While intellectual property (IP) can be incredibly valuable, it can lose an awful lot of market viability if the product simply can’t be produced. Design for manufacturing (DFM) is the concept of developing and designing parts for efficient and cost-effective manufacturing. The end goal is to create a better product at a lower cost.
Seems simple enough.
But, DFM needs to weigh a number of factors and possibilities in order to optimize the process of developing a product. DFM has also changed over the years to consider our globalized society and the ever-evolving market, which has tended toward more customized products as of late.
Product design and development needs to consider the entire product lifecycle in order to be properly designed for manufacturability. For instance, consider how the part needs to be made – CNC, injection molding, SLM, or any variety of specialty processes and assemblies. Getting to know the manufacturing processes necessary for a product is essential to understanding how to design the part(s) properly.
As design engineering has become overwhelmingly connected with the digital world, we’ve seen design for manufacturability become more of a challenge. This challenge comes in two flavors: separation from the physical process and the fast expansion of an abstract supply chain.
Supply chains have become complex webs of interconnected organizations, working together to unite materials, components, and parts for delivery to an end user or customer. This complexity has driven a separation of design engineers from the process of sourcing. An engineer may spec components from certain sources, but finding efficient and inexpensive means that sourcing is often left up to a specialist after the part or assembly is designed.
Sandy Cox, the CEO of SLC Consulting Group and a former engineer and supply chain director in the semiconductor industry said, “I really would love to see design engineers work on a manufacturing floor and/or in logistics. And manufacturing people work in design and engineering. The more we can cross-pollinate people in these different roles, the more we’re gonna share this learning and simplify the DFM process.”
Contemporary engineering practices often have designers in office spaces. Similar to expanding supply chain access, the digital revolution has afforded companies the ability to keep engineers focused on doing what their degrees have empowered them to do. Even if manufacturing hasn’t been outsourced, many engineers don’t walk the factory floor or communicate with machine operators, which leads to a disparagement in knowledge about the manufacturing process.
Design engineering has become arguably more conceptual than hands-on. 3D printers and small-scale machining have helped bring inexpensive prototyping into the office, but most production is hardly seen by the engineers that develop the part or product.
When asked about what has led to the growing need of design for manufacturability, Mike Tummillo, Co-Founder at Prismier, said, “There’s a massive number of students coming out of academia with mechanical engineering degrees, but the unfortunate thing for the industry at large is the lack of ability to physically see manufacturing. They don’t have a chance to walk a plant, walk a facility, walk a machining, stamping or molding plant.”
Tummillo explained that there is a challenge for businesses like his to navigate the need for DFM. Often organizations will bring a designed part and it simply can’t be manufactured as is. “That’s a dance in our industry because of how much time and effort we put forward. We like to say we’re paid to make parts, but there’s a big overlap. Through the years, we’ve identified the potential time-sucks and put design for manufacturability and design for assembly efforts there.”
Assist 2 Develop hosts open innovation challenges that can help put the proper knowledge-base at your fingertips for product development and DFM. Using open innovation challenges allows firms to discover innovative ideas or gauge potential candidates’ experience with DFM before hiring, but it also gives recent grads and engineering students a chance to gain experience with DFM. It turns into a win-win-win for the candidate, the firm, and organizations like Prismier because it helps to level the playing field of knowledge.
While the simple solution would appear to be that engineers just need to be on the factory floor more often, it isn’t quite that simple. Many companies have a vested interest to keep engineers doing engineering. This effort might make sense from a payroll standpoint, but it silos different parts of an organization and leads to a sunk cost fallacy. When companies look at the bottom line, there isn’t value in having an engineer anywhere near production, but the cost sunk in allowing engineers to roam the floor isn’t wasted.
The first step in DFM comes from the basic concept of, “How will I make this part?” This idea of making the physical part needs to be taken into consideration early in the design process. Obviously, things adapt and change as the design evolves, but considering manufacturing early in certain to save time and/or money down the road.
Getting familiar with manufacturing processes will make consideration early-on in the design simpler. We can’t all be experts in every facet of product development, let alone adding expertise in production and supply chain. That’s why a number of CAD and engineering software companies have already started prioritizing communication throughout their suites.
Mike Buchli, Partner Sales Manager Expert at 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS, said, “CAD is there to design and validate, but design for manufacturability requires more than just design. It isn’t about just putting together a bill of materials and sending it off… to properly design for manufacturability, you need communication and collaboration throughout the design and development process.”
Buchli continued, “A lot of people might see something like the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform as just another CAD in the cloud software, but being in the cloud is about communication. Design for manufacturability is about getting to that collaboration and leveraging all the metadata that is available at all levels of the design process.”
