With rapid improvements in CAD simulation software and ever-shorter development timescales, who needs the time and hassle of testing prototypes and iterative design stages prior to product launch?
Well, you do, actually.
Don’t get me wrong, advanced engineering tools like CFD and FEA are central to the product development process, particularly in more complex industries, but they don’t completely replace real-world testing and development. Even Jaguar, who make intensive use of advanced tools and simulations in the design process, still submit all their new engine designs to 72,000 hours of durability testing, and that’s before they go out for a further two million miles of final validation.
But what if you’re developing a simple consumer product, like a potato peeler? Advanced engineering tools may be less relevant, although stress analysis would be helpful to make sure it won’t snap under pressure or lose its blade. Real world prototype testing will help resolve many other issues, like handle comfort, safety, performance, ease of cleaning, packaging design, and durability – to name but a few. Some of these will be required to meet basic industry regulatory standards, whilst others will be more subjective, but all will improve the quality of the finished product.
The benefits of this approach are obvious, so why do some companies still do the bare minimum of testing and development when they create a new product? The primary reason is cost. Some manufacturers think that they cannot afford a detailed test programme, and take a calculated risk that their product will be ok. The second, and related, issue is the concern that the time needed for thorough testing will allow a competitor to get to market first. We come across both these attitudes quite often, particularly amongst smaller companies.
Aside from any safety issues that might have been missed, the main tragedy of these attitudes is the simple failure to learn from the past. Going back to Jaguar, it is all too easy to forget what a terrible reputation the company’s products had a few decades ago, and yet it is now a world leader in engineering, design and quality. Many of our domestic electrical brands went broke because their products simply couldn’t compete with better products from other countries, but look at the success of Dyson - which focusses on testing, development and product quality. You see the same pattern in other successful companies that focus on getting their products just right, from Miele to Apple through to Joseph & Joseph. Testing, development and product improvement is a vital investment, not a wasted cost.
So, what do you do if you want to make sure that you test your product thoroughly? The first thing is to make sure your company culture supports the approach and recognises the medium to long-term benefits involved. Secondly, draw up a list of issues that need to be covered, from basic regulatory requirements to the fine details of daily use that can make the difference between success and failure. Finally, work out a programme to test and develop all the issues you have identified. Some of these will be simple and can be done in-house. For others, particularly those relating to standards, it will probably be essential to get external assistance. Companies like Rotech Laboratories are worth talking to. With their broad experience of product testing and regulatory issues, a good test house can save you time and money - and help you ensure that you cover everything that is relevant to your industry.