Archive for July, 2008

What to Look for in a Good Product Design

July 21, 2008

Let us start off by re-iterating a point we made in each of the previous installments. That point being that a good product design needs to take into consideration two crucial aspects:

(1) The fit, form, function, reliability, durability and safety of the product and

(2) The manufacturability of the product

Let’s talk about (2) initially as it is a drum we have already beaten a couple of times. Having a design which takes manufacturability into consideration pays dividends in many areas. By considering the means of making your product up front, you ensure the most cost effective approach to achieve the design goals stated in (1) above. Note that this consideration fills two buckets. These buckets are the bucket of manufacturing and the bucket of assembly. The bucket of manufacturing includes the materials and processes that will be used to make each part. Choosing each of these wisely minimizes your cost and optimizes your design. The bucket of assembly has in it all of those methods to put your product together. In here is the key to minimizing fasteners or choosing environmentally friendly adhesives. It is also wise, if possible at this point, to include potential part manufacturers in this discussion.

There are a number of formal processes that you (your design group) should use in looking at manufacturing and assembly. DFMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly) is the overall discipline that defines the means for this process.

Now, let’s move on to (1). What do we mean when we say fit? We mean does it meet your customers’ needs in terms of interfacing with the user. Does the handle have a sharp point on it that hurts the hand? Form is aesthetic portion. Does the product look the way you want it? Will the customer like this appearance? Function is pretty obvious. Your customer wants the product to perform certain tasks. Does it do that?

Reliability and durability are sometimes confused. Reliability deals with how long your product lasts or how many repeated uses your product can withstand before it begins to not meet your customers’ needs. How long does the battery last? How many times can I adjust the nozzle before it no longer adjusts? Durability focuses on how rugged is the product. If it is a product to be used in the construction industry and it breaks after one, three foot drop on to a concrete floor, then it does not meet your durability goals.

There is no simple solution to the issue of product safety. You need to take a variety of factors into consideration. The first thing to cover are the industry or governmental regulations which may apply to it. Electrical items typically must be UL (Underwriters Lab) or CE (in Europe certified. Items which will be used by children must take into account the hazards from small parts breaking off or sharp points being exposed. The Consumer Products Safety Council may be involved here. A product which will be used on a motor vehicle will typically require DOT (Department of Transportation) or FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) compliance.

There are standards for labeling which should be adhered to as well as materials which cannot be used in certain applications or coloring agents which should be avoided. Also keep in mind that even though you designed the product to conform, does not mean you are out of the woods.

All of the specifications you have created for your product design must be documented in the forms of drawings and specifications and possibly computer generated 3D models. These documents are you product. They are the keys to the city. They are the specific details to which you need to hold your manufacturers responsible. You need to put a quality system in place to make certain that your manufacturers are meeting your specifications. This system needs to include in it regular audits to verify compliance. We have direct, personal knowledge or more than one instance where suppliers made changes to products or materials once the production had begun. In one instance the cost to the company was over $1 million and a loss of reputation. In another instance it caused great confusion in trying to understand why the fully assembled product would no longer perform correctly. Only through diligent questioning and auditing of the supplier did we find that an unapproved material change had taken place at the manufacturer in a effort to “save money”.

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What are the steps in a typical product development project?

July 13, 2008

What are the steps in a typical product development project?

In this segment we’ll talk about product development from a large scale and cover those portions that are not only design related but also those that encompass the entire process of getting your product ready for the market.

We’ll assume that you have defined a need for your product. In doing so you have a good idea of the features, functions and environment in which your product must excel. Ideally you would have done this taking input from potential customers and product users. But, wait……..how can I talk with these folks and make sure that I do not lose my idea? Will one of these people take my idea and run with it? We feel it is better safe than sorry in this instance and suggest you obtain a provisional patent. Any patent attorney can set this up for you and it is cheap insurance. It will cost less than $2,000 in most cases. It is valid for one year. Once you have that in your hands, you are good to go. However, if you don’t proceed with the full scale utility patent within that one year period, then you wasted your money on the provisional and anyone can grab your idea.

So, the first thing you will do is get this provisional patent filed. Next you have the freedom to do some basic market research with provisional in hand. From this market research your product will fill out and may take on some new features or functions. Make sure that these are covered in your provisional unless you determine that they will not be a part of your product.

We mentioned environment above. Let’s cover that for a moment. I have seen more than one product fail because it was not designed to function in the environment or application that it ended up in. Environment includes such things as external temperature, moisture, impact and so on. Application means how will the buyer use it? Despite the fact that you intended it to be used as a pet food can opener, might someone also want to use it to pound nails? Make certain that you have done your best to cover these issues.

Now you know what the product will do and what environment it will function in and you have a good idea of how your customer will use it. How do you get it made? Here is where the engineer comes into play. We gave some good guidelines that an engineer should meet in our previous blog submission. Obviously the engineer should have education and experience in the field of application that your product will exist in. Remember that there are several different area of engineering expertise, so make sure you pick the right one.

