Product Design Tools

Several tools and techniques are available for efficient design and development of products. These tools address all the stages of design and development. Some of the tools that are available for product designers to understand customers needs and translate them into meaningful design and manufacturing specifications, as well as some guidelines for incorporating the manufacturing requirements at the design stage.

Understanding Customer Needs: The first step of product design and development process is to know what exactly the product is going to be. Organizations need various methods by which can obtain information regarding the needs of the customers. This can be by:

  • Market Research: In market research, target group is identified and appropriate sampling is done within the target group. Using structured data collection methods, such as questionnaire surveys and interviews, information is solicited from the sample. The information is subjected to statistical and other analytical reasoning before arriving at customers’ preferences and needs.
  • Competitive Analysis: Understanding what the existing offerings are now and how the gaps and problems identified could be eliminated can sometimes offer valuable inputs to the designer. One method of competitor analysis is to “reverse engineer” the product. The competitors’ product is dismantled down to individual components level and some detailed studies are conducted on them. These may sometimes reveal the probable processes utilized in their manufacture such as the choice of materials and their specifications and the relationship between these parameters and performance. Reverse engineering is one crude method of a larger issue of benchmarking. In case of benchmarking, the competitive product offerings are chosen for detailed analysis. Specific parameters are chosen for the benchmarking exercise. For example, cost, features, performance, ease in maintenance, ease of manufacture, assembly and distribution are some of the issues on which comparative study may be possible. Once these parameters are identified, data collection and analysis will reveal the positioning of one’s’ own products vis-à-vis the competitor’s offerings. Another method for competitive analysis is to develop perceptual maps. Perceptual maps are graphical representation of various competitors offering and that of one’s’ own proposed product and/or service.
  • Quality Function Deployment: The goal of good product design is to bring out products that satisfy customers needs better than those of the competitions. However, the attributes of competitor satisfaction are often qualitative in nature. On the other hand the product design process result in a bundle of quantitative attributes pertaining to the product. The challenge, therefore for a designer is to ensure that the transformation from qualitative attributes to quantitative ones is smooth and complete. Quality function deployment is a Japanese tool that helps organizations achieve this transition in a systematic and progressive manner Quality Function Deployment achieves these transition .in four stages. The first stage links customer needs to the design attributes required. In the second stage, the design attributes form the basis for actions that the firm needs to take to achieve these attributes. The actions identified at this stage are basis for third staging arriving at the specific decisions to be implemented. In the fourth stage the implementation decisions drive the process plan to be deployed.
  • Value Engineering: Value Engineering refers to a set of activities under taken to investigate the design of components in a designing process strictly from cost-value perspective. Typically, the design professionals brain storm various options in conjunction with procurement, personnel, suppliers and production personnel, with respect to the value-cost dimensions of the product being designed. Usually several questions are addressed, which include the following: (i) Can we eliminate certain features from design? (ii) Are there instances of over design of certain components increasing the cost? (iii) Are there certain features of design that cost more than they are worth? (iv) Is it possible to replace the proposed method of manufacture with less costly ones? (v) Is it possible to outsource some of the components? (vi) Can we eliminate some parts and replace them with standard parts? (vii) Are there opportunities for cost cutting by developing import substitution methods?
  • Design for manufacturability: Design for manufacturability (DFM) is a structural approach to ensure that manufacturing requirements and preferences are considered fairly early in the design process without the need of extensive coordination between the two. DFM guidelines address three sets of generic requirements:
  • Reducing the variety: (i) minimize the number of parts (ii) minimize subassemblies (iii) avoid separate fasteners (iv) use standard parts when possible (v) design parts for multi-use (vi) develop modular design (vii) use repeatable and understood processes
  • Reducing cost: (i) analyze failures (ii) assess value rigorously
  • Considering operational convenience: (i) simplify operations (ii) eliminate adjustments (iii) avoid tools (iv) design for minimum handling (v) design for top- down assembly (vi) design for efficient and adequate testing.
  • Tools for mass customization: Mass customization provides a structural set of ideas and tools to provide high levels of customization without increasing the complexity of planning and control operations .The various tools and techniques of mass customization are (i) Employ some variety reduction techniques (ii) Promote modular design, The advantage of modular design is that with fewer subassemblies (or modules) it will be possible to create very large number of final products. (iii) Make use of the concept of product platform. A product platform is a collection of assets that are shared by a set of products. These assets can be components, including parts, designs, fixtures and tools or manufacturing processes for manufacturing or assembly.

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