Over the next couple of posts we are going to dive into one of the more important topics engineers face, Creating High Impact Designs. From a business perspective, this will help you understand the various aspects that engineers undertake to execute on your business opportunity mandate. Mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and other types, must be concerned with their design innovation.
As companies prepare to develop new products, one-of-a-kind systems or building systems (mechanical, electrical and plumbing, or MEP), it’s important to ensure that each design approach and scope are laid out in a set of detailed requirements. Before creative and analytical steps can be taken, design engineers should establish motivation and end-product goals. This blog is the first in a series discussing product development specifics.
Possible Design Criteria
It is vitally important to understand your product’s design requirements. With a “blank slate,” outputs are unpredictable, at best—and less likely to be successful. All design criteria must be clearly documented by those hiring a design professional. Without this comprehensive list, even an exceptional design can fail by failing to solve a problem or meet an end-user need. Further, undirected desgin can expend vital resources, with little to show.
A high-impact design wins by meeting a number of major criteria, and establishing overall design quality and product performance. Remember, certain design criteria are more important than others—so they must be appropriately prioritized; they may be weighted in a multi-variable optimization. For example, company budget may trump all other requirements, or production schedule may be most important. Safety, of course, should never be compromised. Critical design criteria may include the following:
- Project completion and scheduling requirements
- Performance: speed, power, precision, unformity, flow, pressure, resistance, etc.
- Required materials and estimated costs
- Manufacturability, including specialty materials, handling requirements & dimensional controls
- Reliability and maintainability
- Integration and interface requirements
- Testing and verification processes
- Code, industry-standard and third-party compliance
- Customer standards and expectations
- Green design and minimal environmental impact
When a product development process (PDP) is utilized, design commences only after all requirements are understood. This doesn’t mean that the designer engineers are not integral to the process, but it means that they must remember to design for others—rather than themselves. There was a popular book written along these issues, “The Inmates are Running the Asylum,” by Alan Cooper.
The many design requirements and inputs must be filtered and
funneled to create a meaningful and usable set of requirements which provide adequate guidance to the designers. There is no single correct process for setting the requirements, and different approaches may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances. One type of proposed model of filtering is the “R&D Push,” and a second form is the “Big Bet.” Another proposed model is “innovative and focused,” which attempts to combine the first two. The process of setting requirements may well be the most crucial and difficult components of a design project, requiring the coordination of many different group or departments.
Importance of Prior Designs
Prior designs are relevant to the design process for several reasons. First, they provide information and highlight lessons learned. In addition, they provide useful shortcuts for designers, saving developing companies time and money. In short, previous designs supply a case history that indicates what has and hasn’t worked in the past. With current project metrics in mind, design engineers can then assess the relative value of previous design concepts. Senior personnel are integral to enumerating pluses and minuses of previous designs, so it’s important to ask them for input when possible (even if they’re not on your current team).
After assessing the value of previous designs, and projects, it’s time to make refinements. These alterations, small or large, can yield incremental improvements in product performance. As consumers, most of us personally witness these types of design improvements. The automobile industry is an example of incremental improvements bundled into model-year changes, when major redesigns occur.
Sometimes, the industry climate and competitive landscape mandates a bolder step. In those cases, the current design team should pursue an innovative approach. Blog 2 in our series will discuss the design innovation process—and the role of performance modeling in creating a high-quality, competitive product.
Glew Engineering has experince with many different product develompent processes, and can work along side your organization to help execute your design. The design may be CAD/CAM mechanical engineering, fiber optic components, or integrated circuits. Nonetheless, a development process should be followed.
 The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper, Sams Publishing, 1999.
 Managing New Product and Process Development, Kim Clark and Steven Wheelwright, Harvard Business School, The Free Press, 1993, pp. 298-309.
 Ibid Clark pp. 731-732.