Too often, research teams have great ideas, but they are not quite ready for "prime time." Getting a product ready for manufacturing is a time-consuming undertaking. Products need to prove they are production-ready. For example, are all the components necessary for the build easily available? Using scarce, rare or unique parts in a prototype is fine, but doing so will doom a project if they aren't replaced with more mainstream pieces as the production date nears.
Putting a product on the production track too early can be an expensive mistake, because revisions cost time and money. In addition, the resulting scheduling disruptions can have a huge impact on company reputation, with cost overruns reverberating through the organization. In the worst scenario, launching for production too early can easily derail a product from ever being delivered to the masses.
Design for Manufacturing (DFM) can maximize the value of the output from advanced development (AD) teams and streamline the process. Products that are designed with the express goal of being manufactured can glide — rather than crash land — into production.
The Importance of DFM Thinking
When the Advance Development team incorporates DFM thinking into its output, the results are more valuable to product development teams. Those teams can take that information and determine how to transform the proposed technology and build a producible, cost-efficient and high value product, quickly and efficiently. DFM makes it easier for the PD team to take a conceptually proven design and turn it into a reality.
When to Start Thinking About DFM
Design for manufacturability is ideally "baked in" to a project. AD teams often start with the results of research that has a potential product goal. The potential for failure is greater in an AD team than a PD team, but it's also better tolerated. That sense of how the technology will be converted into a manufacturable design helps move concepts towards a viable product. Understanding high level goals of the product usage, cost, potential user needs and volume targets allows the results from the AD team to be used more effectively downstream.
AD team members should be highly advanced technically, and ideally have experience as part of either product development teams or manufacturing engineering teams. Such experience gives the engineer or designer first-hand experience with the pressures and issues involved with delivering a manufacturable design. Without this kind of thinking in the AD process, AD staff members are likely to be viewed as providing output by “throwing something over the wall.” Sometimes, those team members are unavailable; access (formally or informally) to team members in the PD or manufacturing engineering worlds can help the AD team check its progress, to ensure they working on an efficient path.
Involvement is Critical
One way to improve the readiness of AD output is for AD team leadership to understand and actively contribute to the establishment of mid- and long-term strategic goals for the business unit. Having the AD team connected in this process means the output is more likely to be aligned with the business unit goals. Remember, too, eventually the technology produced through an AD team will need a "home."
Engineers want to create great products that delight our customers and generate business value to our companies. By implementing DFM into the AD process companies can launch products more quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. And, it's a great way to sustain a productive and collaborative relationship between the AD team and its internal customers in PD.
Hilary Farnsworth is Vice President of Mechanical Engineering at Intelligent Product Solutions.