According to a study at Rolls-Royce, a product's design determines 80% of it's manufacturing cost. Too many designers get caught up only focusing on the aesthetics and visual appeal of a design, not taking into account the practical realities of manufacturing. The resulting design concepts are so costly to manufacture that they are not viable from a business perspective.
However, with some manufacturing know-how, better design concepts can be created to provide the same functionality at a fraction of the manufacturing cost, as we will see in the following case study.
A few years ago, an entrepreneur from Israel, had hired Tarun (currently leading product development at Outdesign) and another designer for designing a small custom spring that he wanted to 3D print and test for a medical application, as part of a larger project.
Below were the results — on the left side is a normal coil spring design that the other designer had sent them and on the right is the optimized design Tarun sent him.
As can be seen, the other designer sent him exactly what he asked for - a spring in an STL format file that could be 3D printed. The client should have been happy as he got what he asked for, which he was — until he sent both designs for prototyping to the 3D printing shop.
Manufacturing Cost Comparison
1) The coiled spring required metal 3D printing as it was too thin for plastic and therefore had to be printed on a DMLS printer(priced at a few million dollars) As expected, the spring also broke after a couple of cycles of expansion and contraction.
2) On the other hand, the flat spring design Tarun had sent, could be printed on an inexpensive FDM printer in plastic, with no support material and in a shorter lead time. This spring performed the same function better, without failing during operation and cost nearly 90% lower to manufacture. Had the client hired only the other designer, he might have had to drop his product idea all together, thinking that it won't be feasible to manufacture.
In physical product design, where the design, engineering and manufacturing are so intertwined, massive improvements and new innovations are possible with interdisciplinary knowledge that allows a person to think from various different perspectives.
The stakes in the above example were very low and the part relatively simple but this simple example is enough to illustrate how a product's design can make or break your business, especially when doing things at scale. And it's not only about saving manufacturing cost either, what if this was a critical part that failed during operation and caused an accident?
Needless to say, the client was very happy and had an eye opening experience in terms of what value a designer with a strong engineering background can bring to his business, this was his public feedback about the collaboration —
" This guy knows his stuff. Great communicator, good fast turn around and a high quality result. Would happily hire again if i need this type of work in the future and highly recommend. "
A product's design can be the difference between a successful, timely launch and permanently shutting down your business.
This case study was just one very small example to illustrate the value of DFM, we have countless such instances where clever and thoughtful design improvements saved thousands of dollars in manufacturing costs of products.
It is one thing to know how to create a 3D model in STL, STP or whatever format and a completely different thing to create a design that is optimized for a specific manufacturing process. An optimized design will always cost lower to manufacture as compared to a design that is not optimized, and at high volumes this means an opportunity to get better performing parts, less wastage of resources and saving several thousands of dollars in the process.
Good product design requires a balanced mix of creativity, empathy, manufacturing know-how and business acumen.
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