Why Prototype DFM Services Are Useful for Product Design at Companies and Firms

prototype DFM services

This post covers why prototype DFM services are helpful for product design at companies and firms. Design for Manufacturing (DFM) services can enormously impact your business. Strategic product design is a continual process of doing business, and design is a company-wide activity that requires well-balanced collaboration among all parties. It comes from top management positions, managers, and engineers, down to low-level workers. Therefore, a company needs to keep its design team in place from when a sketch is ready until well after the product launch.

Disagreements will happen, but the team should expect them. Everyone should contribute to the solution constructively with a mutual understanding of other perspectives. Throughout the design process, the team may need to cross organizational boundaries, to which traditional power relationships will present their hurdles. However, the cost of not trying is much greater, and it endeavors far from effortlessly.

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Design for manufacturing

The poor design creates a domino effect that can make even the most minor production run into a management nightmare and bring manufacture to a grinding halt. Without the Design for Manufacturing (DFM) approach, a company makes itself vulnerable to many production mistakes.DFM integrates process planning and product design into one common activity. The goal is to design a product that is easy to create, at a low cost, and mass-producible.

Its implementation rests on the general assumption that about 70% of the manufacturing cost of a product is determined by design decisions (holistic evaluation of a specific product may yield a lower percentage value), whereas 20% is attributable to production decisions. DFM is often an added-value service provided by Contract Manufacturers (CM), assisting in standardizing the manufacturing process for consistent, cost-efficient products.

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Whether in a large company with its production facility or smaller businesses with the need for CM, the manufacturing equipment must meet the applied standards for safety and have the capacity to yield products in the desired amount within a set timeline. Above all, it must deliver the same level of quality all across the production batch; the outcome of the line is the same as the first, regardless of the amount.

Key DFM questions

  • Does the manufacturer work on the type of products designed?
  • Does it have an in-house capability to handle all the tasks required?
  • Is the manufacturing capacity sufficient for the production volume desired?
  • What is the turnaround time?
  • What procedures, testing, and calibrations are in place for quality assurance?
  • Does it work with reliable suppliers to obtain the necessary raw materials?
  • Can it be expected to manage inventory, spare parts, repair, and accessories?
  • How does it run packaging and shipping?

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The answer to each of those questions impacts the design decision. DFM aims to seek a good balance between types of material and fabrication processes. Final operations like polishing and painting get excluded from DFM works frequently. However, you must account for final tasks like surface-finish requirements and tolerance since they may heavily affect production costs.

Interdependent choices

In most companies of every scale, design has become entangled with bureaucratic hurdles that are perplexed by overspecialization, delays, and fragmentation. For example, an engineering manager tasked to design a single part of an automobile engine may require dozens if not hundreds of approvals– not hundreds of calculations or engineering steps, but signatures from top management levels. If one signature takes three workdays, it will take years to complete the design of just that particular part.

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Each step involves complex options and negotiations over budgets and technical issues. That makes it harder for design engineering specialists to keep up with the timetable. As the product plan evolves, they must face increasingly interdependent design choices; the subsequent decisions have already been conditioned by those already made. It is hard to argue that establishing a product design requires some potentially lengthy decision-making processes, but it should not be unnecessarily longer than need be.

Continuous development in manufacturing technologies expects greater cost-efficiency. In the old days, a mere 5% improvement was considered good enough. Still, now engineers face competition that cuts production costs by half by reducing the product’s subassemblies and the number of components. 


Management concerns

When top-level managerial positions spend most of their time analyzing the current production rather than focusing on new product concept design services, improving budget efficiency is not the highest priority. Profitability increases if the design process can be lower than 70% of production cost while maintaining the percentages from other areas. Based on this general assumption, direct labor accounts for comparably less of the total picture.

Therefore, companies still paying greater attention to this factor mislead themselves regarding cost-efficiency and allow competitors to gain an advantage. In other words, design plays a massive role in affecting manufacturing efficiency and is also a factor that helps determine sales flexibility and marketing strategies. And, of course, in every product decision and the time it needs to make, one can and will be responsible for its performance in the market and future viability.

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Pivotal choices for nothing

Without DFM, 3D product designers work as a separate entities from manufacturing engineers. The design process dictates that the latter has to wait for the former to complete and submit an idea before analyzing manufacturability. Although both professionals work on the same product, each may do the job on different platforms using different approaches. The initial idea seldom works as intended with just about every design process, hence modifications. When a manufacturing engineer asks for a remodel, the product designer has to comply with the request.

It may not be a big deal if the modifications are minor or the product is simple enough. Still, a massive issue arises when essential components such as material or dimensions need to be changed. The problem worsens when the design is for a highly technical product, and those tend to require complex engineering and many refinement steps. Subtle choices made during the design process can impact whether you even need to produce certain materials, electronic adjustments, adhesives, fasteners, and coatings.

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Every close call forces the process another way; an almost complete rework needs another expensive experiment. Design for manufacturability services would unify the otherwise separate works of both professionals right from the start, avoiding unnecessary modifications because the product is all along the process designed for manufacturability by considering the available equipment and capability of the production facility. You can resolve every incompatibility issue during the manufacturing-feasibility analysis with everyone’s collaborative efforts. That said, incompatibility is not the only issue to overcome since the manufacturing industry has evolved over the years. Another subject of interest in DFM is to devise a method of production that helps reduce cost by efficient design.

