Brainstorm: Designing New Technology
What are the most important factors to consider when developing a new product?
Dan Cronch, 3M Company, www.3m.com
Product engineers must take dozens of factors into account when designing a new product. Those factors vary widely from industry to industry and product to product. But a handful of common traits mark any good design:
Builds on core technologies: The best designs spring from a company’s well of knowledge and expertise. By building on proven designs, companies can leverage past investments in product development to create entirely new products. For example, 3M MDR (mini Delta ribbon) connectors marry two core 3M technologies: IDC (insulation displacement connectors), invented in the 1960s, and ribbon cable, which was born from 3M laminating and film technologies. Since its introduction in 1988, the MDR took on a life of its own, moving from its early adoption as a standard connector for PC peripherals, such as printers and scanners, to its use in certain flat panel display specifications, to its application today in CameraLink machine vision camera systems. 3M designers continue to find new and innovative uses for the MDR in areas such as medical devices, medical imaging and homeland security systems.
Cost effectiveness: Electronic component manufacturers are constantly feeling the push from customers for lower cost solutions. And we still like to make a profit. Cost effectiveness is essential to good design. Minimizing the amount of materials in the product and the number of manufacturing processes are key to cost effectiveness. Think simplicity.
Extendibility: A good design can be easily modified or enhanced to create derivative products, squeezing additional value from your design work. Again, the 3M MDR is a good example. 3M makes hundreds of different MDR connectors with different mounting styles, pin counts and performance levels. However, the basic components are essentially the same. Therefore, 3M is able to stock the raw components and manufacture specific products as needed, which maximizes design investment while minimizing inventory and manufacturing costs.
Environmentally friendly: RoHS laws have forced electronic component manufacturers to rid their products of harmful substances. And one thing’s for sure: environmental laws will only get tougher. Save yourself the hassle of redesigning and incorporate ecologically sound concepts into the design of new products from the get-go. These days, going green makes good business sense. And, it’s the right thing to do.
Jim Pelletier, Essential, www.essential-design.com
In today’s competitive global market, success is predicated on developing products quickly and cost effectively. Yet merely delivering a technical solution at a competitive cost rarely leads to market success. Reexamining some common assumptions at the beginning of a project can lead to better results and a higher chance of business success.
As engineers and product developers, we may assume that our amazing new technology or our long list of new features is enough to make our product stand out and succeed. We believe that we know what our users want and how they intuitively and emotionally interact with a product. Because we are so intimately familiar with our product’s features and functionality, we can overcomplicate the product by adding too many components or by making it too complex for the user. Experience has taught us that these premises are seldom a recipe for a successful product development process. Above all else, the most successful new products are heavily influenced by a comprehensive understanding of the end-user.
Before establishing our product definition, we should seek to clearly answer the following questions:
By engaging potential users very early in the development process, we can answer these questions using a number of techniques: through one-on-one interviews; by observing their behaviors in the appropriate environments of use; and through collaborative research techniques such as Velcro-modeling, collaborative sketching, and scenario mapping. Gathering these insights into the minds and behaviors of our customers will best position us to define an appropriate set of product requirements, thus developing a product that is much more likely to thrive in the marketplace.
Keith Teichmann, ITT Interconnect Solutions, www.ittcannon.com
There are several factors to consider when developing a new product, but far and away VOC (voice of customer) is the most important consideration. Whether it is size, electrical specifications, versatility in functionality or a combination of various factors, the bottom line is the product has to speak directly to what the customer wants.
Yet meeting VOC requirements isn’t simply implementing the customer’s stated parameters, but also taking that further and delving into factors that may be hidden or perhaps unknown to the customer. Providing solutions that are innovative as compared to the other solutions available on the market ensures added value for the customer. The key is to get the customer to say “I never thought of it from that perspective.”
For example, both a military and medical customer were having performance issues with the use of existing small, circular connectors. All standard circular connector solutions didn’t receive overwhelmingly positive results for these applications, bringing the challenge of providing an alternative component not yet developed. The answer was in the form of a miniature breakaway connector with a spring probe pin/pad contact system, which solved the misalignment and signal integrity issues and allowed for easy cleaning in field applications where contaminants were present.
The other consideration is when a product is targeted to a specific application but has the potential to become a next generation standard product platform. This transition is driven by the component’s capability to reach a number of customers in a broach reach of markets. For example, what began as a custom solution for a military and medical customer is now in development for a complete circular product line to reach industrial and commercial applications as well. The development of the new product and subsequently the complete product line is substantiated by the initial custom “wins.”