Creating winning products

Posted on 19 Sep 2008 by The Manufacturer

Many companies have maximised lean in their processes, but fewer have applied lean techniques to their products, according to Jim Dowell, a Practitioner for The Manufacturing Institute

Designing products in an un-coordinated manner and in pockets of isolation usually spells failure to launch or less profit. Having a structured and managed product development process and getting the relevant people involved is crucial.

Firstly, identify the needs of your customers. Profitability depends on creating products to meet these needs quickly and at the right cost. Creation of ideas will be inspired by customer pull, technology push, or other market conditions such as competitor actions.

A typical product development process would have a concept development phase and a simultaneous product and process design phase; then move on to product and process validation and then into manufacture. A project leader managing this process should ensure activities stay on plan, prevent overruns on cost and timing, and ensure that the design team sticks to its brief.

Learning points need to be captured during the process, and acted upon to continuously improve the product development process. Standardise and then improve – product development is a live process.

Many companies still use a sequential approach to product development, with the manufacturing function typically the last step. By the time the manufacturing engineer “receives the ball,” the project can be behind on timing or behind on cost, leaving little scope to change anything. The end result is usually a non-capable manufacturing process, and higher costs.

In order to optimise the design for manufacture, develop the products and processes through cross-functional teams, having a core team containing representatives from design, manufacturing and commercial functions, with occasional use of customer and supplier resources.

A highly effective technique is Design for Manufacture/Assembly (DFMA). This structured approach has manufacturing cost at its heart. It should begin at concept development, and continue through to product and process validation. Since a lot of the product cost is fixed at the design stage, DFMA is a must for effective optimisation.

Some new product development (NPD) projects stumble when it comes to regulatory burden and its associated costs and these requirements must be incorporated into the design specification. Overlooking a regulatory requirement at the concept development phase can have serious financial and lead-time implications on the product development process.

One approach to minimising regulatory costs is to develop a common platform product, which satisfies the regulations of a particular marketplace. This platform can then be used to develop product derivatives, to satisfy specific opportunities. The additional regulatory approvals on these derivatives will be a fraction of the costs associated with one-off products.

Jim Dowell is a Practitioner for The Manufacturing Institute, which is a leader in operational excellence – delivering end-to-end lean transformation programmes aligned to strategic business objectives. The organisation, which delivers the Manufacturing Advisory Service in North West England, has a 12-year track record in providing best practice implementation support and skills development – partnering blue-chip enterprises in the UK and Europe. Some of the businesses it has worked with include: Coca Cola, Warburtons, Kerry Foods, United Biscuits, New Balance, Astra Zeneca, BAE Systems, Spirax-Sarco and Siemens.

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