What Is Product Refinement?
There are two point in the design process where you need to refine it. The first is the conceptual stage. You may have a problem you’re trying to solve, but there are a number of approaches you could use to solve it. A classic example would be a comparison between a fly swatter, a fly strip and a bug zapper. All are intended to catch and kill bugs, but their design varies wildly.
Once you choose a general design for the product, the design needs to be refined. You may work on iterative improvements to the design to make it cheaper and easier to build, or you may go through several design changes to improve its performance. Or you may start with a minimum viable product and then start adding features, once the initial product works. All of this is the development side of research and development.
What Is Making the Design Process Shorter?
Traditionally, it takes dozens of revisions to get something good enough to go into production. Technology and new design techniques are dramatically speeding up the process.
Minimum Viable Product
This concept started with startups. Aim for a minimum viable product, something that’s just good enough to meet the customer’s needs. Then get it to market. You can add other features or new versions of the product later. The goal is to establish yourself in the market before rivals steal the idea and generate cash flow.
Agile Product Development
Agile product development brings the customer into the process at the very beginning. They’re asked to provide detailed input on requirements, so that engineers and programmers don’t have to add essential features in after they thought they were done. Customers help test the product and provide feedback, allowing the design to be tweaked while you’re still in the design phase.
Test becomes part of the development process, and the entire process is sped up. On the other hand, engineers don’t waste time pursuing design paths customers hate or improving features that don’t matter to the end user.
Simulation takes 3D computer aided design or CAD models and lets them be used for a variety of forms of testing. Make sure the product fits in the next higher assembly. This might be a sensor plugged into a jet or a novel travel cup tested in various standard cupholders.
In more advanced simulations, they can run the design through test simulations like having a 400-pound person sit on the chair or stress testing a building product. This is so effective that it is being used to design the next generation of combat aircraft.
Partner with Suppliers in the Design Phase
If you want to know how to refine a concept for manufacturing, consult with your suppliers. Show them your product in-work. Let them give you feedback on what parts are easily acquired for the product, so you don’t put rare, expensive parts on the parts list. They may give you advice regarding off-the-shelf housings and parts you could use, reducing the total cost of parts and labor.
They might provide advice on board layout or give advice on other design issues, ensuring that the end product is easy to build and straightforward for customers to use. After all, if the product follows conventional design rules, there is less potential for error by assemblers and customers alike.