Most of the modern and high-tech conveniences that make life easy and enjoyable for us today are the results of a disciplined process that flows from Research and Development (R&D) through Product Design and Engineering (PD&E), Design for Manufacturability (DFM) and Industrialization.
In effect, this process moves from the general ideas that are explored by R&D staff to the specific products that are manufactured in high-volume industrialization programs. The intermediate steps of PD&E and DFM are tightly related— often overlapping, and in many cases involve iterative feedback between design, engineering and manufacturing participants.
From the smartphones and laptops that we use to communicate and learn more about the world around us, to the kitchen appliances that make life more convenient, and the cars, trains and airplanes that get us to places, all these would not exist today if it were not for the above described process.
To the average person, however, there can be confusion in their understanding of these fields. As the functions overlap somewhat, the key differences and complementary relationships between the various phases may not be obvious to some.
In this article, we drill down to provide a closer look at the Product Development & Engineering and the Design for Manufacturing steps in this process to better understand what each step involves, and how they interact to produce optimal results.
What is Product Design & Engineering (PD&E)?
Product Design & Engineering involves the conceptualization of new ideas, as well as the analysis and evaluation of old or existing ones. Through a systematic approach, these ideas are transformed into tangible products and inventions.
The main aim of the PD&E process is addressing the needs of the end-users. Through careful and thorough analysis of the form, fit and function of a potential product, product designers are able to assess three important factors:
- The product’s ability to solve the end-user’s problems or meet the required purpose(s)
- Convenience in functionality and user-friendliness
- Possesses the right aesthetics to be appealing to the end user
As the above issues are determined, the PD&E process naturally moves into the development phase. This phase is often termed “product engineering”, as this is where key decisions regarding how the product is going to be implemented and ultimately manufactured start to be addressed.
Product engineering operationalizes what the product designers have envisioned and the plans they have set on a blueprint. Using mathematical, geometric and other tools and with the help of computer technology, they not only develop the product prototype, but also create the plan of the system or assembly line that will mass produce the product.
Here is a simplified breakdown of the key focus areas in PD&E processes:
- Fine-tune the product’s design and concept by analyzing each individual component’s various attributes (e.g. Mechanical, electronic, etc.)
- Perform feasibility and quality performance analyses on the prototype using existing, cost-friendly materials
- Perform testing with Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to optimize the design using computer-based analysis, in various domains such as structural integrity, heat transfer, fluid flow, mass transport and electromagnetic potential
- Design packaging that not only ensures the safety and integrity of the product during transit, but is also visually appealing to the consumer
What is Design for Manufacturability (DFM)
As the design, development and engineering processes described above proceed, it is also critical that the Design for Manufacturability (DFM) process begins in a tightly integrated manner that helps inform and improve the product design, while also preparing the foundation for cost-effective high-volume production.
The concept of DFM exists in almost all engineering disciplines, but the implementation can differ widely depending on the specific manufacturing technology. DFM describes the process of designing or engineering a product in order to facilitate the manufacturing methods to reduce manufacturing costs, improve yields and assure high product quality.
Some of the key steps in this overlapping and iterative process are:
- Early identification of flaws or potential problem areas in the product and its subsequent manufacturing processes prior to mass production, and make the necessary corrections and adjustments promptly
- Define a “standard road map” for the manufacturing process, starting from ramp up to the expected yield to packaging
- Take steps to improve product yield through cost-effective process control methods
- Ensure continuous product quality and reliability to assure customer satisfaction
For best results, DFM also needs to consider any issues within the existing production environment and/or any planned changes such as migrating to a different production scenario. This is where it is very useful to work with specialists that bring a wide perspective on both design and production, along with the ability to tailor product improvements to yield the highest return. Adopting a broad view and thinking out-of-the-box on the entire approach can often result in added benefits beyond specifically-targeted changes including cost-reductions, better utilization of resources, and so on.
Best practices in DFM typically call for early involvement of all key participants to assure that the design and production processes achieve the product specifications and also provide optimal production efficiency. One of the key reasons for interleaving DFM within the PD&E processes is to identify any issues as early as possible. This will allow potential problems to be fixed in the design phase, which is generally the least expensive place to address them.
An integrated and collaborative relationship between the Product Design & Engineering and the Design for Manufacturability functions is vital in manufacturing for the following reasons:
- To ensure the creation and development of high-quality and user-friendly products
- To take into consideration the costs of the entire manufacturing process, starting from product design and development to its production and release without sacrificing quality
- To observe innovative and updated practices in design and engineering in order to maintain product uniqueness, novelty, and quality that sets it apart from competition
- To forge and maintain excellent marketing relationships with consumers through responsive manufacturing, continuous quality control and excellence in customer service
So the next time you tinker with that smartphone, drive that car, or use anything that has been manufactured, give a little word of thanks to the product designers and engineers whose ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness ensure that these everyday things meet your expectations for ergonomics, performance, functionality, affordability and continuous innovation.