Brainstorm: What Can Design Engineers Do to Improve Time-to-Market?
Dave Kelly, General Manager, Spectrum Plastics Group
Simple stated, early supplier involvement is the answer. Not just talking about it, but actually doing it.
Too many companies have the good intentions of getting suppliers involved, but few, especially larger companies, actually utilize their supply chain effectively to reduce time-to-market. With the availability of:
- Free DFM engineering services
- Free materials expertise
- Free SLAs
- Free tooling estimates with multiple scenarios – off-shore versus domestic
Why are companies still reluctant to walk the talk?
Many companies are caught in the old trap of multiple quotes (minimum three to five per company policy) with companies that have services to offer, but package them a little differently. This can already cause a time-to-market delay while simply evaluating. By selecting the right supplier, you will find a partner that can take the new product concepts/ideas and offer a proven track record of doing new programs thru prototyping, bridge tooling, and short run assembly, in production and full product assembly and packaging. Why would a company not want this upfront? A true business partner is required, and that will pay dividends in time-to-market strategies.
Sharing target pricing is another way to get a project where a project needs to be up front. It can eliminate suppliers instantly, and consolidate relationships into a team that has a common goal. If price and time to market are critical, share that data. It is important because of the market niche and timing required to market and sell the product. Far too often quote after quote takes place, the companies take a long time to evaluate the quotes, the window drifts by, and the product is doomed before it enters the market. It happens all the time. Sharing intentions up front is required for time-to-market as it narrows and focuses the supply chain.
Tim Nakari, Director of Marketing, Spectrum Plastics Group
Know where you’re going before you even start. If you’re designing an assembly made from injection molded plastic and rubber components, for example, consider how they’re going to be molded, or how they could be molded, in the easiest manner possible.
For instance the more open and shut you can make the housings, the faster your mold will be to produce. By contrast, the more slides, cams, and side actions your tools require for more complex geometry will certainly add time, as well as cost. When using elastomers, can you do a multi-shot instead of two separate parts that need to be assembled afterwards? If so, you may be able to do one mold instead of two, and have one less part to assemble afterwards.
Often times, creating two separate simple parts instead of one complex part is not only faster, but can have less overall project cost, depending on quantity.
Look at the entire product, not just its molding. What other mating pieces will there be? Can any of those be designed into the main part? For example, you may have used a button or trigger on an existing part, and figured you’d use the same component again on this new part — reducing part counts is good, right? What if you could design that trigger with a living hinge into one side your main housing? Now that trigger is just a part of the same molded component. Not only would you save on the part cost of the trigger, but you would knock out its assembly time, and erase it from the BOM. Instead of bonding on a clear window into an opening, could the whole part be made from clear plastic, and the non-window areas made more semi-translucent through custom mold texturing? You get the idea.
Finally, as early as is feasible, get into a discussion with whomever will support the assembly and manufacturing of your program. Ask for feedback and suggestions from initial design concepts - use rapid prototypes instead of drawings to better communicate; get out on the shop floor if possible, and talk about what works well and could be improved with current projects. Something as simple as how sub-components are nested and packaged or designing in a stand-off to aid in fixturing, could shave days off your initial time-to-market lead time, and yield considerable returns throughout the life of the program.
Kevin Lehrer, Managing Partner, 5 Horizons Group
Time-to-market has the potential to make or break the success of many new products, especially in highly competitive markets. Design engineers play a critical role as a middleman between designers and manufacturers, putting them in a unique position to add value to both sides of the spectrum. In this regard, design engineers have the ability to promote concurrent engineering, which allows manufacturing knowledge to be integrated into the design process through the facilitating of early and ongoing communication between the design team and the manufacturing team. This sort of collaboration has the ability to prevent complications when a product enters the manufacturing stage and is of the utmost importance, as mistakes or difficulties during the manufacturing stage can severely delay a product’s launch date, thereby risking loss of immediate sales and market share.
Involving design engineers emphasizes simplicity from the very inception of the idea. Integrating parts, minimizing variation within product lines, and even choice of materials can affect the speed and accuracy with which products are manufactured. The traditional relay race archetype for product design — where the project is passed off to the next department much like a baton — limits the scope of responsibility due to department segmentation. With knowledge of the design process from ‘source to shelf,’ design engineers can ensure that the best decisions are made at the earliest stages of the process. This input and communication ensures the availability of a flexible and efficient product design phase, helping to achieve the end goal of reducing cost, improving margins, and expediting time-to-market.