Today, in our world economy, engineers find that the products they
introduce must meet all of the cultural, social, political, economic,
industrial, and other requirements of target markets, whether these markets are
local, regional, national, or international, says Shaw.
Design News:How involved is this process?
Shaw: It's much more detailed than one may realize, and important in terms of avoiding lawsuits and legal problems. Seemingly, it's becoming harder for manufacturers to go it alone. Many do not have the resources available to conduct thorough research. For this reason, it is wise to turn to a new breed of firms that specialize in international manufacturing and marketing.
Q: Which firms are these?
A: These types of firms have become "experts," not only in knowing the appropriate questions to ask, but when and how to ask them, as well as whom to ask. For example, our firm has had years of experience handling programs for Johnson& Johnson, Hayward Manufacturing, Fisher Price, and Bell Sports, among dozens of other worldwide manufacturers. As a result,we have become vital partners in the product "art-to-part" process.
No firm, from the largest medical products manufacturer to a small marketer that produces products offshore, particularly in emerging nations or third-world countries, is immune to potential major problems that are often the result of a product that does not meet standards or regulations.
Q: Can you cite an example?
A: Plastics producers, in particular, are often more vulnerable than most, considering the wide ranges and quality levels of thermoplastic materials, as well as products made from recycled polymers.
Q: What criteria must they meet?
A: Plastic materials, from their source of manufacture all the way through to their end use, must be researched. Take the case of plastic food containers or other plastic items that may have food, body, or medical contact. They must contain FDA-approved materials. It then must be determined whether or not the material is available outside the U.S., as well as if foreign vendors are aware of regulations relating to that material in the U.S., or if a plastic product is made in Mexico will it withstand the rigorous conditions found in the end-use market.
On the other hand, U.S. suppliers must be aware of international requirements, which may be more demanding for plastics in certain countries. For in-stance, Sweden imposes very strict regulations regarding the use of plastic products, as well as on the environmental implications of the disposal of a product.
Q: What are some concerns when using recycled materials?
A: Manufacturers of plastic products must conduct process capability studies during the manufacturing process to determine what, if any, level of regrind materials can safely be used in producing those products. This is especially important to ensure high levels of product integrity and material strength, such as making nylon clips for children's helmets.
Also, materials used to produce outdoor plastic products, again mainly for children, must be UV tested. This type of testing should take place in the early stages of the design process in order to qualify claims and potential product liability. The UV additive enhances the product's strength, appearance, and shelf life.
Q: Is there a guide an engineer can follow?
A: Here are 10 quick tips: 1. Determine what regulations are applicable to the product and the appropriate markets. 2. Establish the parameters for product design, including thorough research of the target market's more specific or local requirements. 3. Decide on not just which materials to use, but if they are in compliance for use in the product. 4. Initiate vendor-manufacturer relationships and testing programs to qualify materials prior to a pre-engineering manufacturing mode. 5. Compile the appropriate materials into a specification format. 6. Decide on the most feasible location in which to produce the product. 7. Consider various environmental factors and their importance to the quality of the product. 8. Focus on the implementation of various systems, including logs, audits, and other testing methods, particularly when a product is to be sold in diverse markets and conditions. 9. Once manufacturing has commenced, constantly advise the processor and monitor the process. 10. Take a more "worldly" approach to managing the entire process of designing, manufacturing, and marketing a new product.