develop designs and prototypes for testing.

Testing, Testing, Testing

Once internal testing is complete, Hunter commonly sends products into the field to confirm the product meets customer requirements, Kremicki says. Product field testing could take years to gather the necessary data. Many products also go through internationally recognized compliance testing to ensure they meet industry standards.

“For many new products, testing can become the most involved part of the product development process,” Kremicki says. “Once a design has been ‘frozen’ and prototypes are developed, they are sent through a battery of Hunter internal tests to confirm performance and reliability.”

Kremicki says Hunter prioritizes the development of low-impact products to help ensure their products and processes remain as efficient and socially responsible as possible.

“Whether we are developing a water-efficient sprinkler or smart irrigation controller, much of our product focus is on addressing concerns regarding water use and the scarcity of this valuable resource,” he says.

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