Updated
  
11
 
Dec
 
2020
Published
 
5
 
Jul
 
2019

Design for manufacturing insight

Product design of hardware is hard, but it can be profitable with proper design for manufacturing DFM optimisation.
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Mould cavities and channels

Manufacturing products is exciting, but it can be tricky without proper design for manufacturing optimisation. Since product designers work on product designs for various niches, from electronics to medical supplies, it is not an exaggeration to say that they play a major role in shaping the world we live in. However, the competitive global market can be less focused on optimisation for manufacturing (DFM).

Functionality above all

It may seem obvious, but functionality is something many product designers overlook. In order to make their product designs stand out on the local or global markets, many product designers fall into the trap of over-engineering everything.

This means they make a design that is aesthetically pleasing with all the bells and whistles but does not function the way it was intended compared to a simpler version. A simpler design that suits its purpose perfectly is much better than a complex design that does not do its job any day. Luckily enough, over-engineering can become apparent in the prototype phase and fixed before it is too late.

Being specific

Pleasing everyone is an impossible task – it would be unwise to even try. This may sound negative, but trust me, a product that is tailored to suit one niche will sell better than a product that tries to be the Jack of all trades. Figure out what market you are aiming for, agree on a specific design and stick to it!

Build on existing products

This does not mean one should plagiarise other people’s work. However, one should just look at the existing market and learn from the products that have sold well – they have sold well for a reason, right? As a product owner, you do not always have to make something completely new. In fact, most of the design projects and prototypes are based on upgrading existing products rather than coming up with entirely new ideas! A wise man (Isaac Newton) once said, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Design for manufacturing, sometimes are also referred as design for manufacturing and assembly (DFM/DFMA), describes the practical method which optimises the design for the collection of mechanical parts within a product, so that they can be easily produced in the factory. Some general considerations are concerning this process can be:

✔ To find an innovative design which improves production effectiveness
✔ To choose feasible material which meets customers’ requirements
✔ To choose a proper type of manufacturing process

Let’s make a guess. How much influence will this design process have over product cost, quality and cycle time: 30%, 50%, or 70%? The answer can probably go to 70%. Around 70-80% of the cost, resource overhead and product development issues happened because of a poor design process, while the actual manufacturing process attributes only the rest 20%-30%.

Maximising profitability of mass production encourages larger companies to integrate the design for manufacturing process into their early-stage product development. For greater success, some of these companies would outsource an experienced third party for better overall optimisation. There are some steps which eligible design team should provide for the DFM plan.

Prioritise design optimisation

Is the biggest goal of the optimisation process to reduce as much labour cost as possible? Are the companies aiming at achieving functionalities of products regardless of cost?

Generally, companies would have a list of tasks that they want to achieve in mind. While a good design team would help adjust and translate these tasks into several objectives and prioritise them. A simple example is a design for high-end use would address more of the functionalities and than cost. Setting up with clearly defined purposes at the beginning of the project will help identify the scope of the project. It also helps better manage feasible resources.

Utilise effective communication

The biggest challenge in DFM is usually communication. Communications take place throughout each process. The small agile team can fast respond to changes and minimise the chance of misunderstanding. In addition, clear written communication would be vital. To successfully generate the optimal design, an experienced team would address them all. They would be able to demonstrate objectives orally as well as in written documentations such as DFM reports.

This detailed documentation would then help companies develop instructions and specifications which are understandable by workers in production lines.

Identify main elements

Good DFM requires designers to effectively decompose a complicated product. This indicates that they need to identify the number of components that will need to achieve the functionalities and the relevant assembly process.

Designers with expert-level of knowledge would facilitate this process. Especially when nowadays entrepreneurs may own factories and business located around the globe. Teams that are familiar with the industry and global market will not only optimise suspect/questioned components and processes, but also give suggestions about vendors selections.

Select proper materials

Proper materials can have a greater impact on cost and efficiency than thought. In this stage, the design team would choose materials based on the functional requirements, as well as optimal manufacturing purpose.

One question for considerations can be: whether it is necessary to use different materials in different parts of the products? A more advanced service can be choosing material suppliers by performing cost and quality analysis for customers.

Consider environmental factors

Environmental factors such as pressure and yields, temperatures are also taken into considerations during design. To build a robust design for supply chain, shipping time may also be crucial when customers own a long supply chain. Insertion and interconnection parts may be minimised since smaller parts may fall apart during shipping. Apart from that, designers would perform several testing methodologies on prototypes to avoid risks as well.

Use existing technologies

The word “design” in DFM means more than creating products with fancy technologies. This is because the design team always take the whole manufacturing chain into considerations. Most of the time, as mentioned above, companies will choose various supply chains around the world.

In these cases, the technological gaps between these countries’ factories matter. In other word, designers should have a comprehensive investigation of existing technologies. As a result, an outstanding design should be those who successfully cooperate with the existing feasible resources. It should be applicable to most of the manufacturing lines that customers would involve.

