With growing time-to-market pressures and increasingly complex systems within products, the design process has become risky. These risks show up during the process of bringing a product concept into reality. Whether it’s sole-source components that might cause supply chain issues or untested connectivity added at the end to meet competitive pressure, much can go wrong with design. You face the added risk once the product is out in the field and the market reacts to it.
Throughout the product development and design journey, day-to-day risk decisions get made: Should we add a last-minute feature at launch? Should we use multiple sources for each component? “You have to look at design the way an investor looks at a portfolio, deciding where you want to be on the risk compendium,” Jeff Hebert, VP of engineering at product development firm, Synapse, told Design News.
Many companies accept a wide range of risks along the way, pushing for shorter timelines and reduced costs. But, Murphy’s Law has a way of catching up. A last-minute feature could delay the launch or expose a bug. A single-source component could experience supply chain woes, threatening a holiday launch. “If you have all the time and money, you can be confident you will get the net results, but it will take a long time and many iterations,” said Hebert. “The question is how do you balance risk and additional cost? Hopefully you can do it in such a way there are no hard trade-offs.”
Building De-Risk into the Design Process
Avoiding the hard trade-offs and reducing the likelihood of problems due to untested technology or supply issues is a matter of implementing procedures that identify risk and mitigate as much of it as possible. Hebert calls it de-risking design. He describes it as a combination of up-front analysis and strategic testing. He noted that up-front analysis and test/validation can be done on different aspects of the product simultaneously, avoiding the time-consuming process of doing one consideration at a time. “It’s front loading -- a stitch in time saves nine,” said Hebert. “You can do things in parallel. If you have two or three things that have never been tested, you can focus on them in isolation.”
Hebert noted that you can greatly reduce problems in the design and production process by systematically examining the product for potential problems. Hebert sees this as a new stage of design that has not traditionally been part of the design process. “There are a lot of risks you can de-risk. This is something that has never been done before. We create a board with components that are not risky, and then we isolate the parts that are risky,” said Hebert. “The best design decisions include planning for optimistic realism. You need consider the full picture with each tradeoff along the way, and you have to invest in test and validation.”
Gain the Knowledge of the Product’s Technology
Do you want to add IoT connectivity to your product? Do you want to make sure that connectivity is secure? Then you need to become an expert in IoT connectivity. “It’s not just de-risking the system but also understanding it. It’s called knowledge-based product development,” said Hebert. “This involves learning as much as you can about the technology in the product. When the technology changes, you’ll understand the space you’re playing in, so you’ll know how the design needs to be changed.”
The up-front analysis stage examines all aspects of the product, including how the systems within the product interact. This includes considering how the product interacts with other products. “How complex is the product, and how many parts are involved? Does it include multiple systems that talk to each other? How many things are in the ecosystem?” asked Hebert. “We discuss this to find out how ambitious we’re trying to be. We then ask how much risk we’re willing to accept or how much the product will need to be adjusted to avoid risk.”
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
Image courtesy of Synapse.