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Design facilitation: the best idea for making your great idea succeed

Congratulations. You have an idea for a breakthrough part that is needed during surgery. Or maybe your company has considered developing a vital component for the aeronautics industry.You may even be at the initial stage of creating a part desperately needed in disease research that could possibly lead to new cures. That’s the good news. But if your company lives and breathes innovation, the potential issue is that even the best ideas do not necessarily equate to manufacturing success.

So, what should you do next with your idea?

The ideal time to think about how to engineer this new product to be cost effective and achieve manufacturing success is during the initial phases of design (maybe sooner). It’s commonly referred to as design for manufacturability, or design facilitation. Including this step in new product development from day one is important, not only because of what it delivers, but also because of what it helps you avoid. Without design facilitation, you could experience future difficulties that include: finding solutions to replace the wrong material choice, figuring out another way to machine a part to spec, or you could be hindered by a manufacturing process that doesn’t make sense, or money for your company.

In short, the quickest way to turn the best new product idea into a manufacturing obstruction is to leave out ‘engineering insight’ during the design phase. Now that you know what design facilitation helps you avoid, let’s talk about what it delivers.

Developing solutions to problems you don’t even know you have.

Taking any product from an idea on paper to manufacturing reality requires removing one thing: guesswork. After all, you can’t afford to leave anything to chance or try and develop a product that you’re ‘pretty sure’ has all the problems worked out. This is especially true when there may potentially be millions of dollars at stake or even human lives in the equation, if you’re developing a critical part for a medical device or airplane avionics.

Let’s use our company, Laser Light Technologies, as an example on how effective design facilitation is for ensuring part manufacturability.

Laser Light’s niche is high-technology laser micromachining. Translation: we make a big deal out of small things such as our ability to drill holes down to 3µm and cut out shapes in material that is smaller than 1µm in size. There is no room for error in the parts we micromachine for medical devices, life sciences and microelectronics. That’s why we provide design facilitation services as the ideal fail safe for ensuring our clients’ expectations are met, their parts are built to spec and function as designed, and are cost effective to manufacture.

Over the last thirty years, we’ve heard all too many accounts of companies putting the cart before the horse and then having to attempt to reengineer their way out of a design flaw during the manufacturing stage. We avoid those costly pitfalls and dramatic slowdowns because our engineers are brought in to collaborate with our clients during the early stages of technical product design and development.This is a time where we learn exactly what the part is supposed to do,provide better design alternatives if possible, select the right laser system for drilling or cutting that material to the precise specifications, as well as select the best material. Why is something like material selection so important before the design is even completed?

It’s a good question that has a good answer:

Say a client came to Laser Light with the material already in hand and said, “We want you to laser cut this to these exact specs for use as a medical stent.” Sounds doable in their mind, but our engineers bring in reality and begin to explain that a laser cutting or drilling solution is not conducive to that material, or worse, the material doesn’t meet FDA regulations for the intended end use. Who knew? We did.

Now what do you do with the material? You can’t manually manipulate it due to cost, plus it’s a solution that never delivers the precision needed for a part utilized in surgery (not to mention the machining is not consistent from part to part). What happens next? The material will have to be scrapped and replaced with the correct material that our engineers would have selected from day one during the design phase (and it would be a solution that delivered manufacturability). We realize design facilitation requires an upfront cost that may be tough to budget before a single part has even been made. On the flip side, the cost to fix a mistake during actual production can come with an even higher price tag and push back your product delivery date by months, or even years.

Design manufacturability makes sense, and money.

It’s obvious Laser Light is a big proponent of design facilitation not just for manufacturability, but for cost effectiveness, too. That’s why we also see value in developing things such as part prototypes to ensure manufacturability, cost effectiveness, the best manufacturing process,the ideal laser system, all part parameters and configurations are correct, power and gas settings are perfect and much more. The list is lengthy, but we believe, as do our clients, that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

In a 2015 article by Brian Graves of Xcentric Mold & Engineering, he writes, “Ignoring design for manufacturability can have disastrous consequences. By the time a product concept gets through the design phase and into the testing/prototyping phase, up to 80% of the budget for that product has been committed. The material costs have been identified, the tooling costs are known and any assembly costs are also worked into the budget by then. And once it has been committed, it is very expensive to turn back to change the design.

Consider the Rule of 10. At each subsequent phase of the development process, it will cost up to 10 times more to find and repair a defect in the design. What this means is that any error or defect will exponentially add cost the further down the road it gets made apparent. So, if your product costs $Y at the design phase, it will cost 10 x Y to repair any defects at the testing/prototyping phase or 100 x Y at the production phase. It adds up quickly. One mistake in the concept or design phase can ruin a product launch.”

That’s is a very insightful view into the importance of design facilitation. This is exactly why Laser Light Technologies is such a big proponent of this service that we recommend to our clients. One final note, to all those companies about to take on the challenging, but, when done right, rewarding journey of developing and manufacturing a new part or product: leave nothing to chance. Because what you don’t know can hurt your chances for manufacturing success and profitability.