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What do planning a beach vacation & DFM have in common?

It is common for entrepreneurs and small businesses to focus on the product with little regard to how it will be made. A typical approach is to “deal with that later”. People are so focused on seeing their ideal develop that they do not even realize that they are making decisions throughout the process that will affect product performance and cost. By the time they have a fully developed and tested the product, it can be very expensive to return to the design stage to take advantage of design for manufacturing (DFM) opportunities [see also What is DFM?].

Although the application of DFM principles in product development may seem to be an additional or unnecessary step in product development, we utilize these principles commonly in other aspects of our lives. I will use planning a weekend vacation to the beach as an example. Initially you think about where you want to go. Considerations may include Hawaii, California, Florida, or Greece. Each location will offer a different experience and cost is considered in your final decision. Let’s assume that you ultimately choose Florida and you live in the continental US. This gives you at least two options for travel, common ones being driving or flying. A quick internet search reveals that is will take 20 hours to drive, so you decide to fly. With this decision made, you begin to pack your bags. Beach towels, a bathing suit, and beach cloths are packed, and the beach umbrella, folding chair, fishing rod, and cooler will stay. You take your trip and have a wonderful time.

Now, let’s break down this trip as an analogy to new product development. The initial step was deciding where to visit. Each location has different amenities, so these are analogous to product features. When designing a product, features provide value to the customer, but each has an associated cost. These early decisions have an impact of the total cost of the product, just like your decision of where to visit. Features and cost are evaluated, the location is selected, and the trip planning continues. Choosing the destination enables a more focused planning effort. You no longer need to look online at hotels in Hawaii or worry about the status of your passport.

Similarly, in product development deciding which features to include will enable more focused effort on the features that will eventually be part of your product and make better use of your resources. The decision to drive or fly is analogous to selecting the process that you will use to manufacture your product. Notice that this was done early in the process of trip planning, not after your bags were packed.

Deciding your travel method puts constraints on how you pack your bags. Smaller and essential items were packed, but the large and bulky items were left behind because these would be inconvenient and expensive to take on an airplane. If you would have decided to drive instead, these items could easily have been put into your vehicle and transported with little additional effort or cost. Notice that selecting the travel mode has an impact on the activities that can be done on the trip and the cost to do these. In a similar way, applying DFM principles to the product development process can improve performance while simultaneously reducing cost.

Finally, you take your trip. Because you planned it is advance, the trip goes well and there are less unanticipated problems than a “spur of the moment” trip without proper planning (although these can be fun also).

The analogy to product development is a well-planned product development process achieves the best results at the lowest cost and with minimal risk. Unanticipated events will still occur, but if managed well, these can usually be overcome without seriously impacting the probability of product success.


About the Author: Martin Tanaka is an Associate Professor at Western Carolina University who specializes in product design and development. He has eleven years of experience designing commercial products in industry and nine years of experience assisting local companies with product innovation. Dr. Tanaka has a Ph.D. in engineering and is a licensed professional engineer in the state of North Carolina


Copyright 2019 Martin Tanaka

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