Design meets manufacturing for product magic

One of the most positive developments of recent times has been the increased focus on delivering great user experiences through products. As complex products, such as business software, communications and computing devices, found a wider audience, they became easier to use, as companies invested huge sums of money. money in this effort. Companies like Apple have pioneered better industrial design to make products that are both beautiful and functional.


Compare the fun of unboxing an iPhone or downloading an intuitive app like Instagram with the experience of trying to assemble furniture in one of your favorite stores. Unlike user experience, “manufacturing experience” leaves a lot to be desired.

This is due to a fundamental and long-standing flaw in the product development process: design and manufacture have long been treated as two distinct and mutually exclusive stages in a product’s lifecycle. The design thinks about the beauty and simplicity for the user of the product and not enough about the simplicity and efficiency of the process required to make the product.

My colleagues who have worked on the front lines in consumer product manufacturing plants often tell stories of designers who took offense at the mere mention of collaborating with process engineers, suggesting that manufacturing stakeholders might ‘tamper with design “. Because of these silos, the products assembled sub-optimally – they take longer to produce, cost more, and have more flaws in the process.

Fortunately, everything is about to change. We are in the midst of a cultural change in which the two disciplines converge for a sum far greater than its parts. This change, driven by advances in manufacturing technology that provide designers and manufacturers with the tools to get information to the right people at the right time, will have a significant and positive impact on a company’s bottom line and bottom line.

What was missing?

There are three main reasons why the silos between design and manufacture have persisted for so many years. First, designers and manufacturers have different goals: designers focus on user-friendliness, and manufacturers focus on repeatability and scalability. By pursuing their own set of goals, design engineers in particular do not see the value in prioritizing the manufacturing experience as much as the user experience, nor do they recognize how much better the product outcome would be. On the manufacturing side, this misalignment of goals is compounded by long-standing labor shortages within the industry, resulting in intentionally small teams and few (if any) dedicated people to ensure maintenance. collaboration, success and profitability of both parties. As Design-For-Manufacture (DMF) roles begin to emerge in the industry, it is still seen as either a niche role or a “vanity hire” specific to deep-pocketed manufacturers.

Second, it’s a problematic mindset around manufacturing. The fabrication has long been considered too opaque, complicated, and intimidating for anyone on the outside to attempt to deal with. As a result, hiring practices have long prioritized functional expertise (the ability to manage machines) over important soft skills (the ability to collaborate cross-functionally or to think critically about synergies and opportunities beyond. competence of an individual). To borrow from one of my favorite books, Harry Potter, the making seems to be populated by Dark Arts Ministers – people who are deeply skilled in mysterious ways of making things appear and making problems go away.

Finally, the constraints inherent in manufacturing have limited the industry’s ability to harness the full potential of advanced technology. Until now, manufacturing has been hardware-centric, defined by large and expensive machines with limited flexibility. Other industries – logistics for example – have benefited from the injection of software and data to make them both transparent and flexible. Manufacturing needs a way to help machines be more visible, intelligent, and pivot when needed.


What changed?

Twenty years ago, the semiconductor industry underwent a major paradigm shift that resulted in a fundamental shift in the way basic electronic components are built. They linked design and engineering to the means of manufacture. The result has been an industry that constantly advances process technology and amazes with innovation in the types of chips that can be manufactured.

With a proliferation of advanced technologies within manufacturing, such as machine learning, computer vision, and simulation, a similar data-driven change can be enabled in everyday product development. By imagining a layer of intelligence at each phase of the manufacturing process, we are now able to provide designers with specific and relevant information, such as which components to use or specific dimensions of screw holes, that will ensure a start. optimal production process. at the first step. Just as Hogwarts trains new wizards to unleash the power and potential of their magical abilities, these technological advancements unleash the ability of manufacturing to be smarter, more efficient, and more productive than ever before. More importantly, this technological change allows humans – from design engineers to manufacturing experts – to collaborate with each other for mutually beneficial results.


Fortunately, manufacturers no longer sleep on these advances. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need for supply chain resilience to the fore and triggered a dramatic increase in the adoption of advanced technologies in factories: At the onset of the pandemic, the supply of equipment automation increased 147% over the same period. last year.

Who does it benefit from?

Ultimately, close collaboration between design and manufacturing is in everyone’s best interest. For businesses, getting assembly instructions at step one saves them time and money because multiple cycles aren’t spent iterating on different releases. Data insight built into the design phase helps achieve a smoother and more efficient assembly process, resulting in improved productivity and efficiency. Products are coming to market faster, and businesses can respond to customer feedback and new demands with ease and speed. As a bonus, it also helps companies meet their sustainability goals by reducing scrap of defective parts.


For consumers, smart design that informs smart assembly means better quality products. Sustainability is increasingly important to Gen Z and Gen Y in particular (those aptly dubbed ‘green generation’), not only from a practical standpoint, but also from a sustainability standpoint: sustainable products produce less environmental waste at a time when people generate an alarming 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste per year.

The flexible assembly also allows for greater product customization options, such as replacing an LCD screen with a different color or changing the buttons on a video game controller. In fact, the move away from personalization over the past decade has been just a product of our manufacturing limitations. We’re a company that prefers everything that’s personalized, and we’re finally about to get it right.

While it’s hard to predict the inflection point, the pandemic has accelerated a design and manufacturing convergence that I think we’ll see adopted among the world’s biggest brands within the next five years. Ultimately, no matter when this reality comes to fruition, no one can claim that it creates magic for everyone involved.


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