What is ‘Design for Manufacturing’?

By Polaris MEP Partner Josh Chernin, Business Improvement Group

The key to “Design for Manufacturing,” or DFM, is in the very first word of the phrase – design.

By the time a product is fully designed, about 75 percent of the manufacturing costs are locked in. This is by virtue not only of the functionality of the product, but also the choice of materials and the manufacturing process. Less expensive options may have already been rendered impractical as a result of design choices.

This implies that product design has two purposes. One, obviously, is to create a useful product, with its own function, form, look and feel – the traditional definition of product design. The second purpose is to produce that product at the lowest possible cost – certainly at a cost the market will bear, and better yet, lower.

Design for manufacturing, sometimes called design for manufacturability, is about the second of those purposes. Done correctly, it is performed in parallel with – and as part of – the traditional product design. This means that from the very beginning of the process, manufacturing and cost considerations are equally as important as functionality, with the caveat that in the end, if the cost is reasonable but the product isn’t useful, it won’t meet with success in the market.

The process begins with a challenge statement – a response to the question, “What market need are we trying to meet?” It’s very important that this statement not be a solution statement. For example, if the challenge is that “older people need bicycles that are easier to pedal,” that is the challenge statement –  not “we need to produce an electric bicycle,” because electric bicycles are only one of many possible solutions to the challenge. There may be other, better solutions that are not considered by jumping immediately to electric bicycles.

The next step is to assemble a cross-functional design team comprised of traditional designers and folks with expertise in marketing, sales, finance, purchasing and manufacturing. The old method of designing a product and throwing it over the wall to the other functions in succession is over, because that process will, in the end, take longer to get to the market and very likely cost more than necessary. The idea now is to make sure all the important questions and considerations are discussed at the beginning, before the actual designing takes place.

After agreeing on a challenge statement, the team needs to assess and list the features and functionality of the product to the customer. After that, it’s a push-and-pull, back-and-forth process for the team to optimize features, functionality and cost while keeping the targeted price point and volumes in mind. It can be a messy, iterative process, but there are several tools and methods that bring order to the process.

Design for manufacturing may seem slow, especially when the urgency to get a product into the market seems most important. But it’s actually faster and less costly than designing a product in isolation, only to find out that the manufacturing cost is higher than it should be – or worse yet, that the product can’t be made at a price acceptable to the market.

Josh Chernin is a partner with Business Improvement Group LLC. Interested in process improvement or having a consultation with Polaris MEP resource partner Josh Chernin? Contact Mary Johnson at Polaris MEP, [email protected].

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