• Product Design
  • Product Design

    The third element of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is Product Design (PD), which is the creative and inventive process through which concepts are transformed into real products. PD has two interwoven components, i.e. Engineering Design, which focuses on the functionality, safety and reliability of the product, and Industrial Design, which focuses on the product’s aesthetics, ergonomics and usability. This article covers PD from the engineering point of view, focusing on the foundation and importance of the process rather than the various stages. Understanding the purpose of something oftentimes provides more insight than knowing what it is and how to use it.

    Product Design Sketches/Renderings

    The transformation of an abstract concept into a real, tangible product is a process that is reiterative in nature. In the abstract world, concepts are flawless and the effects of the laws of physics that are either unknown or unexpected don’t exist. This is because our concepts are governed by the laws of physics only insofar as we know and understand them. As a concept becomes tangible, the real world laws of physics begin to dominate and create problems requiring solutions. An example, the concept of an impeller blade and a motor that are magnetically coupled yet separated by a watertight wall. Conceptually speaking, this system is flawless. However, when a proof of concept is created and the design is brought into the real world, real issues such as excessive friction caused by magnetic attraction and accelerated material wear must be resolved. The goal of this process is to discover all the design challenges within the project and resolve them with each iteration until the design reaches a state of perfection.

    Depending upon the complexity of the design concept, this process can feel like a daunting task because some design challenges may appear to have no answer, yet a decision must be made. In addition, problems can be caused by poor decisions made earlier in the process about other aspects of the design. The key to facilitating the design process and alleviating many of these roadblocks is to establish a means of removing as much uncertainty and risk from the design as possible. The best way to do this is to create and implement design guides, checklists and procedures. These tools are essential for successfully navigating the design process. They should be based on first principles and guide the designers through differentiating between design factors that are certain from factors that are uncertain. These steps ultimately yield the resultant fit, form and function of the product, all of which are effects that stem from the first principles.

    • The function of the product is founded on the laws of physics.
    • The form of the product or its aesthetic is founded on its function.
    • The fit of the product or its manufacturability is founded on its form.

    Function, form and fit must be kept in mind throughout every step of the process. When challenges arise, they should be dealt with immediately. It is a mistake to ‘deal with something later’. No matter the excuse for delaying the resolution of an issue, valuable resources will usually be wasted because a solution left for later ends up invalidating a lot of work.

    While working through each stage of product development consider:

    Function: The product must work reliably and consistently. Always perform proofs of concept. This includes simulations if possible, as mentioned in the article on Systems Engineering. Always seek advice from tech support at potential material suppliers. Always test prototypes rigorously and never assume a design is successful without evidence. Always read product datasheets thoroughly.

    Form: The materials must be available when you need them. Always inquire about production quantity costs of materials, their availability and lead times and the reliability of the manufacturer. Always research multiple manufacturers of the materials.

    Fit: The product must be built well and with repeatability. Understand the manufacturing processes and design, keeping effectiveness and conservation of resources in mind. Designing for manufacturability requires an in-depth knowledge of applicable manufacturing processes. It should not be considered ancillary knowledge, but rather a necessary part of one’s designing knowledge base. Finally, always design with the product’s builders, users and servicers in mind.

    Using these guidelines enables one to design for simplicity, elegance, cost effectiveness, manufacturability and operational servicing. Successful PD yields excellent products with reduced resource expenditure. Products can be brought to market faster and cost effectively while meeting strategic objectives and timelines. This gives a company the advantage to become a market leader.