Product Development: Conceptual Design

by | May 18, 2021

Close up image human hand drawing circuit board

Now we want to look at some more details and how the system engineering approach that we have been talking about allows you to start looking ahead. For example, in the context of production and operations planning, which is that third big step during conceptual and preliminary design and is executed during the detailed design activities, we are going to be looking at aspects of manufacturability so we can start designing the manufacturing configuration, so that the design not only works but also is manufacturable.

If we consider manufacturability at the beginning, you start looking at what are the requirements and asking the right questions about how this design is going to be manufactured at certain quantity effectively. That may mean that when you choose a part maybe it is not enough just to choose a part that does the job, but you scrutinize the supplier, and the supply chain (is the component going to be there not just now when I used the part for the prototype, but also is it going to be there a year from now when this thing is ramping to full manufacturing). That is important because if you have this prototype but then later, you are going to start ramping to production and the part is not available, it can be very disruptive. Now you have to go back and redesign in a substitute/replacement and whatever verification you did, you have to repeat because you changed a variable.

Also, when considering the support and maintenance requirements, during the conceptual phase, you will start worrying about what are the things that need to be in the design to make it supportable, so it can be maintained easily. This is very important because you can do things at the design level to make sure that this product is effectively supported and maintained. And even things like retirement, phase out, or disposal should be considered, which could be part of the natural life cycle the product or it could be an intentional phase out. And that may have implications on the design choices at the beginning. Phasing out and obsoleting products is actually and effective business technique, and we all know how effectively Apple has used that technique to basically obsolete their own products and create new revenue streams from new iPhone releases. That has been a very effective and they know that if they do not do that, then Samsung is going to do it for them, and that is not cool for Apple.

So, there is a little bit of business implication also in these systems engineering approach that we take at the beginning. Recognize that new concepts for products rely on research you have to do to get you to a realizable technology, and you have to understand and be very aware of existing technologies and keep current with technology. This is part of lifelong learning, because it is very important to know what is available so you know what you can do. An important element the conceptual design process is that we are going to look at the feasibility, how we identify the need, and how we plan the system functionality. This entails extracting the system requirements, maintenance and support concept, and performance measures so that we may arrive at system operational requirements: What is it that the system needs to do, and performance measures that quantify how well it needs to do it.

And at this point we have a lot of information. We have done and put in a lot of thought about and into what the system is going to look like. Then we go into the preliminary design, which is also called advanced development and we start looking at the functional analysis now that we have the functional and operational requirements of the system. In here, we are looking at the system functional analysis to understand what the system needs to do, and we start diving deeper into what is the functionality required for maintenance because we already have a maintenance concept, and we will understand very well what the system needs to do from a functional perspective. We can look at tradeoffs of how to achieve that functionality noticing that everything that we have done here in the conceptual design has nothing to do with how we are going to design the system. The conceptual design is all about articulating well what the system needs to do, because if you do that well, then you have a very clear road map to address how you are going to implement the functionality.

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