Both Buchli and Cox agreed that there is not one-size-fits-all, but there always tends to be value in considering production and supply chain when developing a part. This consideration isn’t just about finding components or considering where it will be machined or molded. Looking for ways to create universality amongst varying products can save time, money, and even help future-proof elements of the design.
Cox explained, “If you start with considerations for manufacturability at the beginning of the design process, you give yourself so many options for future development. What’s more, you can’t go back to fix issues, so preparing for the future can save a product line. For instance, if you’re doing government contracts or anything medical, things like that require qualification timelines that are long and arduous. Once you’ve already designed a part and put it into manufacturing… if you have to go back and re-engineer it, you will never find that opportunity cost to go back and do it. You have to do it from the beginning.”
Mastering the world of digital engineering is essential to properly adding DFM because it empowers access and communication for the parties involved. Buchli explained that giving collaborators, wherever they might be in the product life cycle, visibility means they can provide insights early and often.
“Design for manufacturability means considering everything from initial design to supply chain to factory floor setup,” Buchli said. “The impact of changes can be reduced when things are communicated early and often – it becomes a very circular process.”
The digital world is important, it’s also necessary to get to some form of production prototyping as quickly as possible. Having hands on a part helps to simplify quality checks, and production prototyping gives a glimpse into the manufacturing itself.
Prismier does a lot of work with sheet metal, and Tummillo said, “I cannot advocate more to the value of seeing the manufacturing processes firsthand. It’s one thing on a Zoom call for me to say to an engineer, ‘That hole is too close to the edge.’ When you can physically see the hole get stretched into an egg shape, it helps drive home the understanding of the material and how the manufacturing process works.”
Nobody can be an expert at everything. That’s why a combination of collaboration and hands-on exploration of production can mean massive cost and time savings throughout the product life cycle. Prismier and Assist 2 Develop have formed a partnership to help bridge the gap between need and expertise – Assist 2 Develop can get the engineering knowledge to solve your challenge and Prismier can help get prototypes manufactured in as little as 48 hours. Taking ideas and leveraging the expertise of design and manufacturing minds means a faster time to market, and being more efficient once you’re there.
Engineers and manufacturers are notoriously risk-averse, and for good reason. There is a certain twist of irony that many resist the concept of design for manufacturability. Often, there is hesitation to change because change often means risk, but time and again, design for manufacturability has shown to be less risky. Upfront costs tend to inhibit many businesses from having a design for manufacturability mindset, but more often than not, that becomes a sunk cost fallacy.
“Making the consideration of design for manufacturability early means you might give up a couple dollars in cost, but that is nothing compared to the cost of a poor design,” Cox said.
Design for manufacturability adds a sense of universality to your product portfolio. Even small businesses will find the ability to develop new products or pivoting current products to be a more nimble process when manufacturing is considered early on.
DFM can be considered in a range of spaces too, which means you don’t need to change every facet of your business overnight. Something as minor as streamlining your workholding in a mill can shave seconds off of a cycle to save time and money. Using collaborative software to connect manufacturing partners to engineers means you can make adjustments before the prototype is ever ordered. And, DFM helps to future-proof the production of your designs so it’s easy to make adjustments and adapt to changing technology and adding automation. Understanding and leveraging design for manufacturability will also have a big role to play in the future of production. As additive manufacturing grows in capability, the landscape of “digital manufacturing” is becoming more and more a reality.
Ric Fulop, the CEO of Desktop Metal, told ZDNet, “We set up our global trade system where people charge tariffs when things go in and out of places. And what additive disrupts is it creates a new modality to ship products. Today you ship things by air, land, and sea, and in the future, you’ll ship them digitally and produce them locally. And you could mass customize to a local environment.
That’s a huge borderless production arc of growth that probably would take 30, 40 years to really pan out. But it’s in the beginning stages, and it’s massive. The ability to send things digitally and print them locally, I think that you will have more final assembly in goods locally to market. The good news is that (additive) creates a lot of efficiency in terms of the way that products operate. They’re lighter weight, they’re cleaner manufacturing, there’s less waste. And it opens up the possibility to re-shore.”
As the barrier of entry to production continues to get lower (thanks to technology like 3D printing), the need for DFM will grow exponentially. Manufacturing is becoming more customized and unique, which means that more firms and small businesses will need to take on production for themselves, and that means leveraging design that optimizes the manufacturing process.
Every situation is different, but when you design for manufacturability, the end goal is efficiency and saving money. Developing products with manufacturing in mind can make automation simpler, diversify your supply chain, and make outsourcing simpler – not to mention getting future iterations to market faster. Design for manufacturability is important to creating value and efficiency now, but it may very well be vital to future growth of any manufacturing or production business.