When creating a new product design, it is important to have the concept fully fleshed out and any research or documentation available to be complete to help reduce cost, improve time to market and have a functional product. The new product design process typically consists of the following stages:
Typically a new product design starts with a concept. This may be a modification of something that already exists, or something completely new. As the concept is developed, everything that is possibly desired during brainstorming should be included. You may decide to phase in functionality over time and releases, but having that vision up front is helpful.
During the requirements phase, the ideas created during the concept phase are broken down into terms that engineers can use to design the product. The requirements phase is also where the desire to have full functionality is met with the reality of cost and schedule, then where tradeoffs are typically made. Part of the requirements definition could also be to develop a partial product as a starting point for market research and feedback.
Once the requirements have been established, it’s time to generate the product design. Depending on the product, this may include electrical design/schematic capture, parts placement, routing, mechanical design, and/or software. In a perfect world, the requirements would have captured everything, but since that’s usually not the case, it is important to keep communications open between everyone on the product team throughout this process, making agreed upon changes as needed.
Depending on the complexity of the product, one or more review cycles should be completed to allow the project team the opportunity to make modifications and changes. It’s important to have a general consensus that the project is well thought out and is feasible to manufacture prior to building anything.
Once the design is complete, it’s time to buy parts and build a few prototypes. Depending on cost and test goals, this may be one or two products or several hundred (typical is 5-10). Building a few products allows them to be tested and modified as necessary prior to building a production run. Often, mechanical parts are machined instead of having a tool made. This is more expensive for a few parts, but is usually more cost effective than redesigning mechanical tools for molds. Typically, prototypes will operate fairly well after a few modifications are made, but will require a second PCB fabrication, parts changes, or changes to mechanical parts. Due to this, only enough materials to build the prototypes are typically purchased. The prototypes can usually be modified to function properly, but would not be sufficient to sell to customers.
LAB AND FIELD TESTING
The prototypes should be tested in the lab to ensure the product is functioning and performing as designed. This would include flying probe testing on a PCB, functional tests, environmental testing, drop tests, MIL-SPEC, FCC certification support, etc. Once this step is done, a field test should be done which is basically using the products and getting feedback to make sure the concept was optimized. IT IS IMPORTANT to let anyone who will be field testing know limitations of the product and what to expect in the final design. This may include unpainted or weak cases, known performance deficiencies that will be fixed, and other aspects typical of a prototype. Additional changes can be made at this point, which may require additional engineering or tooling changes.
Once all testing has been successfully completed and any design changes are made, it’s time for a full production run. In most cases a small run of 100 or so pieces is done to make sure everything is flowing well, then the balance is produced. This includes having any final mechanical molds made, parts procured, PCBs fabricated, units assembled, and any testing that may be required.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this blog will provide a real-life scenario to give more context to the process.