DFMA Takes a Back-to-Basics Product Simplification Strategy to Cut Costs

Sometimes, it's the back-to-basics
strategies that can deliver the most bang for the buck. Just ask Hypertherm, a manufacturer of plasma
metal cutting products. Despite being a leader in its field, the company
launched a well-orchestrated campaign eight years ago to reduce product
development and manufacturing costs while making its products more consistently
reliable. Yet it wasn't rapid prototyping, 3-D simulation or any other
state-of-the-art design tool technology that prepped Hypertherm for its
journey. Rather, a 30-year-old methodology and little-known toolset from a
company called Boothroyd Dewhurst led
Hypertherm on its redesign course, helping the company take a significant chunk
out of its part count and production costs.

As part of its product development
makeover, Hypertherm tasked engineers with factoring cost targets and assembly
strategies into initial design exploration as opposed to relying on
manufacturing to troubleshoot problem areas later on in the cycle when it is
far more costly and time consuming to initiate changes. By integrating
Boothroyd Dewhurst's trademarked Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA)
methodology and software into Hypertherm's core product development process,
engineers got a jump on the rigorous and often painstaking exercise of counting
parts and evaluating designs from a manufacturing and assembly standpoint. The
engineering group's adoption of DFMA was essential to helping Hypertherm close
in on its aggressive targets of 50 percent reductions in both part count and
production costs.

"The 'D' in DFMA stands for design
- it's the design engineers that should be doing this work, not manufacturing
and not industrial engineers," says Mike Shipulski, Hypertherm's director of
advanced development. "No matter what your product costs or volumes are, it's
time to take this kind of approach."

Design for the 'ilities'

Pundits in the engineering space
might argue that this kind of approach is long overdue. Design for
manufacturability or design for serviceability are concepts that have been
around for decades, yet engineering teams, including Hypertherm's, have long
struggled with how to establish the processes and gather the proper information
to give the methodologies their due. "The whole design for the `ilities' has
been around for a long time - it's how engineers go about (the process) that's
evolving and changing," says Ken Amann, director of research for CIMdata. "Lots of companies have looked at
it for a long time and thought it's too complex or too expensive."

Boothroyd Dewhurst has been
fighting that perception for years, according to President John Gilligan. The
methodology and the software helps estimate the difficulty of assembly, works
to eliminate unnecessary parts and assembly tooling, and facilitates analysis
and comparison of the costs of different materials and manufacturing methods in
the design stage, leading engineering groups to create product designs that are
"lean from the start," Gilligan says. Fortune 1000 companies like John Deere,
Harley Davidson and smaller firms like Hypertherm have leveraged DFMA over the
years to achieve laudable results, including cost reductions of 50 percent,
shortened product development cycles in the neighborhood of 45 percent and part
count decreases of nearly half. Despite the magnitude of the improvements,
Gilligan admits the methodology is

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