Save money

In a general mass manufacturing process, companies usually put loads of effort to reduce the production cost. As stated above, a proper DFM process highlights the importance of creating products from feasible materials. To achieve this goal, strengths and weaknesses of different materials will be listed for further analysis. This process will often help manufacturers find the materials with a lower production cost than expected.

Sometimes, products with delicate mechanical parts will require manual assembly. In this case, more parts mean there will be a higher gross labour cost. DFM’s principle of minimising the number of mechanical parts addressing design with simplicity. Designers can easily achieve cost-effective design when conceptualising designs with some DFM principles. Experts suggest that good design sometimes can dramatically reduce the total product cost at up to 50%.

Save time and energy

One methodology in DFM points out that the necessity of designing in a way that small parts of the product can easily be attached to each other. Another methodology is to design products with maximum tolerance.

A lot of product parts may require operations such as inserting with alignment. A design with tolerance will ease the precision prerequisite for your manufacturing line, therefore save more time and energy. Apart from that, DFM also indicates that designers should understand how to deploy proper modules for various manufacturing purposes.

These methodologies all aim at providing a solution with minimal back-and-forth designs compared with the past. It will be worth it by spending 80% of your effort on the designing process.

Ensure higher product quality

A successful DFM process not only ensures product manufacturability, but also guarantee product quality. Before and along with the entire design and testing procedures, we will need to perform a large amount of research, including investigation of previous quality issues. The quality products will build a solid foundation for a company’s growth and attract more customers.

To sum up, DFM/DFMA usually aims at shortening manufacturing time, reducing cost on labour and material by utilising a set of design standardisation. When entrepreneurs turn their eyes to mass production, it is no longer feasible to isolate the manufacturing process and the product design process.

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The amount of analysis and modifications highly depends on the manufacturing process selected, which in turn is dependable on the production quantity required. Sometimes even all factors could be satisfied with an affordable process, it is better to choose more costly ones to obtain higher qualities. One of the most common examples is producing office wares using acrylic sheet cutting versus producing the same products using plastic injection moulding. The first has almost zero tooling cost, while the second has a considerable investment upfront.

The acrylic cost per piece is relatively high, but for small productions, it is very affordable. On the other hand, injection moulding costs thousands of dollars upfront but renders larger quantities at a lower cost and higher quality. In that case, no matter the quantity, if the quality is the main goal, injection moulding would be chosen over acrylic cutting. If you are a great inventor focused on creating great concepts, a start-up with a cool prototype, or a company that is new to mass production, chances are you will need to perform the following steps to get your product into manufacturing.

  • Analyse the design and materials of your product
  • Compare available manufacturing processes against quantity and quality required as well as the cost of each process
  • Optimise the design to suit the selected manufacturing process and select suitable tolerances
  • Find a suitable supplier, communicate your design needs, and negotiate the price

Alternatively, you can modify similar OEM products to match your product concept or use prototyping techniques to produce a small quantity, e.g. 500 units.

Scope and knowledge

In order to succeed you need focus. State your priories ahead. Complex problems tend to drag the process into many different avenues and you cannot solve all related problems in one go. Also, choose wisely based on target goals (e.g. target KPIs), not every seemingly important problem is actually important. Write down all that you came to know about the problem, based on research and observations. State everything in a systematic manner, so you can refer back to it. Use a lot of useful sub-titles.

According to the scope, you are focused on a specific area. Identify the main challenge within that area. Also, choose a challenge that can be feasibly solved. Between changing the height of a short chair and that of a tall person, it is often clear which challenges can be feasibly solved. You can use the popular and simple fish-bone diagram to connect your causes to the effects (Cause-Effect diagram, also known as Fish Bone diagram) if you have only one root effect. If however, the problem is complex you can use a more detailed root cause analysis to highlight root causes and identify solution direction.

Solutions identification

Based on the root cause analysis, select the best solution within the project scope. Depending on the complexity you can use something as simple as group brainstorming or you can go for the more advanced TRIZ 40 principles. Validate your chosen solutions against set goals and more importantly relevant intellectual property and prior art. Ideally, this can be done in parallel with your solution generation efforts. After solutions are vetted, you should have one or two solutions that have high conformity to set goals, and are also very feasible to implement.

The winning solution must be optimised to match the implementation methodology. For example: if the solution is a mass-produced product, it would require a design for manufacturing optimisation. The final step is implementing the solution you have worked hard on. Different problems have different implementation methodologies, however, they all require one thing Taking Action. Alternatively, your organisation can simply acquire existing solutions or start-ups that have already solved the same problem.

Standard components utilisation

Standard components are an innovation that the world of industry needed. This is because standard components allow manufacturers to mass-produce products in the hundreds of thousands or millions and in a form that can be readily consumed by people all over the world. This is different from custom parts, which need to be designed and manufactured for a particular use. Standard components offer many advantages for manufacturers, but before we get into that, let us talk about a time before they were any standard components.

