How to reduce product design lead times

8th May 2017

How to reduce product design lead times

Reducing product design and development lead times is assumed to be a universally good thing, delivering higher profits, increased market share and greater market dominance to those who can ‘get there first’. Whilst shorter design and development lead times is something to be aimed for, the question is, how do you do it without cutting vital corners, increasing risks or raising costs?

The devil is in the detail of your design brief

The key issue in safely reducing design and development lead times is not speed, but efficiency. One of the most important considerations is the design brief itself. How comprehensive and accurate is it? Are you in danger of setting off at full speed… but in completely the wrong direction? Compiling a detailed and accurate design brief will take time, but it will be time well spent – allowing you to focus on resolving all the issues in an efficient manner, rather than discovering requirements when it is too late to include them in your design.

Crucible has produced a very useful and interactive product specification guide that takes you through virtually all the issues you will need to consider in your product design brief. To find out more and download your free copy, click here.

Design methodology matters

Your design methodology will also have a direct effect on the efficiency of your creative process. For example, design concepts that are not directly related to the product’s internal parts are likely to waste time and money. Crucible operates an approach based on designing ‘from the inside out’. This starts with the internal components to make sure the product will work effectively, and then explores the creative opportunities that this layout offers. This minimises the time needed for the concept phase by only focussing on ideas that will work in production.

Carefully considered production methods produce results

Considering the production methods you will use to make the new product from the outset will usually save time. For example, if you know that the product will be injection moulded, you might build the relevant draft angles and wall sections into the CAD models early in the design process, rather than having to go back to do it all after the basic geometry has been defined. The same goes for folds and features in sheet metal parts. Building production details in from the outset can save a considerable amount of design time, particularly if ‘production reality’ forces you to make design changes later in the process, when it will be more difficult and more expensive to make alterations.

It is also worth considering the basic production processes you use in terms of their lead times. If time is critical, you may opt for a short lead time process like RIM, soft tooling or even fabrication for early batches of the product, and shift to longer lead time processes for the high volume phase of production.

Finally, new production processes may offer some interesting opportunities to minimise lead times. The 3D printing ‘revolution’ has still not impacted on mainstream manufacture, but new production processes are beginning to emerge that may offer rapid manufacture of some high-volume components.

Digital data dos and don’ts

If you want to minimise time to market without increasing costs or risk, take a look at how you are using your CAD data. It is still common for companies to produce complex digital data - that could be used for rapid tooling and production - and then force it through traditional manufacturing approaches because ‘that’s the way it has always been done’. With some products, it is possible to get them into production with virtually no drawings at all. With others, simple drawings will be needed for checking and quality purposes, whilst yet others will need complex sets of drawings with comprehensive geometric tolerances. The point is – only do what you need to do and don’t follow conventional practice out of habit.

The other aspect of CAD data that can save time is in prototyping. It is always cheaper and quicker to test ideas early in the design cycle when technical details are still quite fluid. If you treat prototypes as design tools, and build them frequently during the early stages of the process, the design will be refined more rapidly and with greater accuracy. This will cost more money in the short term, but will save project time and get you to market earlier.  

The bottom line

Minimising time to market can be extremely beneficial, but can also create problems. Our advice is to prepare well; consider practical issues and processes from the start; use new technology where you can; produce development prototypes as early as possible; and use digital manufacturing methods where you can. Above all, don’t be tempted to cut out the essential work that will make your product safe and successful, like thorough testing, detailed design and high quality manufacturing methods. And if in doubt, get in touch. We’d love to see if we can help you!

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Crucible Design Ltd, The Innovation Centre, 99 Park Drive, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 4RY