Together with the engineer you will go through these steps:

  • Concept design: This is a basic design of your product as you see it. It should include all of the critical features. If your product has a significant aesthetic component, this concept model should take a first cut at that appearance. This is also the stage at which you and the engineer should get a good handle on the manufacturing methods. As we said in your previous installment, if your engineer does not have a good background in manufacturing and if he does not incorporate that knowledge into the design, go forth and seek out another engineer! It is also very helpful at this point to consult with your potential manufacturers.
  • After digesting what you have learned from the concept model, you will move on to a detailed model which should be an exact representation of your final product.
  • From this final model, you will want to have a prototype built. Depending on the type of product and its characteristics the method used to prototype could be anything from welded steel to a computer generated rapid prototype.
  • Having the prototype in hand will let you see many things that you may not have anticipated. Expect to make changes to your product after you have seen the prototype. This prototype can also be used to show customers.
  • The engineer at this point should (1) Prepare a DFMEA (Design Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) (2) based on the DFMEA, make changes as appropriate to the design. You may feel at this point that a second prototype is necessary.
  • The engineer should now prepare the piece part drawings. This is done for two reasons. One, it documents all of the dimensional details and other product specific requirements. And two, many of your piece part subcontractors may need drawings to work from.
  • With these drawings in hand, you should visit your manufacturers and verify the manufacturing processes (your engineer should be party to these discussions).
  • Now, it is time to cut your manufacturers loose, assuming that you have a good contract with them. You should have your manufacturers make a first article assembly for you. This first article should be compared against your parts drawings to ensure that they are made to your requirements. The topic of contracts and conformance to them by your suppliers is a whole subject unto itself and is critical to the success of your product and/or company.

OK, your manufacturers have done their jobs. The parts are all made to your specifications. They all fit together and the product works as you had wanted. Now, you get to do your job and get these products to your customers.

ARTICLE 2: STEPS IN A PROJECT

ARTICLE 3: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD PRODUCT DESIGN

ARTICLE 4: WHY IS THE MANUFACTURING METHOD SO IMPORTANT AND HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST METHOD

ARTICLE 5:HOW DO I GET A PROTOTYPE MADE AND WHY DO I NEED ONE?

ARTICLE 6: HOW TO CHOOSE A MANUFACTURER AND WHAT TO EXPECT

ARTICLE 7: PRODUCT TESTING OR HOW DO I MAKE SURE THE PRODUCT WILL DO WHAT I WANT?

ARTICLE 7: WHAT MEANS SHOULD I USE TO ASSEMBLE MY PRODUCT?

ARTICLE 8: HOW WILL I KNOW THAT MY PRODUCT IS READY FOR THE CUSTOMER?

Product Development

July 13, 2008

How do I get my product idea from a napkin sketch to the buyers hands?

There are many books written about marketing and sales. But until you have something to sell, they make good reading but little else. So, you have a great idea for a new product, but the mystery begins here. How do I get it designed? How do I know it is designed correctly? What materials should I make it from? Should I make a prototype and how should that be made? How do I ensure that it is designed in the most cost effective manner? How do I get it manufactured? What is the best way to manufacture it? How do I know that manufacturing method is the most cost effective?

This series of articles will lead you through that process and provide you with some specific guidelines on getting through this process so in the end you have the product that you envisioned.

Assuming that you have satisfied yourself that you have a product that will provide you with wealth and fame, the first step is in your hands, and that is to define as well as possible what your product will be. To do so requires that you define how the customer will use it, what kind of environment it will be used in, what types of handling it may be subjected to, how big or small it can be and any other requirements which the designer (and yourself) will need to know. There are a number of sophisticated means to accomplish this. One of the most well known is QFD or Quality Function Deployment. I would not spend a lot of time using these types of methods, The keys for you are:

  • What does the product need to do?
  • What does it have to look like?
  • What, if any, restrictions may apply to it (for example does it have to be UL, Underwriters Lab, certified? Do all of the materials have to be biodegradable?
  • How does the user interface with it?
  • What are the environmental conditions that it will be exposed to, i.e. is it out in the rain? Is it exposed to fertilizers?
  • Any other specific information which will dictate how the product functions, looks or any regulatory requirements that it must meet.

In general your product will have either mechanical or electrical/electronic components in it or perhaps both. You will need to find a good mechanical or electrical engineer to see that the product is designed correctly. One important tip here: There are many good engineers out there. But, the key is to find an engineer who will not only design your product well, but will also design it so it can be manufactured and assembled easily. This is called DFMA or Design for Manufacturing and Assembly and it is key to holding your product costs in check. DFMA takes into consideration how each of the parts are made, how they fit together and how the completed end product is to be made. If this whole aspect is not thought out well and incorporated into the design, it will add excess cost to each unit that is made.

Your engineer, having satisfactory experience, should be able to work with you to develop a timeline for your entire project. While you may not adhere exactly to this time line, it will serve to give a good overview of all of the steps needed to get your product ready for market. In the next article in this series, we will list all of the items in a good project plan. This will give you a good useable tool to customize and use in your planning.

ARTICLE 2: STEPS IN A PROJECT

ARTICLE 3: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD PRODUCT DESIGN

ARTICLE 4: WHY IS THE MANUFACTURING METHOD SO IMPORTANT AND HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST METHOD

ARTICLE 5:HOW DO I GET A PROTOTYPE MADE AND WHY DO I NEED ONE?

ARTICLE 6: HOW TO CHOOSE A MANUFACTURER AND WHAT TO EXPECT

ARTICLE 7: PRODUCT TESTING OR HOW DO I MAKE SURE THE PRODUCT WILL DO WHAT I WANT?

ARTICLE 7: WHAT MEANS SHOULD I USE TO ASSEMBLE MY PRODUCT?

ARTICLE 8: HOW WILL I KNOW THAT MY PRODUCT IS READY FOR THE CUSTOMER?