There are so many obstacles in getting a product from concept to shelves for consumer use; design, finding the right partners and funding, manufacturing costs, the validation process, competing patents, and more can all combine to make the consumer product process a fairly intimidating endeavor to undertake. That being said, billions of products have made it to market, so there are definitely chances for success. One of the ways in which we aim to help our clients is to share elements of success that we’ve gleaned from decades in design and engineering, and how to optimize for manufacturing and eventually market success!
As you might infer from above, design is a critical component of the consumer product development process, because it is really the first opportunity to create something awesome (and conversely, avoid making costly mistakes later on as a result of poor design). There are a number of objectives to prioritize when designing a part or a product, such as design for assembly, design for manufacturing, and so on. Aesthetics may be more or less important based on the specifics of the project; function is always important. In most cases, the need to design for affordability is a significant factor and an important consideration on the way to success. Let’s discuss different ways to design a part or piece for affordability.
How to design for affordability in the consumer product development process
- Minimizing parts to the maximum extent possible. Generally, the fewer components there are in a given project, the lower the labor cost to put it together...as well as lower chances of incorrect assembly when 3 parts are used rather than 13. This also means that fewer fasteners are required. Typically, the cost savings from optimization of part assembly considerably exceed the extra costs of mold adjustments and material requirements. Use the KISS method and Keep It Simple in order to meet requirements most effectively. For instance, if snap tabs and fastener locations are done correctly, it’s possible to use only one injection molding tool for a particular assembly. Assess your design for any opportunity to combine functions and thus reduce the final number of parts required for assembly. One good way to get ideas on how to minimize parts is to look at earlier iterations of the same product. Complex tools typically have an origin as simple tools; consider simple mechanisms like levers, gears, and springs and how they may accomplish the same function that multiple parts are currently accomplishing. Bottom line: Minimizing the number of parts in a design will drive down costs, and also decrease chances of improper assembly.
- Utilize commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) parts as opposed to custom parts. This is an important concept for one major reason: you can leverage the work that has already been done by others in terms of capital/equipment, process development, and process validation. Consider that all of the manufacturing equipment has already been invested in, created, and tested. By using COTS equipment where possible, you can save money on costly procedures that have already been accomplished by someone else. You may pay a slightly higher price for a finished product, but it’s unlikely to be more than the costs you would incur by reinventing the wheel! Another potential downside to using COTS equipment is relying on another company’s product; it would be hard to control upward changes in price or decreased production in the future, so these are risks that need to be accounted for. Bottom line: Using COTS equipment is a smart way to leverage the capital and expertise that others have already invested.
- Volume, volume, volume. The manufacturing process is time- and capital-intensive. One of the easiest ways to drive down cost per unit is to manufacture higher numbers...think thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of parts. It is expensive to create, alter, or adjust heavy machinery (as well as the energy required to run manufacturing equipment), so it is important to get the maximum amount of use when you’re paying for time and equipment. Take the injection molding process for example. In many cases, a specific mold must be custom created, which costs money and time. The number of parts required will be a driving factor in what sort of material to use for the mold, which will also impact cost; steel molds cost more than aluminum molds, but will generally last much longer. When a product moves into the production phase, it is even more important to be able to mold as many parts in one shot as possible. Molds for production should also have as many cavities as possible without compromising the quality of the parts produced. In a competitive market, a product must be the best it can be while also being affordable. That is why it is advisable to produce as many parts as possible at one time – because it spreads the setup cost out over more parts, thus leaving you with a lower price per piece. Bottom line: Complex machinery is capital-intensive and time is money. Leverage the equipment’s capacity to make thousands of parts to drive down cost per unit. (Pro tip: Use a design and engineering company that has extensive familiarity with the manufacturing process you are going to use. This ensures that any final design is compatible with the process, and common opportunities for mistakes are mitigated.)
- Reduce weight wherever possible. Excess material means extra cost, so this is definitely an avenue to explore during the design process. Design for affordability must be balanced with design for function - when a particular strength is required, care must be taken to achieve this functionality without also wasting material. Using ribs and gussets to reinforce a product, for example, will save on material consumption, as well as ensuring that the product has uniform wall thickness that is neither too thin nor too thick (which is an important consideration for injection molding in particular).
- Assess which functions can be accomplished with automation rather than labor. In general, labor is expensive (especially in the United States). Design for affordability may require using manufacturing equipment that is located elsewhere in the country, or in another country entirely. This is especially true if the product is going to be distributed or sold elsewhere (to cut down on transportation and shipping costs, which must also be factored into price per unit). Design for affordability also means to seek out automated processes wherever possible.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to mitigate the costs of the manufacturing process, but this is by no means an all-inclusive list. It may not be feasible to manufacture in another country, or perhaps manual labor is required for a particular application, but there are multiple ways to design for affordability that companies, engineers, and inventors can keep in mind.
How can Creative Mechanisms assist organizations with design for affordability?
As mentioned above, design is one of the first critical points of the product development process. Of course, the concept must be a good one to begin with (read more about that here), but product design really sets the tone for success or failure. There are a few characteristics that are helpful to creating the right solution to a complex problem:
- An environment that fosters creativity and problem-solving among a team. Creating an environment where team members can brainstorm and constantly iterate on a solution is key to success. Out-of-the-box thinking can present solutions in unexpected ways. One of the ways Creative Mechanisms fosters this environment is through our U-shaped arrangement and the way our team members interact with each other. We also take great care to hire individuals who are passionate about problem-solving and have the skills and tools necessary to innovate. You can get a better idea of this by reading some of our employee profiles (learn about Michael, Nick, and Ersen, just to name a few).
- Expertise with computer-aided design (CAD) software. CAD is an incredibly important component of the design and engineering world. Our team has proficiency particularly with SolidWorks. We use this software to design solutions, and we then create prototypes for our clients that can be tested, evaluated, changed as necessary, and more. If you would like to learn more about using SolidWorks, read the following blogs:
- A breadth of experience. One of the characteristics that sets our team apart is the breadth of experience we’ve garnered over the years. We have created solutions for clients in the medical device, consumer products, automotive, personal care, toy industry, and more. We pride ourselves on this diversity, and our ability to transfer skills or lessons learned from one project into another. We have brought multiple products to market, and have assisted countless clients with the same. We can lend assistance as consultants, designers, model-makers, and engineers, and we are passionate about finding the best way forward for clients. But don’t take it from us - read some of the Client Testimonials we’ve collected that you can read here.
Creative Mechanisms can help turn your concept into reality
Whether your idea hinges on being functional, aesthetically pleasing, easy to manufacture or assemble, or any number of other characteristics, we may be a great fit for you. Please contact us with any questions - we are eager to earn your business and help you on the path to success!