6 Design Tips to Improve Manufacturing Efficiency

Dimitrios Matsoulis


It's very common in industry to have existing facilities serve production needs for new products. Existing layout and processes put enormous constraints that can potentially increase costs beyond the limits of planning and market acceptability. Therefore, within the bounds of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), it is important to see design and production together and resolve manufacturing issues before they are even encountered in the manufacturing introduction stage. The following tips are general guidelines that set the foundation for efficient manufacturing.

1. Understand business constraints: existing or new manufacturing facilities

Making a product in a new dedicated line is completely different to using existing facilities.The cost of rearranging machines is too often not a viable option due to prohibitive costs and disruptions to the site. In which case we require some reverse engineering to adapt the design to manufacturing realities and marry the two harmoniously. Starting from a clean sheet of paper for both design and manufacturing is of course the case designers love as it entails more freedom for innovation and creativity.

2. Get manufacturing in the design game

One difficult situation I've encountered as a technical sales manager was when customers asked for customized designs. I had to explain to them the additional costs involved as well as maintenance obstacles at later stages in service life. In the same way, manufacturing professionals have to get involved very early in the design stage in order to provide designers with a realistic picture of what exactly can be realistically achieved. Going back to the drawing board after the realization that a design is unsuitable for production is a very disruptive setback that costs money and leads to a longer route to market introduction.

3. Modularity and optimum flow

We have previously discussed product modularity and how it can work wonders for efficiency. Basically the designer builds in the product (and forcefully to production equipment) many degrees of freedom that allow the core to be standard and features to be added at the very latest stage of production. Product design features and process stages are broken down in small manageable pieces that can be dealt with separately and quickly. Product optimization, reduction of material usage and ease of manufacturing become more attainable targets, while the cost of the basic product is reduced significantly.

4. Reduce the design load

In the same way the design process becomes more efficient and focused in (3) above, overall design load can be reduced by introducing the notion of product families. These all use common product cores supplemented by cosmetic, functional or legislatively binding additions to reach different geographical areas or market segments. For example, similarly sized cars can use the same platform, instrument cluster, console controls, engines and so on, thus limiting design work to body surfaces, seats and accessories.

5. Brainstorm about future developments

By the time we buy a new camera, car or TV, it is common that the manufacturer is already in the advanced design or preliminary testing stage of the next generation. This happens thanks to early brainstorming sessions that aim at never leaving designers in the dark but always providing them with information about market needs and developments, new product generations and the all important manufacturing developments. New processes, materials and methods continuously come into play, providing more design freedom and new product functionality.

6. Smart prototyping

This is a no-brainer and part of the Industry 4.0 transformation. Cheap, fast prototypes from early design stages can reveal lots of improvements in terms of functionality, material usage and overall aesthetic feel. They are a perfect basis on which design and manufacturing can discuss views, especially in terms of how to successfully match the two and be as efficient as possible.

Product design cannot function as a closed box isolated from manufacturing realities. The more information that is exchanged between the two, the more probable it is that a product will attain efficient production with many customization options at limited costs.