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The Product Development Process
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Product Design

The Design


Steps of the Process:

Step 1 -
    - Process Overview

Step 2 -
    - Requirements

Step 3 -
    - Info & Planning

Step 4 -
    - Design

Step 5 -
    - Prototypes

Step 6 -
    - Production


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Step 4 - Design:

True design is science and art; analysis and synthesis.  It is compromise in the balance of conflicting requirements.  It is drawing on and improving upon previous knowledge to find solutions -- for new challenges, or as new solutions to previous issues.

At Synthesis, our goal is to find the Elegant Solution -- not just any solution.  It is our objective to find the best blend of compromise in all the conflicting constraints.

The Design Phase has 2 main components (and often a 3rd):

  1. Conceptual Design - (the macro level) where fundamental and sweeping ideas are considered and evaluated;
  2. Principal Design or Characterization - (the micro level) where the details are composed;
  3. Oft times Proof of Principal phase(s) must be included to assure a complete and secure product deployment.
These 3 phases are discussed in the appropriate sections below.

Completion of the design phase often requires iteration -- iteration which may also include Requirements (step 2) and Prototypes (step 5).  This happens as understanding of the product increases and testing shows potential (or need) for improvement.

Conceptual Design:

Finding the best overall design always starts by considering various possibilities.  The more complex the problem, the more concepts should be considered.  Often this starts with a brainstorming session where all kinds of ideas are measured.  Having a reasonable list of requirements at this point is extremely valuable for assessment.

This is a time for sketching on the white board or paper.  It's a time for bringing good brains together.  It's a time for discussion.  Ideas should be captured, evaluated, mutated, blended and reincarnated.  It is my firm belief that the best ideas come from multiple good sources -- by bouncing ideas back and forth, mutating them through the filter of various perspectives, the elegant solution will rise to the surface.


A "HARD" Note to Inventors"
As an inventor you are the creative stimulus behind your idea.  Obviously, that puts you in a key position, yet you must realize that your ideas can and will stimulate creativity in others.  Many inventors suffer from a "not invented here" syndrome that puts them on the defensive when others offer suggestions.  This will truly limit the potential of both the inventor and their product.

The good ideas of others can enhance and perfect your original concepts.  Even when the new propositions are not included, if they were honestly considered and evaluated they will benefit the product by assuring all aspects are considered.  New ideas or additions do not devalue the inventor, they enhance the product.

A bad case of "not invented here" is really a reflection of immaturity and lack of self confidence.  Rise above it and success is far more likely.

* See also our full page dedicated to Inventors. *


The conceptual design phase is also a time for comparing competitive products against the list of requirements to see how the competition stacks up.

As ideas are evaluated, several things should be considered:

  • Analyze concepts for adherence to goals and requirements.
  • Determine areas of technical stretch (if any) for each concept.
  • Does anything new have to be invented to make it work?
    • Is there technology available to accomplish all the tasks?
    • How can a Proof of Principal (PoP) be created and tested in advance to assure that areas of technical stretch won't delay the product?
    • Are there substitute technologies to use if the new technology doesn't make it?
  • Examine impact on time and cost goals for each concept.

"There is no smartest person ... the best ideas come from multiple sources."

In many cases technical innovation is required to accomplish a task.  These areas of technical stretch -- or PoP's  (Proof of Principal)  -- must be evaluated carefully to see that they can be contained within time and or cost requirements.  Often these areas are separated out as parallel path mini-projects to determine if the technical stretch can be reached.  We call these mini projects PoP's.
(See below for more discussion on PoP's.)

Conceptual Design  (our Speaker Example):
Many box and configuration ideas were considered - some short and fat, some tall, some deep and some shallow.  It included drivers of all types and sizes.  Then, as the designs were evaluated, just a couple rose to the top.  The front runners were those that best met the stated requirements.
The design finally chosen was certainly not the easiest or cheapest.  It was chosen because it best met the more important requirements, and . . . it yielded a desirable personality from an artistic viewpoint.

Principal Design or Characterization:

This is the stage of hard-core design.  This is where the computer is used -- both for CAD and for design analysis.  This is where the fundamental engineering is done.

Typically this stage of the design includes work in all the areas of the project -- perhaps by several individuals or teams depending on size and complexity.  The routine generally includes individual work as well as design review meetings at appropriate intervals.

Design review meetings typically consist of:

  • Design analysis for adherence to inputs or requirements.
  • Resolution of issues -- especially those crossing between design teams.
  • Incorporation of new knowledge and/or technology.
  • Review of the design for manufacturing feasibility.
  • Review of progress with respect to timing.
The principal design stage should also include design optimization where areas of the design may iterate in getting to the elegant solution -- one of the ways a design transforms from good to GREAT.

A note about Quality:
How do you define "Quality?"  The best definition I've seen is:
"Quality is what the CUSTOMER says it is."
L.P.Goates, Hewlett Packard
That means it's different for each customer, and understanding is required to determine needs for the product.  Truly, quality is quite different for a disposable product than for a durable one.  It is also different if a warranty is to be provided.

Design in quality from the start and it's free.  -- Wait till later, and it's very costly.  For an example, look at the US auto industry -- especially through the 70's and 80's.

Proof of Principal or PoP  (Parallel Path)

Prior to being included in the main design, areas of technical stretch (innovation) should be evaluated carefully and often prototyped ahead of time to determine if the technology can be stretched as desired to accomplish a goal.  This means that for areas where current technology or a precedent does not exist, it must be invented.  These areas should be identified early and worked in parallel to see if they pan out.  The main design will usually have a back-up or "safe" plan to implement if the invention does not pan out.  If, or when, the idea is proven or determined as safe for the prime design, it can be incorporated.

This a development phase of product design.  It often requires invention or optimization using tools like Statistical Design of Experiments.  Testing can be a big part of defining and achieving a technical stretch.

Proof of Principal Example 1:
A special lightweight part was wanted for a support in a design.  The requirements conflicted because of the weight and strength requirements.  To address the need a special version (lightweight) was conceived.  The lightweight version was to be made as powdered metal sintered around a machined part.  The powdered metal would provide the shape and density desirable for weight while the machined part would provide the necessary strength and contact properties. 
Though the concept seemed sound, at that time, a mixed material part had not been done.  Could it be done reliably?
So that this component would not delay product launch, a cast part (heavier more expensive) was designed as a back-up just in case the new process did not work.
The lightweight process was engineered in parallel to the rest of the design, then when it proved out, the lightweight design replaced the casting.
This is an example of using the PoP process to achieve desired goals without risking an entire product launch.  Often, great things are accomplished with small changes.

Proof of Principal Example 2:
For one client, our job was simply to find the right combination of material, size, plating (if required) and geometry to accomplish a simple task.  The function was extremely critical, so literally thousands of tests were conducted in a Design of Experiments fashion to find and statistically verify a workable design.  Tests included environmental chamber testing and many others.  It also required the invention of a process to create the desired outcome.
After many design and process attempts, the work finally concluded with a robust design combined with a proprietary process to satisfy the need and exceeded the given requirements.
This illustrates how the proof came with not only a special design, but it also required the invention of a process.

Concluding Thoughts ...

The design phase of development includes several sub-steps that are usually iterative.  First designs and first prototypes usually show opportunities for improvement, then a second design cycle is done.  Especially where new technology is created, time for learning will pay big dividends.  Design refinement in this way yields the best possible products.


ContinueContinue to Step 5 - The Purpose of Prototypes.
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