We often get calls asking if we can design a prototype, or, have we ever worked with the X Y Z technology? After a few probing questions, what we learn that this company really need is a product developed, not a prototype designed—at least not yet.
Developing a product is different than designing a product or building a prototype; further, deciding what technology to use in a new product can mean the difference between success and failure. If this is a flawed decision, a lot of time and money can be wasted very quickly and easily.
It is important to understand the steps in product development and to make sure these steps are followed in the right order. Doing the wrong thing really well is worth nothing.
The processes you follow are slightly different depending on who you are. If you’re a large established company, you are likely not to be reading this email, and even if you are, you likely do not need our help. If you’re a small company in a niche market, then this email is for you.
Niche market companies must pay close attention to development budgets. Because they sell a relatively small number of units per year, development dollars spent make up a significant part of unit cost. In fact, lowering development costs can be more important than lessening manufacturing costs.
Engineering services are a worldwide commodity. An hour of engineering time is going to cost the same regardless of who/where/how you buy this hour. Trying to lower development costs by finding low-cost engineers is not likely to be an effective strategy. Hiring competent engineers will cost less in the design and production of the product.
The number of engineering hours needed to develop a product is primarily driven by the choice of the conceptual design. Any given set of product requirements has an almost infinite variety of concepts that can accomplish these requirements. Some concepts will take significantly more engineering hours to develop than others. Moving forward with detail design (“design a prototype”) with the first concept envisaged is almost certainly going to be very expensive and not worthwhile in the process.
Creating the correct concept is key to niche market product development. Spending a few pennies ensuring that the correct concept is chosen will save dollars in detail design.
Here are some tips:
Requirements: Make sure the requirements are complete, accurate, and understood by the team. If you would like a good requirements template, just respond to this email and I will send you one.
Diversify the Team: The more qualified engineers, and the greater the diversity in their backgrounds, the more likely innovative ideas will be generated. We often see a single idea cut development cost by 50% or more.
Create Several Concepts: As a rule, at least three different concepts should be developed.
Rank Requirements: It’s imperative that the team understand which requirements are more important to exceed than others. Ranking their importance guides decision making when comparing different conceptual choices.
Analyze Concepts: Generate a matrix with ranked requirements down the left side, and the concepts across the top. Each “square” then become a place to judge that concept’s ability to exceed the requirement. This forces the team to focus on a single issue at a time, e.g., how this concept scores on that requirement. Simple math is used to determine the best concept.
Use Reference Designs: Reference designs can have a major impact on development. Using an existing design means fewer engineering hours are needed—you’re able to start the race halfway done.
Use a Specialist: Although a specialist may charge a higher hourly rate, this extra charge is often worth the money as their productivity is generally much higher. One word of caution: If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so don’t let technical specialists dictate the conceptual design.
Management is Important: Managing the process is critical. If product development is not something your company does on a regular basis, then you will need to identify a resource to rely on. You can start by visiting our website: www.FInishLinePDS.com