It's the day your entire design team has been anticipating: seeing if your hard work pays off with the first manufacturing run of your new product. A major product launch is planned just ahead of the competition.
However, the manufacturing team claims that the product in its current configuration just won't cooperate during the manufacturing process. The team needs to make ``a few modifications,'' while you're already slightly over budget.
This translates into delays and potentially reduced profits.
Unfortunately, this happens to many companies that don't integrate manufacturing and design early enough in the product development process. Here are five ways to increase your chances of being first-to-market and improving your overall profitability:
* Involve a manufacturing professional on your design team early in the design process.
Your company must make a conscious effort to incorporate manufacturability into the early stages of the product design process. This means having a hands-on manufacturing professional work collaboratively on the design team during its early discussions of a design concept. He/she can support the design team's necessary ``blue sky'' thinking with knowledge of what's possible. Form and function are critical, but manufacturability is equally important.
* Be sure the manufacturing professional you choose is hands-on, with the right attitude.
Be sure the manufacturing professional is ``real world.'' Has this person worked only at product development firms, or does he/she have experience working at a manufacturing company and involvement in the manufacturing process?
This professional must not provide you with ``book knowledge'' of how a product is supposed to work at the manufacturing level. He or she should be able to tell your design team at any stage of the development process what technologies and processes are available to maintain the design intent and what needs to be altered to ensure efficient manufacturing. He or she must also want to make your innovation a reality.
* Be sure your product development team has the best tools and technologies to anticipate how the manufacturing process will unfold.
Utilize tools and technology upfront to simulate how a product will behave before it goes into production. This approach will identify weak spots in the design that can be easily modified in a computer-aided-design program, rather than at the end of the product development cycle when a change translates into expensive modification and re-engineering. The investment in such tools and technology will prevent costly delays later.
* The entire product development team must act as one and be accountable to itself.
Whose fault is it when the project is beyond the design stage, and the pre-production molds cause serious manufacturing quality problems? When the design and manufacturing teams are separate, you can expect finger pointing and delays. If the team is integrated, it will quickly address problems and fix them with limited loss of precious time.
Designers, too, must be informed and kept part of the product development cycle to the very end.
Industrial designers must have a sensibility about manufacturing. A good designer understands the things that may impact the innovation or design intent of the product, such as the quality of the tool or the manufacturing tolerance of a particular material. He/she should also be involved at the manufacturing stage to ensure that the design is not compromised. A few last-minute design tweaks by manufacturing professionals to save money can translate into delivering a product with features that miss the mark. Keep informed designers in the loop until the end.
If your design and manufacturing teams share the mind-set of thinking holistically about design, you can push innovation to new heights. And you'll beat your competition to the marketplace.
Steve Callahan is president of Radius Product Development Inc. in Clinton, Mass.