Ensuring Research Results in
Manufacturable and Scalable Products
(related sections in the author's DFM book
are noted in parenthesis)
Most research starts out just trying to prove an idea will work. And then what?
Once it “works” most managers and venture capitalists usually try to rush it into
production. And how well does that go?
The “Valley of Death” between concepts
and viable products
The official page of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (led by the most famous
high-tech leaders) is quoted as saying
“Experience indicates that even the most
promising ideas face daunting commercialization challenges and a nearly
impassable Valley of Death between promising concept and viable product.
Neither government funding nor conventional private investment can bridge
The "Unsurpassable Mountain" after the
Valley of Death
And then, if the product does make it into production, it becomes obvious
that it costs too much. So then it is time for “cost reduction.” But this site
teaches all the reasons why cost reduction after design is so hard to do
especially if the cost metrics are all wrong. However, just trying consumes a
lot or resources and time while all the changes attempted (usually cheap parts)
cause quality problems, make it hard to scale up to stable production, and may
also degrade functionality, all of which causes more firedrills to do even more
Why does this happen so much?
One reason is that some of the most popular “Phase/Gate” processes
just skips from “Concept Testing” phase to “Prototype Testing” phase
without any product design phase in between!
Other processes are just so rushed that there is not time to do good design.
This tells engineers that once a proof-of-principle or concept experiment
“works,” they should skip directly to building a prototype, which will cause
all the problems mentioned below. Fortunately, there also much better
If your company has such a dysfunctional "process," don't compromise your
research or wait for the process to be changed. Instead,
do everything on this page -- and this site -- in your project is
your own "micro-climate" as recommended at the end of this
The following methodologies show how to avoid this “valley of
Research determines product
The definitive book on DFM (Figure 1.1) says that
60% of cost is determined by the product architecture.
Proofs-of-principles or even experiments can determine or imply the product
architecture of limit its options. So, if this is so important, why doesn’t this
automatically happen? Here are some real comments why many do not optimize
“I am just trying to see if it works!” “Once we see if it works, then
we (actually some else) will fix that all later ”
But once it “works” (especially if it looks good), management or investors
want to rush it into production without
commercialization to make it manufacturable and
scalable and then the fragile idea starts on the perilous journey across the valley of
death and up the impassible mountain to try to reduce it later
What to do in the Research Stage
(Section 3.3.13 in DFM book)
Don’t just jump at the first idea that comes to mind. Brainstorm (Section
3.7) for several more concepts that:
• have the same, or better,
• are inherently simpler with respect to:
• ways to accomplish the
critical functionality which should be the focus of your team
• ways to accomplish the supportive functionality which:
should not distract you from you from the critical functionality.
Instead of wasting valuable resources on that,
• leverage proven hardware and
software from your existing products. Even if those is bigger
or better than needed, both the product and the project budget will
be less in the long run.
• buy proven parts off-the-shelf
(Section 5.18), as mentioned in the next point on Prioritization.
• ensure that the final product will
be manufacturable and scalable as recommended below. Always
There are many ways to
make something work;
There is only one that is the lowest cost.
(Section 2.2.1) Focus
design efforts on what is most important to customers and get the rest off-the-shelf
For Electronics For instance, customers don't buy your
products for the power-supply. But they expect them to work all
the time. So, instead of wasting valuable time designing anything that is
hard to design and has nasty failure modes (smoke, fire, system failure),
specify proven off-the-shelf power supplies that have proven "track
in your industry.
This needs to be done first,
because, because off-the-shelf power supplies come with voltages
that are prevalent in your industry and you will need to design your
product for those voltages.
For Electronics. Similarly, don't consume valuable
resources -- and jeopardize quality -- designing routine electronic
functions that are readily quickly available off-the-shelf as modules,
sometimes called "single board computers," that have standard interfaces,
for instance, for:
- Memory, which can be increased with plug-in modules, even
in the field.
- Input/Output and communications, possibly based on USB,
Ethernet, HDMI, or VGA ports
- Motion control for actuators, motor axes, sensor inputs,
- Data acquisition and number crunching.
Some off-the-shelf modules come with thoroughly debugged
software, which will free SW engineers to focus on your product's
For Industrial Equipment. Similarly, don't waste
valuable resources designing anything that is readily available
off-the-shelf such as?
- guards and shields
- stairs, railings, and platforms
- material handing devices, dispensers, conveyors, even
- mechanism controllers, actuators, and sensors
- cable assemblies using standard connectors
- cabinets, enclosures, partitions, fans, doors, latches, and
locks, which are available from catalogs or can quickly be built
to-order in many standard sizes
Off-the-Shelf parts will actually cost less because the parts and their tooling is
already designed. If this is not immediately apparent, then "cost" must be
defined as total cost (Chapter 7) See
total cost web
The paradox of product development is
that off-the-shelf parts must be chosen first
and then the product is literally designed around them.
For everything else that really needs to be designed,
project teams need to do the following:
The very first experiments or
proofs-of-principle must be based on readily available parts and materials.
If not done early, there may not be enough parts available for production. Do
not count of changing parts for availability when going into production
because these difficult changes take time and resources to do, and, even worse,
introduce many new variables that degrade quality and even
compromise consistent performance
Parts from Bins or Lists. Do not pick parts from any
part bin in the factory or any entry on an "approved parts list" because
most of those are still there for legacy parts, which have obsolescence
challenges. And even if you pick a part value that is used on
current products, you may pick a duplicate part number, which may
not be as available as the most common part number.
Inherently scarce parts. Do not base research on “rare Earth” elements
or single-source suppliers or availability only from one country. And to
avoid resistance later, avoid materials that have regulatory challenges or
could be toxic to people or the
Rather, select parts from standard parts lists (Section
have been approved for new product designs.
