Bridging the Gap Between Design and Manufacturing

product development

A saying that sums up the difference between design and manufacturing in the field of mechanical engineering is “Anyone can design and conceptualize it; only a handful can fabricate it.”
The main duty of a design engineer is to design and create an assembly or component that works perfectly. While the manufacturer’s job is to ensure consistency in production, the manufacturer’s function is to bring these designs to life. Instead of just trying to make a delicious muffin, their attention is more like a recipe, carefully outlining the ingredients and procedures for baking.
A skilled design engineer must be completely familiar with these manufacturing processes and be able to document them. It’s crucial to approach your assignment with the perspective of a manufacturer, thoroughly recording every step of the procedure.

Design and Manufacturing

Design encompasses the creation of the product’s specifications, including its functionality, appearance, materials, and dimensions. Manufacturing involves the actual fabrication of the product, which includes processes such as machining, molding, assembly, quality control, and packaging.
Design and manufacturing refers to the integrated process of creating, developing, and producing products.
This collaborative approach aims to ensure that the design is not only innovative and functional but also feasible to produce efficiently and cost-effectively. The design and manufacturing processes are closely intertwined, with designers and engineers working in coordination with manufacturing professionals to optimize the product’s design for ease of production, quality, and performance. Effective communication and feedback between these two phases, with design engineers and manufacturing teams working collaboratively to ensure that the final product meets design specifications and is manufacturable within set constraints.

Design manufacturing - design and manufacturing

Understand Both Your Goal and Your Manufacturing Partner’s Perspective

Gain a comprehensive understanding of both your objectives and the perspective of your manufacturing partner. As a design engineer, it’s vital to grasp the broader picture – the entire “muffin,” so to speak. Your role involves close collaboration with stakeholders, making strategic tradeoffs to incorporate your team’s requirements into the design. Furthermore, you must evaluate not only whether you can produce a particular component but also whether you should, and how to ensure its consistent manufacturability.

The concept of “winning” varies significantly between startups and Fortune 500 companies. Startups may concentrate on producing a limited quantity of components to demonstrate feasibility to investors. Conversely, enterprises like Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, and Ford, which manufacture hundreds of thousands of parts, must ensure repeated success in their production processes.

Prototype and Inspect Your Parts

Conduct prototyping and rigorous inspections of your components. Prototyping and assembly activities provide crucial validation throughout the stages required for manufacturing a part with increasing accuracy, effectively bridging the gap between design and manufacturing.

Some mechanical engineers may succumb to what I refer to as “CADitis” (a condition I’ve experienced myself). While designing parts in CAD, it’s easy to zoom in and out, but during this process, one can lose sight of how the design will function in the real world. 3D printing proves exceptionally valuable as it allows for the creation of a few prototypes to accurately assess their dimensions. Occasionally, it becomes necessary to revisit engineering equations, such as those concerning bending stress and moments of inertia. Personally, I now keep a pair of calipers at my desk to conduct spot-checks on the physical reality of my designs. For instance, I might question whether a belt resembles a rubber band and whether it can genuinely support the intended load.

In addition to this, I consistently inspect my parts, a practice that has never backfired, as data is always a critical asset (without data, misinformation can creep in). Typically, I request ten parts and retain two for in-depth inspection to maintain a clear understanding of the quality. If any irregularities arise, I measure the remaining parts to gather more data. Prior to assembly, I take manual measurements, recording each one. I actively search for data points throughout the assembly process that may challenge my preconceived notions, especially when there’s any potential risk of the assembly process causing damage to the part, which could hinder post-assembly measurements.

Many engineers tend to over-specify their parts and assume correctness without inspection. In my approach, I assume a part is incorrect until I can verify its accuracy. This stance arises from past experiences in which components that initially functioned properly later failed, necessitating a thorough examination of specifications, comparisons between design revisions, and a comprehensive analysis of measurement differences. Such investigations typically consume more time than seeking systematic inspections in the initial order, which may involve some time delay but ultimately pays off in terms of efficiency and reliability.

Document Your Process

Maintain a thorough record of your processes. While it might initially seem quicker to rely on memory rather than documenting procedures in a universally understandable format, in larger companies with established procedures, Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.s), and industry standards, this is an imperative practice. It’s not a reflection of an engineer’s capabilities but rather a necessity for the long-term product integrity and the success of the company.

Documentation isn’t solely for personal use; it’s a critical practice to ensure continuity. If you were to depart, the next person in your role needs to understand the journey you undertook. When bridging the gap between design and manufacturing, this paper trail is indispensable, much like the trail of Reeses pieces that guided E.T. home.

As a design engineer, your responsibility is twofold: crafting a design that aligns with business metrics and diligently documenting it. I’ve encountered projects where the initial plan was to produce only 500 parts, but unexpectedly strong market demand required scaling up to 50,000. This level of flexibility is achievable only when procedures are well-documented, and parts are precisely measured, adapting to evolving requirements as necessary.

In certain industries, like aerospace and medicine, safety demands comprehensive documentation. In my extensive experience in these fields, recording your work for team review is non-negotiable, given that perfection is paramount for safety.

I personally believe that a true engineer welcomes critique from team members. It’s not a closed-book exam; it’s about leveraging the expertise within your team.

You can document your processes in an engineering journal or using computer-aided drafting (CAD). In CAD, you can maintain rolling revisions and observe the evolution of your design in accordance with your notes. It need not be overly detailed, but frequent updates are essential to track changes and enable anyone reading it to follow your thought process.

While indispensable for medical and aerospace projects, this practice is beneficial in all domains. In a recent air conditioning unit project, documenting decisions facilitated issue resolution.

Bridging the gap between design and manufacturing necessitates adherence to Good Documentation Practice (GDP). Skipping this crucial step can lead to discontent within your manufacturing team and, inevitably, self-disappointment when the unavoidable “Whoopsie!” occurs. Good documentation simplifies the GDP rulebook (which can be exhaustive) and provides clear guidance on moving forward. It’s not about arguing over semantics; it’s about practicality and efficiency.

Sungplastic Helps with Bridging the Gap between Design and Manufacturing

We covered a variety of 3D printing uses for prototypes and preliminary analyses, but you can also use Sungplastic for CNC DFM analysis to learn more about part constraints. This design and manufacturing analysis might show that some procedures, even though they might be more expensive, can enable the desired design. On the other hand, it might draw attention to how difficult it would be to manufacture the item or how important it would be to use a multi-axis strategy. This study might also clarify any ambiguous elements in your design.

We provide assistance with design experimentation. We can offer services to produce various parts for testing if you are unsure about any particular elements. Additionally, we can help with the production of test pieces for assessing material selections, surface finish options, and all other elements affecting the performance of your design and prototype.

Even before you start an order, our team of engineers and designers is available to answer your questions. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any queries right now or to learn more about our skills and capacities in DFM analysis, injection molding, 3D printing, and CNC machining, prototype manufacturing and rapid prototyping for custom parts.

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