“Begin with the End in Mind.” This well-known Steve Covey habit is especially true during product development. I recently had the opportunity to speak about the early stages of product design at the Design for Manufacturing (DFM) Summit in Brooklyn, NY, discussing that without a clear understanding of product requirements from the start (as viewed from ALL stakeholder’s perspectives) most products are doomed to fail. And one of the biggest failure points happens when a large stakeholder, the manufacturer, is unable to manufacture efficiently.
Let’s take a closer look at Design for Manufacturing
Design for Manufacturing (DFM) philosophies tell us to design our products proactively, optimizing all manufacturing functions. The right process involves creating a productization plan before digging into the engineering and design, which forces us to address all requirements and trade-offs early on. But even though we all know we should be doing this, turning it into practice is a whole other story.
Let’s be honest. We only want to work on the “cool” and interesting parts of a design. We absolutely love creating things that add value to the lives of others, yet don’t want to do the grunt work to make it real. And it gets even harder when we’re working on a product that really piques our interest.
For example, take a product we are working on at IPS called Nixie.
Nixie is a tiny wearable camera that can fly. It is worn as a wristband and when prompted the wrist straps unfold to create a quadcopter that flies to take photos or video, then comes back to you.
Our instinct is to dive right into the cool parts of the design, and skip over the productization planning. When anxious, excited entrepreneurs come to us looking for design help with their product, we’re forced to explain that first, we have to help them extract and document all requirements. Only then can we help them with the “fun” part of detailed work. This is especially true when it comes to applying design for manufacturing principles.
For example, with Nixie we first studied use cases to discover what technical challenges might occur. Here’s where rapid prototyping techniques really shine to push the envelope and also where one can find real, true innovations and align use cases with the technical challenges. Here are some examples:
- Form factor – This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the design; figuring out the practical requirements for ergonomics and performance.
- Regulation – Involvement with the FAA might be necessary and could cause a whole host of additional safety and compliance requirements.
- Safety and Navigation – Figuring out the safety aspects of navigation clearly generate several complex requirements for Nixie.
- Image quality – Especially for video, we need to fully understand the requirements and feasibility of stable, jitter-free video capture. This requirement (like most technical requirements) needs to be quantifiable.
- Materials Selection – It’s very tricky to find the right material to be rigid during flight yet flexible for your wrist, all while being very lightweight, flight friendly, crash resistant and hypoallergenic. But its also got to look GREAT. After all, people will be wearing Nixie!
Done right, there’s no reason why design for manufacturing principles can’t be completely compatible with the coolest, sleekest and most delightful products on the market.