“How do we make it cheaper?”
It’s an all too familiar question. Engineers face constant pressure to reduce the cost of product development, and yet some “cost-saving” strategies are counter-productive, leading to increased costs and damaged projects.
The thing is, in a competitive marketplace, there’s no getting away from the question of cost. With as much as 60 percent of overall project cost determined during the concept stage, engineers must be able to wheedle out the cost-saving measures that work from those that don’t.
Here are ten tips.
It’s true what they say. There’s beauty in simplicity.
Some product development teams get a bit lost on the journey towards innovation. Before long, you have a product that is jam-packed with features, and while these products might impress fellow engineers, they can bamboozle consumers – who crave simplicity.
In the May 2012 edition of Harvard Business Review, Stefan Thomke wrote the following on product design: “Determining which features to omit is just as important as—and perhaps more important than—figuring out which ones to include. Unfortunately, many companies throw in every possible bell and whistle without fully considering important factors such as the value to customers and ease of use.”
Always keep the end user in mind. When it comes to product design, less really is more.
Concentrate effort in the planning stage
When you are on a tight deadline, it’s tempting to rush through the planning stage and begin designing as quickly as possible. Not a good idea. Speeding through the planning stage is likely to get your project off on the wrong path, and the further you go down that path, the costlier your project becomes.
Instead it’s best to spend considerable energy at the start of a project clarifying the task, visualising the problem that needs to be solved and brainstorming ideas on how to solve it. Getting to grips with the project from the start will reduce the need for complicated, costly iterations, revisions and improvements later.
Don’t stick rigidly to the development plan
Having a solid development plan is important, but treating it as a blueprint from which you cannot deviate is a mistake. New insights and ideas will be generated as you move through your project. New limitations will arise. Conditions will change. Remember that your plan is just an initial hypothesis.
Repurpose old designs
Do you really need to design an entirely new product from scratch? Or can you repurpose parts from previous designs? With SOLIDWORKS you can build a silo of legacy designs that you can call on within a matter of clicks. In some instances, SOLIDWORKS can even automate parts of the design process by choosing the right elements for you.
Some people say there’s strength in numbers. Others reckon too many cooks spoil the broth.
Whichever side of the fence you fall on, collaboration in product development can speed your project through to completion. For small scale products, 3D CAD allows you to troubleshoot problems with fellow engineers through file sharing. And for larger, complex projects, concurrent engineering – where multiple engineering teams work in parallel to hit project milestones – allows you to interact quickly and move through a project as efficiently as possible. Co-locating your engineering and manufacturing teams is another way to use collaboration to grease the wheels of product development.
Prune your marketing spend
Marketing costs always seem to turn out higher than you bargained for. With SOLIDWORKS you can generate photo-realistic images of your design. That means there’s no need to wait until your product has been manufactured to begin marketing it. And, there’s no need to pay for expensive photography.
Prototyping is essential to the success of any product, but the back-and-forth between testing a prototype, tweaking the design, building another prototype, tweaking the design ad nauseam gets expensive. SOLIDWORKS allows you to simulate interferences and collisions between moving parts, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You can perform all sorts of simulations, right there in the design suite: linear and nonlinear static, vibration, fatigue, thermal, optimization and nonlinear dynamics. You can compare the performance of different materials, and you can automatically calculate forces on critical components – such as springs and bearings.
Using these simulations early in the design process allows you to optimise your design, raises the quality of your products and dramatically reduces the burden of real-world prototyping.
Speed through to sign off
3D CAD software like SOLIDWORKS makes it far easier to share product designs with project stakeholders. No more posting 2D drawings that furrow your client’s eyebrows. You can send CAD files electronically that allow all invested parties to visualise the product in 3D.
Good project management
It’s impossible to understate the importance of good project management, especially as it’s where lots of product development teams fall down. A fallacy exists about the need to be busy; for lots of projects to be queued. Yet it can be counterproductive. When you feel like you have too many projects live at one time, you lose clarity. It becomes harder to prioritise. Feedback gets delayed. And, relatively, projects take longer to complete.
Similarly it creates a pressure to “get it right first time,” which hinders creativity and thwarts innovation. There’s nothing wrong with a full order book, but it must be managed by an expert who can strike a balance between keeping a development team busy and overwhelming them. Don’t take on too much. Don’t quote too low. Manage deadlines realistically. It will result in sharper focus and clearer priorities.
No matter how strong your development plan, or how sturdy your prototype, there’s always room for a product to be streamlined. Listen to manufacturers and those on the production line. It might be that removing an unnecessary function, or swapping a material, could shave a huge amount off your development and manufacturing costs.
Over to you
How do we make it cheaper? By turning your back on the normal way of doing things. Focusing too hard on building efficiencies into the product development process too often leads to shortcuts that are counter-productive. You end up adding to a project’s cost, rather than generating the savings that were intended.
Real savings come from innovation in process, not just innovation in design.