Standard bearings with seal in red and black colour

Before the industrial revolution, standard components were non-existent, meaning that components had to be custom made. This required excellent craftsmanship and it was a slow painful process that made it extremely hard and expensive to mass-produce products for consumers. Needless to say, these were hard times for everyone involved, from the manufacturers to the consumers.

With such difficulties, products were kept relatively simple in design and manufacturers had to rely on very skilled workers to craft custom components. This, in turn, led to factories being relatively small because everything had to be manufactured in-house. But that all changed with the industrial revolution when standard components were introduced, allowing manufacturers to accelerate the manufacturing process significantly.

Standard components quickly became the basis of many complex products, which led to the rapid acceleration of the world of industry. These days, standard components are in almost everything, from the smartphones we use to communicate and entertain ourselves to the cars we drive and even aeroplanes we use to travel across the world. Standard components come with some major advantages. Here are some of them.

  • Cut down costs. This is because standard components are mass-produced, allowing you to purchase them in bulk and at a discount. Furthermore, since several suppliers can manufacturer the standard components at once, this leads to high competition for your business, which leads to lower prices, more choices in terms of suppliers and increased quality.
  • Easier for staff to assemble. As mentioned earlier, custom components require the need for highly skilled craftsmen to assemble even the simplest products. But with standard components, there is no need since staff require less expertise to use them to assemble products. This also makes the setting up of a larger manufacturing line easier.
  • They are easily accessible. Ordering standard components are also easy, as all the sizes and dimensions are available in table or structure form. All you have to do is pick and choose the ones you want.
  • Guarantees consistency. Because standard components are supplied in standard sizes and quality, you are guaranteed to get consistent results on both fronts.
  • Makes it easier to manufacture complex components. When using standard components, manufacturers can get straight to manufacturing their specific complex products (such as televisions, smartphones, cars) instead of having to worry about making the specific components of each unit themselves.
  • Less demanding quality and safety testing. Dealing with standard components allows for batch testing. This is because the components in a batch are essentially the same, allowing for quick identification, removal and fixing of components.

The invention of standard components is what propelled the entirety of the industry in the right direction. For once, manufacturers could produce high-quality products in mass quantities, making life easier for consumers all over the world until this very day. That is why it is important to use in the manufacturing process.

Design for manufacturing and assembly

While in the process of getting a product manufactured, many things can go wrong that can cause a delay. This can extend the time it takes for a product to get manufactured and reach the hands of consumers. This means while the delay is happening, the investment that was put into getting the product from conception to production isn’t being returned. To avoid such problems, the DFMA approach is used when a company recognises the need for new product development.

The design for manufacturing and assembly (DFMA) approach is a tool that allows product designers to pinpoint problems that can arise as the product is being manufactured or assembled. That way, they are able to design products in ways that make the process of manufacturing and assembling them more efficient.

DFMA is the brainchild of two England-based researchers, Geoffrey Boothroyd and Peter Dewhurst. With this approach, products get through the manufacturing and assembly process faster, at a lower cost and with minimal wastage. And it doesn’t matter if the products are being put together using manual labour or machines.

Some of the benefits of DFMA have already been mentioned in the previous section. In this section will look into them a little more detail, as well as talk about others. So if you are wondering what DFMA can do for you, here are the advantages you need to consider: The longer the manufacturing process takes, the more in overhead it will cost you. When designers do their job with the DFMA approach in mind, they simplify and optimise the manufacturing process. On top of keeping overhead costs down, this also reduces the initial costs of the production process.

When designing using the DFMA, designers use fewer parts as possible in the overall design. Not only that, but they also use standard components to minimise the number of unique parts that go into the product. (All this is done while making sure the end result is a quality product). So with the total number of parts reduced, as well as standard components in manufacturing being used, getting the product to market becomes cheaper and faster. And if the company uses manual labour for assembly, the labour costs are also significantly reduced to that effect.

Picking up from the above-mentioned points, fewer parts mean the design of the product is less complicated. This greatly increases manufacturing feasibility and minimises the chance that something will go wrong during the manufacturing process. This means the DFMA approach actually makes the process of manufacturing a product more reliable since it is less prone to failure at any stage.

With a reduction in manufacturing time, consumers get to enjoy the product much faster. And since the production process usually results in a complete and quality product on the first iteration, your company starts earning revenue quicker than if it had not used the approach. This shows that the DFMA approach is conducive to the continued existence and profitability of your company.

As you can see, the DFMA approach is about getting the product manufactured in the shortest time without sacrificing the importance of product quality. With the DFMA approach, people who are looking to get their product manufactured have found a system that can significantly increase the efficiency of getting their product manufactured.

Parts of this insight were first published 
as early as 
July 2019
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