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Designing Through the Eyes of a Manufacturing Engineer, and Vice Versa

Deepak Sharma, R&D engineer at FlexDex Surgical Inc., addresses the challenges that can arise when design engineers work with manufacturing engineers, and how looking at the process from each other’s perspective can help make for a much smoother product development cycle.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

MD+DI spoke with Deepak Sharma, R&D engineer at FlexDex Surgical Inc., about his upcoming presentation at MD&M Minneapolis, “What Manufacturing Engineers Can Teach Design Engineers About Cost & Quality.” Sharma explained the differences between the jobs of designing and manufacturing a product and how the two types of engineers can work best together. He emphasized that communication early in the product development cycle between manufacturing engineers and product designers is key to eliminate delays in bringing a product to market.

What current challenges are there with manufacturing engineers and design engineers working together?

Sharma: Product design is a creative process. It requires thinking out of the box, while starting with a hazy understanding of what the final product may look like. At the end of design cycle, based on multiple iterations, product designers turn an idea into physical functional embodiments that meet certain input requirements.

Manufacturing a product requires creativity as well, in addition to critical thinking. It requires core understanding of state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies, a company’s business needs—from production quantities and ROI standpoint—all the while meeting the functional requirements set out at the start of the project.

Given how different these responsibilities are at a granular level, there can be an inertia to incorporate limitations at the end of the design stage, based on manufacturing requirements, or manufacturing capabilities can be stretched, based on the unique needs of the product design. The goal with a product development cycle is always to maintain the equilibrium between product design needs and practical manufacturing bounds.

How can the two work better together, and how will this impact product design and manufacturing?

Sharma: Incorporating manufacturing feedback early on into the product design cycle is key to its timely completion. For designers, openness to understanding manufacturing limitations or technology advancements early on is important and comes with close collaboration with manufacturing engineers. At the same time, manufacturing engineers should look for advancements in technologies (e.g., metal 3-D printing, plastic mass production 3-D printing, advancements in CNC machining) to support the creative pursuits of product designers.

For example, Apple is a success story in this regard. Apple has such strong collaboration between product design and manufacturing that they innovate both with novel designs (e.g., the Mac Pro) and coming up with new alloys and innovative tweaks to standard manufacturing processes to produce mass production units. Such kinds of collaborations can happen at companies ranging from startups to big corporations, as long as openness to accept manufacturing limits and the drive to find the right manufacturing technologies exist within a product development team.

Why should manufacturing engineers and design engineers attend the session, and what do you hope the session will motivate the audience to do differently?

Sharma: This session will emphasize the importance of collaboration between product designers and manufacturing engineers very early on during the product development process. It will identify key areas that should be considered while designing through the eyes of a manufacturing engineer.

At the same time, it will stress upon important areas that should be considered while assessing manufacturing of a product through the eyes of a product designer. The session will provide an insight into the importance of collaboration by looking at various critical scenarios during product development cycles that require cohesive efforts from both the design and manufacturing ends.

Are there others who might benefit from attending the session besides manufacturing and design engineers?

Sharma: Engineering managers, program directors, as well as vice presidents of product development at startups or large corporations can benefit from understanding the collaboration between design and manufacturing teams at various stages of the project. Being part of the planning and product management committee, it is important for these individuals to emphasize the importance of a cohesive work force. Resource allocation as well as defining timelines and budgets for various projects need to be supportive of this collaboration and create an environment where innovation isn’t bounded to just product design but also seeps into manufacturing planning and approach.

Sharma will present “What Manufacturing Engineers Can Teach Design Engineers about Cost & Quality,” on Wednesday, October 23, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., in Room 207AB, at MD&M Minneapolis.

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard is a freelance contributor to MD + DI.

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