In its most distilled form the product design process is simply:
Design > Build >Test
(repeat as necessary)
In a way, the build and test phases are simply extensions of the design phase. The build and test phases are where the design is validated. If one is designing a physical object or machine, the design truly is not done until it’s been built or tested. This is similar to debugging in software, however unlike software which can often be compiled (built) to test in minutes, building and testing machines and durable products take days, weeks or months depending on the complexity of what is being built. For this reason, a lot more care and planning needs to go into such products to reduce these iterations.
Our process is more detailed than the simple version above and includes milestones to make sure we achieve our customers design, manufacturing and business needs. The process we follow as outlined below and is a more detailed extension of the design, build and test cycle. Included in this cycle are business considerations and design for manufacturing criteria which we refer to as Beyond Design for Manufacturing.
It is not a requirement that a customer engage us for every phase below and often we fit our services into a similar process a customer already has in place or in a reduced version for simple projects. D2 Realization can assist with all or just part of the design and manufacture process.
This phase is essentially where we first talk to a client to discuss their projects needs and then outline a plan for the rest of the project. Many times during the outset of this phase we sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the client. It is important during this phase for us learn and understand both the manufacturing needs and business requirements of our clients as this works into our Beyond Design for Manufacturing process. At the end of this phase, we usually provide an estimate. If the customer finds the estimate acceptable, we will turn that estimate into a statement of work with an associated contract.
Concept Phase (optional)
This phase is only necessary when a client only has a vague idea of what they want or may need some concept pictures to generate investor interest. In this phase, we work with a client to generate some basic concept models, diagrams or specifications to further plan out the design. We may revisit and revise an estimate or plan from the discovery phase at the end of this phase after the concepts are better understood. We would then provide a revised estimate if a new concept changes the scope of work.
Preliminary Design Phase
This phase is where the bulk of the actual design work is completed. By the end of this phase most all the major systems and components are designed, specified and appropriately modelled in CAD. In this phase, we use the business and manufacturing goals provided to us in the discovery phase to insure that the design is produced from the very beginning with appropriate materials and manufacturing techniques that align with the customer’s end goals. At the end of this phase, the design will not be completely finished; however, the models and system prepared for review by the customer will look close to the machine or system that will eventually be built. This phase usually ends with conducting a design review with the customer and supplying them with a design report so that they can insure the project is on track and allows them to give input into the design before it is completed.
Critical Design Phase
In this phase the details of the design are completed. Any extra requirements that were the result of the preliminary design review are also incorporated into the design. It is also in the phase where the engineering drawings and bill of materials are created. Often the parts are also sent out for quote in this phase, so that it is understood approximately how much it will cost to build prototypes in the next phase. We will also often get extended quotes for larger quantities, so that later manufacturing costs can also be better estimated.
Prototype Build Phase
In this phase the first prototypes of the system are built. The time this phase takes depends on the complexity of the prototype and also the quantity and quality of the desired prototypes. For simple products or projects where only one machine is desired, this will constitute the bulk of the build. For more complex system like a medical device, this phase may be just the first of several build cycles. This is also an important first step in building and qualifying a supply chain for later manufacture and we work to use suppliers that will scale appropriately into later manufacturing.
During the testing phase, the product design is verified. Some of the tests are straight forward and done simultaneously with the build phase such as testing that the parts fit properly and everything can be easily assembled. Most tests are mainly for function and safety, but testing can also include test marketing and customer surveys.
Redesign, Rebuild, Re-Test
This phase is mostly a repeat of all the previous phases; however, the iterations are generally faster as only portions of the system that need improvement are redesigned. There are occasions in more simple products where this phase is unnecessary because we pass testing in a first go and the design meets specification in the first build. But generally, and especially for more technical products, several iterations of the design are required to fully eliminate any bugs and achieve the quality necessary for production release.
Release to Manufacturing
This phase includes creating manufacturing documents and instructions that are generally more detailed and are not created in the design phases because it is more costly to update if changes need to be made. This also includes training of manufacturing personnel and making sure the manufacturing documentation is adequate for assemblers and fabricators to understand. Usually this phase includes the first pilot run of the product on the manufacturing assembly line. Also, this phase is usually where product support and customer service business structures are put into place (although this can happen earlier).
Manufacturing is a dynamic world. Even with a well designed and profitable product there are always changes and improvements that can be made to a design over a product’s lifetime. Most all successful manufacturing companies employ cost reduction and design maintenance teams to maintain and grow their profitability. We perform this function on an as-needed basis for many of our clients. This can be working with them to find alternate or lower cost suppliers, finding substitute parts for components that may have been phased out by their manufacturer, redesigning to improve manufacturing or redesigning to reduce cost.