Putting Manufacturing Experts on Your Early Concept Development Teams

Designing new products for Manufacturing and Assembly has always been a challenge. Typically, Manufacturing Experts are added to a Project Team AFTER the basic product configuration has been established. The manufacturing people are then charged with building the new product at the target price. This can be very difficult as the product concept configuration often dictates the use of certain manufacturing processes. For example, one product configuration may require the use of precision machined castings that require expensive tooling while another configuration (that serves the same function) may have been built using simple sheet metal weldments. The difference in cost and lead times can be substantial.

Quite often, manufacturing skills and talent are not added to the project development team until it’s time to build the product. At this point, approximately 90% of the product cost is already built in and the manufacturing experts can only influence a small piece of the overall product cost and lead times. The best they can do at this point in the product development cycle is to select qualified suppliers, develop good quality plans and make sure tolerances are suitable for the locked in manufacturing processes. Little can be done to substantially affect the overall cost of the product.
So what can be done? Firstly, include manufacturing expertise from the very beginning of a project. The type of person that will do best in this situation is someone who has broad knowledge of manufacturing processes but also has the ability to conceive and design from a blank sheet or paper (or CAD screen). In addition, they have to be a team player and put the project goals first and avoid being a “manufacturing silo”.

Secondly, Strategy 2 Market has developed a Design for Manufacturing Assessment tool for early stages of development. In addition, there are many computer based tools on the market to help develop early cost models. Using them can provide the team with the data necessary to make quick and well informed selection decisions amongst the various product configurations in the early stages of development. It would be the manufacturing expert’s job to provide the team with this information.

Thirdly, but certainly not last, the manufacturing person can help design in quality from the beginning by selecting the appropriate manufacturing and assembly processes for the desired functionality. This also gives the factory and early heads up as to what’s coming and what they need to prepare for.

Having manufacturing personnel involved from the very beginning of a project can help avoid many issues and headaches down the line.