- Ben Seaman
Product Design from Concept to Production
Updated: Mar 21
Many people asked the background process of product design, so I would like to share with you my experiences in both large fortune 500 and small companies. Having designed hundreds of products spanning every industry out there (Aerospace, IoT, Telecom to Audio). The fundamentals end goal of having a quality product designed in a timely manner. The new product design timeline typically spans ~1 year in consumer product to 3-5 years in aerospace. During the process many trade offs between customers/marketing expectations to what is achievable within the current engineering environment (cost/schedule).
1st step is the Industrial design / concept phase where the marketing department discusses with customers, market trends and internal teams to create a product concept proposal. This proposal should indicate the marketing opportunity, development cost and expected market acceptance/fit including ROI. It is always imperative to follow Steve Jobs' technique of simple, elegant and user friendly.
2nd stage is the Preliminary design phase where the mechanical and electrical designers simulate and create the early concept hardware, software and product drawings for the prototype. An early prototype design allows the team to iterate and improve the design and perform early validation testing. The electronics are made using quick turn assembly by hand and mechanical parts are often 3D printed. In Aerospace or other regulated industries requirements and traceability documentation are required which start from the system level down to the detailed hardware/software/mechanical/test hierarchy. The purpose of these requirements are to ensure complete coverage of design implementation down to test in phase 4 (verification)
3rd stage is the Detailed design phase where the prototypes are tested by hardware and further simulations and fine tuning occurs. Often this phase will take months as the design needs to be perfect for future production. It is imperative that the design meets the expected results and things like manufacturability to be completed. In detailed design phase we are looking more in detail at power integrity, signal integrity, design robustness, tolerance/six sigma and assembly processes. Critical design reviews are completed by all disciplines to ensure the design has complete coverage of design intention, DFM, DFT and accuracy/quality. It is 10-100 times more costly as you progress to manufacturing to correct any defects later. Quality designs are paramount for our clients.
4th stage is Verification and validation phase. The goal is to create the actual 1st design verification sample and do complete full system testing. This is where All production tooling and processes are verified. If the device is a powered one you will have various industry standard testing to complete such as FCC/CSA/UL/CE for consumer products and DO-160G/MIL-STD for Aerospace. A complete review is completed to ensure all the system and it's use cases/requirements have been tested accordingly.
5th stage is the most satisfying/nervous state of a product designer. New Product Introduction is the start of the first formal production run. Typically you keep this production run 30 to 100 units to ensure proper quality control mechanisms are in place and complete audits are completed. Continuous improvement in production systems are instituted to ensure 100% quality and efficiency.
Obviously, most of these stages have many sub tasks but overall this is the reason why product design development can be costly and take a lot of hard work. Teamwork between all disciplines and reviews are critical at each stage of the design.
Next time you pick up a product stop and think about how much engineering design and marketing to create a product. Oftentimes we forget and take the simplest of things for granted such as a simple click of buying a product of the internet. As a product designer, there is no greater joy than having people enjoy your products so ensure you leave reviews and comments to help validate their hard work.