In the world of manufacturing, it’s quite common for product designers and manufacturing engineers to live in their own organizational silos. Designers model geometry that meets the functional requirements on paper, but they often don’t give much thought to the realities of manufacturing such as equipment capabilities, material characteristics, or whether the tolerances can be achieved consistently. Once those designs hit the manufacturing floor, problems begin to emerge.

Research has found that approximately 70 percent of a product’s manufacturing costs are the result of design decisions and production choices account for just 20percent of a product’s manufacturing costs. The good news is that major opportunities exist for manufacturing cost reductions if organizations could simply break down the silos between design and manufacturing and get teams to work more collaboratively. Enter Design for Manufacturing, or DFM…

The What, Why, and How of DFM

Manufacturers are always looking to assure the best cost, quality and reliability for their products as well as concerns for regulatory compliance, safety, time-to-market, and customer satisfaction. Design for Manufacturability encourages standardization of parts and a maximum use of purchased parts in a near-modular design, along with standard design features. Because parts are designed for ease-of-fabrication and commonality with other assemblies, manufacturers will save time and money by not having to constantly "re-invent the wheel."

Design for Manufacturing introduces guidelines into the design process with the goal of reducing the complexity and cost of fabricating a product. Some DFM guidelines are universal and will apply to most organizations. For instance:

  • When designing a product, strive to reduce the total number of unique parts. Typically, fewer unique parts translate into faster production times, fewer components that must be stored in inventory, and less complex assembly processes. These factors translate into lower costs and shorter time to market.
  • Create designs that are modular. It is easier for manufacturing teams to assemble and test products that are made up of several modules.

Other DFM guidelines are more company-specific. Before embracing DFM, product designers need to engage in dialogue with their counterparts in manufacturing engineering. Here are a few questions that should be answered during the design process for a product:

  • What materials should be used? Let’s say that a designer is working on a product that will be created using CNC machining. A conversation upfront with the manufacturing engineers would reveal that hard materials, like high-grade stainless steel, are slow to process. Selecting a different material for the product may reduce production times.
  • What are acceptable tolerance guidelines? An effective tolerance analysis based on the level of quality that meets the design goals can predict defect rates and scrap. Aspects of a design like holes or fillets should be standardized and enforced. Design goals of course are paramount to the DFM strategy. For example, is the cost of reducing the weight of a part worth the cost to make it that way? After all, the benefits associated with design innovation can be quickly nullified if procurement or shipping costs increase or if the product creates problems either on the shop floor or at the customer site.
  • What can the manufacturing equipment handle? It’s essential that design engineers and manufacturing engineers discuss what the facility’s equipment can handle. Nothing sets a product’s schedule back like a design that simply can’t be manufactured in-house. For instance, a part might be specified using a material requirement that is too large or too heavy for normal operations causing expensive and time-consuming outsourcing.
  • How will parts be checked for quality? Design for Inspection or DFI is a practice that is complimentary to DFM. As design engineers create product designs, they must think about downstream processes such as quality assurance. Not only should designers consider which parts of a product need to be the most precise from a performance perspective, they should also discuss with the QA team how parts will be checked for quality. The characteristics of automated inspection equipment may dictate ways in which a product should be designed.

Who Should Use DFM?

Based on our experience with clients, it’s fair to say that DFM can play a role in many different types of manufacturing settings. For example:

  • High Volume Manufacturers. This is the scenario that first comes to mind when thinking about DFM. Utilizing Design for Manufacturing techniques can shorten the time needed for prototyping and reduce the number of parts that are scrapped.
  • Manufacturers who need replacement parts for products. Imagine using DFM principles to design replacement parts that can be manufactured using in-house equipment. Creating replacement parts in-house reduces the amount of inventory that must be held in stock. In addition, it eliminates special orders which often have long lead times.
  • Job shops making one-off parts. At first glance, this may not seem like a logical fit. However, DFM principles can be used to ensure that one-off parts can be created using in-house tools and equipment.

DFM in Action

Here are a few examples of how DFM can be applied to streamline the product lifecycle:

-    Shorter product prototyping. As technology has become more effective at capturing the physical and dimensional characteristics of products, we have now moved into an age of optimization. Digitally simulating and validating designs can shorten the time required for product prototyping. Simulation technology like Nastran In-CAD brings sophisticated analysis tools to the desktop to ensure that product plans are optimized for design goals.

-    More collaborative product designs. In today’s “connected era,” manufacturers want to include more organizational stakeholders in the design process to increase opportunities for innovation, growth, and cost reduction. At the same time, stakeholder feedback must be balanced with design considerations. To that end, CAD tools can be configured to enforce and control design and documentation standards. Products like Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Vault offer excellent collaborative design solutions that give the entire organization visibility into CAD documentation.

-    Fewer product development silos. To encourage DFM, the design workflow should be associated with other business processes such as new product introductions, bill of material (BOM) management, change management, supplier collaboration, quality management and cost management. IMAGINiT Technologies has worked with several clients to document and automate their new product introduction (NPI) workflow. New designs are shared with stakeholders throughout the organization and that information is stored in a way that provides the data required for real-time decision-making. Supporting technologies like Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle can be used to concatenate different business processes and promote information dissemination.

About the Author

Carl Smith, Manufacturing Solutions Manager, IMAGINiT Technologies

Carl's analytical abilities and problem-solving expertise have made him a key member of many successful teams, particularly in the manufacturing and electro-mechanical engineering industries. Working as lead consultant, project manager and head trainer, Carl has in-depth knowledge of Autodesk products and their application in manufacturing plants across the U.S.

He has extensive experience performing every aspect of a project, from the needs-analysis to software implementation and training. He has particular insight into diagnosing manufacturing workflows to achieve significant process improvement.

Carl possesses a complete command of the digital prototyping process and all the technology tools including Finite Element Analysis, CNC, visualization tools, and document management.