If not already done, you will have to create standard parts lists for
your research hardware,
especially for any that may have availability problems..
Rescue Parts. Do not tune a design or
rescue something that is not working with unusual parts with many
values. like shims (often done in .001" increments), resistors
(from racks of 1 ohm increments), crystals (with whatever frequency that
makes it work), coils (with whatever number of windings that makes it work),
obsolete component packaging (e.g. lead-through parts when products are
now manufactured on Surface Mount Technology equipment), or any other
unusual parts or obsolete technology.
Rather, make your design robust enough to work with
readily available standard parts
that can be automatically assembled and soldered.
Questionable Sources. Do not pick parts from hobby
shops, hobby part sites, lab equipment catalogs (that have vast
inventories of non-production parts, or surplus warehouses (which has been
done in high-tech areas!).
Rather, work with your Purchasing Agents to find good
parts from their best suppliers
If you can’t make it
work with easily available parts from good suppliers, the research may not be feasible.
The very first experiments or proofs-of-principle must be based on tolerances that
are routinely achievable in production environments. If not done right,
products will always be unnecessarily too costly and hard to build because tolerances are
so hard to loosen later, The root cause of this is the common
temptation to do whatever it takes to make one proof-of principle “work,”
so .they specify tight-tolerance parts. This
brings them immediate acclaim, but will doom the product’s chances for cost effective
Optics and Systems Needing Precise Alignment. Most research
efforts for optics and lasers prove it will work on a precision ground
marble slab with precision mounting blocks for all the mirrors and lenses,
which are tediously adjusted until it "works." If that is just
thrown over the wall to manufacturing, the "product" would have (a) many
tight tolerances specified for all key dimensions and (b) onerous, slow,
difficult, and costly alignment procedures with high skill demands (next
Rather, the architecture should be optimized to provide
the necessary tolerances at the least cost with the least skill demands.
This can be accomplished with Guideline P14 (in Section 9.2 in the
DFM book), which shows how to fabricate many
dimensions at tight tolerances by laying out the architecture so that
all dimensions can be machined on one part in one setup
(one chucking) on a multi-axis machine tool, like the first illustration
on the Flexible Manufacturing article at:
However, this must be optimized in the architecture stage to ensure all
the critical dimensions are on one part.
If you can’t make it
work with achievable tolerances,, the research may not be feasible.
Similarly, the other half of doing "whatever it takes” is to use highly skilled
technicians, who pride themselves at being able to make anything work, even unmanufacturable designs. The
result is that such designs will have low quality, slow throughput, and may not
work consistently without the original skill levels, which would keep cost high.
For example, instead of designing the usual hard-to-build
welded machine frames that
have high skill demand, design assemblies of parts that are automatically
machined on CNC machine tools and then assembled precisely and rigidly by
various DFM techniques, as described at the following page. An added bonus
is that such a frame can be designed to be a back-ward compatible "drop in"
replacement for current products. If this is done first,
it can actually help fund the research and then become the basis for
the proof-of-principle. All of this is described at:
http://www.design4manufacturability.com/steel-reduction-workshop.htm , which
has many illustrated examples.
If you can not make it
work with high skill,, the research may not be feasible.
Widely Available Processing.
The very first experiments or proofs-of-principle must be based on widely
available processing equipment, like ordinary CNC machine tools. Needing
unusual, extra precise, or custom-made machine tools or processing equipment
will raise costs, show deliveries, and even hamper scalability.
If you can only build it
on ordinary machine tools, the research may not be feasible.
Concurrent Engineering should start
early to ensure that research will be manufacturable and scalable (Chapter 2). The
web-page on Scalability shows how to use concurrent engineering to design scalable
products. This would prevent the above problems, but will be precluded if
research is done in isolation in universities or research labs and then
thrown-over-the-wall to “industry” or, worse, to offshore factories, who will
just “build to print” -- whatever is on the prints.
Paul Horn, who oversees research at IBM
says: “Everything we do is aimed at avoiding a ‘handoff’ -- there is no
‘technology transfer.’ It is a bad phrase at IBM.” Research teams stay with
their ideas all the way through to manufacturing.".
Conclusions on Time and Resources:
Doing all of the above may take a little more time and effort up-front, but will
avoid many more times the months, and resource-hours later trying to fix the
design with changes after so much is "cast in concrete" and
Conclusions on Cost. If
research is done "on the cheap" with inadequate "seed money" or trying to
getting venture capital funding with anything that "works, the result will most
likely be lost investments at the
“Valley of Death” quoted above.
Implementation: Even before this is incorporated into the
company product development process, all of this can be implemented
immediately by a project in its own microclimate, (introduced in
Section 11.7.2) in project "obeya" rooms (Section 2.7.2 in
the DFM book).
After research has taken all this into account, then the product design
will be much more successful designing products for manufacturability,
low-cost, and high-quality, as taught in the most effective
product development seminars.
Consequence of not doing this:.
If all the above
is not done proactively in the research phase, then un-manufacturable
proofs-of-principle or prototypes will then have to be commercialized
which preserves the research "crown jewels"
and then re-designs everything around it for manufacturability, as shown at
See Commercialization clients listed
near the bottom of:
In customized seminars
and webinars, these principles are presented in the context of your
company amongst designers implementers, and managers, who can all discuss
feasibility and, at least, explore possible implementation steps
customized workshops, brainstorming sessions
apply these methodologies to your most relevant products, operations, and supply
copyright © 2018 by
David M. Anderson
Book-length web-site on Half Cost Products:
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[Half Cost Products site] [Standardization
article] [Mass Customization article]
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