The Engineering Phase of New Product Design

By Contributed Article | October 06, 2014

In the latest installment of the “Connector Basics” series from APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants, Bill Garver takes a detailed look at the engineering phase of new product design.

This article is part of the “Connector Basics” series from APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants.

Connector product designIn a previous article, we suggested that to ensure a successful connector development process and launch, companies need to optimize the talents of their employees to assure that critical needs are addressed by a four-phase process. The four phases are creative/innovative, engineering/scientific, implementation/manufacturing, and release/launch.

Unlike the earlier creative/innovative phase, in which a small team of six to eight individuals each works alone to create concepts and ideas that they later share in brainstorming, this engineering/scientific phase requires many highly skilled engineers spanning all aspects of product and manufacturing design. To be effective, it takes an interactive team of people from each discipline working in close cooperation with each other.

Getting Started

The lead individual in this phase should be an excellent communicator and a skilled engineer. This phase typically begins with the overall design objectives and a broad manufacturing plan, created and documented by the new product team. The manufacturing plan details the types of manufacturing processes and capacity levels that will be implemented  for at least a three-year timeframe. This is the phase when the concept or concepts are converted to detailed production drawings. Engineers often set tolerances that favor the design but are tighter than necessary, which may significantly impact manufacturing costs. The entire team must review and agree to product dimensions and tolerances.

Critical-to-quality/critical-to-function dimensions and attributes are documented. Materials are selected, mechanical stresses and deflections are calculated, and all mechanical, chemical, electrical, and environmental aspects of the new product are considered and planned. It is imperative that all engineering disciplines, including design, product engineering, manufacturing, materials management, and marketing personnel, be involved and communicate with each other during this activity. This phase requires extremely close interactive working relationships among all disciplines, in addition to frequent coordination meetings (chaired by the project manager). Trained engineers who are capable of making accurate analyses, material selections, manufacturing tooling designs, and process flow decisions are essential at this point. “Make or buy” decisions are made regarding the use of outside vendors to produce the products versus in-house manufacturing. If in-house production is chosen, manufacturing tooling specifications are also documented at this phase.

Design for Manufacturability

One of the key components in this phase is the design for manufacturability (DFM). This means  products are designed for ease of manufacture. In connector production, the five typical manufacturing processes are stamping, screw machining, plating, molding, and assembly. The primary goal in DFM is to design the products in such a way that they are efficient to manufacture at the lowest cost. This process may lead to design compromises among the five manufacturing disciplines. For example, the product may be designed to facilitate and simplify the stamping process, which may complicate one of the other processes, such as plating. The molded parts may require thinner walls than desired, to facilitate a simpler assembly process. There are many compromises and trade-offs that are possible with these manufacturing considerations. This is the primary reason to have very close coordination and communication during this phase. A skilled leader is needed to decide what overall processes will produce the most reliable and cost-effective product, and may need to encourage some to develop a more complex process, in order to optimize the manufacturing plan. The ultimate cost of the product is set by decisions made in this phase; it is difficult and costly to affect them later in the product lifecycle.

Design Objective Revisions

On occasion, to achieve the most cost-effective and reliable product, the original design objectives may need to be changed because adherence to the existing plan may result in a prohibitive manufacturing cost. However, the original objectives should not be changed without careful consideration, and must be aligned with marketing objectives. There should be a formal process that documents this revision.

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis

An effective tool to utilize in this phase is failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA). This tool helps to identify where failures are likely to occur, the manner in which they will occur, and the effect that the failure could have on the reliability of the product. A different FMEA should be completed on both the product and the manufacturing process. They ultimately aid in determining which of the design and manufacturing process trade-offs will have the greatest impact.

Ultimate Success

In summary, the engineering/scientific phase is a team effort that involves highly skilled engineers who make the necessary analyses, calculations, material selections, tolerance decisions, and manufacturing process plans. Adherence to this process ensures that the most cost-effective manufacturing processes are implemented to produce the most reliable product.

Bill Garver has 47 years experience in the connector industry, primarily in the management and direction of new product development and operational division management. He held the titles of division manager and director of development engineering at AMP. He developed new products throughout the full product life cycle, concept through introduction, for numerous industries, including consumer, commercial, computer, industrial, communications, and medical. Bill has vast experience with products for high-density, low-cost, insulation displacement, surface-mount, high-temperature, and environmentally sealed applications. Please contact him with questions or feedback on this article.

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