Some failures

It is not that difficult to imagine a scenario in which DFM would easily prevent failures. Let us say a research scientist in a chemical company spends a year perfecting a process involving gases. This scientist works in the company’s laboratory, operating at atmospheric pressure. When higher management approves the new processing method, a manufacturing engineer helps determine the proper production scale. The engineer determines whether the new process works at atmospheric pressure or higher. Manufacturing facilities never use atmospheric pressure when gases are involved because it requires the facility to maintain more extensive, expensive equipment such as tanks, pumps, and pipes.

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On the other hand, higher pressure is more cost-efficient because it allows the use of smaller equipment. The research scientist has to start over from the beginning. In another industry, an engineer designs a new weapon with infrared homing technology. The weapon has many hi-tech parts, such as mirrors, lenses, power supplies, and motors, and everything is soldered and glued together into a compact unit. During product tests, if the failure rate is higher than expected, engineers suggest using reversible fasteners instead of adhesive and soldering to allow for easier disassembly and field repair.

It sounds like a good idea (even though it increases cost), but the weapon improves significantly. A manufacturing engineer has more reasonable input. However, they design the weapon for single use, so reversible fasteners are unnecessary and too complex for field repair. The second design, which takes real effort and money, is scrapped even though it only needs a better-infrared detector.

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What DFM services can do

Companies can avoid such problems with DFM. For example, an electronic company must fulfill worldwide orders consisting of multiple batches of different units with varying features. Electronic and manufacturing engineers compromise and agree to redesign the products in plug-compatible modules to compensate for diverse sales. Identical enclosures make the manufacturing process more accessible and cost-efficient, allowing the company to build units with many features without changes to the manufacturing equipment. 

Design for manufacturability and assembly begins to play its part as soon as the initial design drawing is made available. The works revolve mainly around re-inventing the product design for a production facility environment rather than the computer simulation of an R&D laboratory. The job description includes a bill of materials, heat transfer analysis, tooling, mold layout, manufacturing system design, and final assembly. Only with proper tools can a design be produced accurately on a large scale, and only with proper technique will the manufacturing equipment cope with production requirements.

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Manufacturability is paramount

Effective DFM needs to start early in the design process before tooling begins. Not only is the timing essential, but the parties involved also determine efficacy, and ideally, this involves all stakeholders, including engineering designers, engineers, contract manufacturers, and suppliers. The objective is to construct a “cross-functional” DFM team competent to challenge the proposed design. They do it that way to look at it from all possible angles, including material, component, system, holistic levels, and so on, following their collective specifications. The goal is to ensure they can manufacture the final approved design and accurately meet all production parameters and constraints.

Decisions made during the DFM work will account for nearly two-thirds of the total production cost, so maintaining good collaborative teamwork focusing on manufacturability is the top priority. Continuous feasibility reviews can prevent subsequent production delays and unexpected expenditures from repeated modifications throughout the designing and tooling phases. Design and manufacturability depend on each other, and DFM figures out the solution for both concurrently. Cross-functional teams provide a realistic analysis from a manufacturing perspective on materials, functionality, mold components, tolerances, operational constraints, tool design, and associated costs. Of particular importance include the following:

  • Identifying potential issues in part geometry may result in poor material performance or call for special tooling features.
  • Evaluation of materials’ physical and chemical properties before, during, and after manufacturing.

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Standardization is essential for better quality control. The DFM team analyzes the design before making the necessary changes to implement a viable standard operating procedure (SOP). With SOP in place, the manufacturing facility (and the company) eliminates additional costs from not investing in production personnel training. An assessment is even more critical to determine whether the product contains tolerances within manufacturing capability. 

Concurrent design approach

Most companies operate in an environment where they do design and manufacturing sequentially rather than concurrently. The traditional design process does not include manufacturability – it has a “prototyping” phase, but a product made from a prototype is not always feasible for mass production. Even if it is, the final design may be highly costly. The sequential approach dictates that manufacturers must wait until a design is released to begin to work, which only prolongs development time and may force companies to miss a market opportunity. Effective DFM works from designs with as few parts as possible (or as many standard parts as possible). They want to assemble the final product by methods within the manufacturer’s capability. A reliable prototype tooling and manufacturing company can care for all your manufacturing needs.

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Working with a DFM service partner

The most cost-efficient way to leverage DFM for new product design is to work with a partner such as CM with an in-house team to manage all the work without relying on third-party providers, except perhaps material suppliers. A good CM should be able to create tooling, build prototypes, and offer small production runs. When they do everything in-house, they understand why DFM is important. The manufacturer focuses on how the prototype looks and how the thousandth unit is as good as the first. It maintains control of all manufacturing processes and is prepared to help engineers avoid design mistakes and collaborate with them from the concept phase to the product launch. 

How Cad Crowd can assist

When you bring your design project to Cad Crowd for professional manufacturing services, you can be sure your project will be protected and receive expert assistance. It’s standard to use NDAs for projects brought to Cad Crowd, and the intellectual property rights go to you. You don’t have to wonder or negotiate about rights and privacy—find the professional that looks like the best fit for the project and let them get to work. Get a free quote today if you’re ready to see what DFMA can do for your project confidentially.