You’ve designed an exciting new product and you’re eager to get into production. You’ve got great hopes that you have built the proverbial “better mousetrap,” and it’s going to take the market by storm. But the manufacturer you’ve contracted with says your design needs further work. It has to be “designed for manufacture.” Well, hold on. You’ve already paid a designer, and you’re happy with the result. “It’s perfect as is,” you say. “Flawless. Nobody’s going to touch a hair on my sweet baby’s head!” You’re convinced that the manufacturer just wants to futz around and make a few unnecessary tweaks. Meanwhile, production gets delayed, and you lose market share.
That’s a common reaction, and your disappointment is understandable. But if you listen to the manufacturer’s reasoning, you’ll have to concede that these additional steps are for your good. Sure, some unscrupulous companies will try to gouge you.
When a manufacturer gives a reason for this, typically these additional steps are for your good. For the vast majority of new products, “design for manufacture” is a necessary step that saves the producer time, money, and heartache, while delivering improved quality and benefits that might be transferable to later products as well. In this article, we’ll explain a little about the benefits of design for manufacturing, so you can better appreciate this essential step in the product development process.
What exactly is designed for manufacture?
Design for manufacture or DFM is the process of reviewing and adjusting product design so that the manufacturing process will be more efficient and can consistently deliver high-quality units. Greater efficiency means faster production and lower cost per unit. Consistent quality reduces losses due to waste and customer returns while strengthening the brand’s reputation.
Basic principles behind the design to manufacture
There are five basic principles you should understand about DFM.
- Process — A DFM team looks at the process required to manufacture a product to enhance efficiency and reduce cost. The team looks for ways to adapt the design to allow for a more streamlined and cost-effective process, while maintaining the level of quality you demand. Factors that can influence the process include the number of parts, the amount of assembly required, the array of suitable materials, and the manufacturing processes required for your product.
- Design — Next the DFM team must scrutinize your drawings through the lens of accepted manufacturing principles. The team might suggest alternatives that reduce the number of parts, reduce assembly requirements, and standardize overly intricate parts.
- Materials — The team must examine the cost and availability of materials and make recommendations. Recommended materials must meet performance goals and durability standards, withstand the rigors of the manufacturing process, meet the aesthetics requirements you’ve set for the product, and fit your budget.
- Environment — Here we’re not talking about sustainable manufacturing processes, but rather the environment in which the product is expected to perform. For example, the design and materials for outdoor furniture are different from indoor furniture. Likewise, a sports watch is designed to function under different conditions from a formal watch.
- Compliance — Depending on the type of product, there may be regulatory standards for performance. Your design must be vetted against those standards before production can begin.
By putting your design through the DFM process, you will derive several benefits, which include:
- Flaws eliminated to improve design and product quality
- Lower per-unit production cost
- Quicker time to market
- Shortening of the overall product development process
- Shorter time to get into production
- Fewer “touch” required for assembly, reducing labor costs
With these benefits, the DFM stage generally pays for itself. The few weeks your product spends in DFM get made up as you save time on subsequent steps.
If you’ve got a product that’s ready for the DFM stage, you should shop around for a qualified team with a track record of elevating product quality and controlling costs through DFM. Reputable companies should be able to point to several examples of products they improved for their client’s benefit.
The right team will have engineers who specialize in the applicable disciplines. For example, if your product is both mechanical and electronic, make sure you have a mechanical engineer and an electrical engineer on your team. The DFM team must also work very closely with the factory that will likely manufacture the product. A product must be engineered for the environment in which it will be produced. Direct factory feedback is critical to getting this aspect right. Ultimately, changes to the final engineering need to balance function, cost, quality, and aesthetics. The DFM team must have excellent communication skills so you can discuss the risks and benefits of every proposed change.
Ask plenty of questions, so you can feel confident relying on this company’s expertise as you move forward.