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”.