Maite PascualDesign Engineer
Often many companies think that any product concept can be manufactured. Actually they are not wrong; almost everything can be manufactured, but it always depends on the budget and the deadline. As we all know these are the biggest restrictions in the project development.
When we address the task of presenting a new concept we need to consider functionality, color and material trends, ergonomics and form and other small details that eventually define the product personality. But watch out, we cannot forget that it needs to be manufactured: we want to sell “X” thousands of units that will be used for a certain life cycle, and under an unavoidable tight budget.
For this reason, it is essential to work hand to hand with designers, engineers, material experts and trend experts in the new product development process in order to ensure the excellence of the product in every detail.
A key aspect that must be defined carefully before starting to design is the manufacturing cost limit. Having this exact information we can start thinking on different processes, number of parts in the ensemble, assembly actions or material families, among many others.
Let’s take the design of a mobile phone as example. In the shell definition, mechanized aluminum and posterior polishing has not the same price as injected plastic and IMD post process (“in mold decoration”) to give a metallic appearance or injected plastic directly with the final color. If we consider that our budget fits the plastic injection with the final color and protection coating, then we will consider the number of parts that we can include in the ensemble. Each part implies tools, development and maintenance costs to take into account.
The composition material is an essential parameter in the perception of the product. If we have defined clearly the type of material that our mobile phone needs, injection plastic in this case, we will consider the type of plastic that could perform better for this application. The plastic world is really broad and it is fast moving industry showing innovations recurrently: bioplastics, autofixable plastics, high mechanical performance, UV radiation resistant, TPU anti-static,etc. It is important to be updated with materials, properties, manufacturers and applications to apply it creatively. In certain cases an unexpected material might work perfectly in the new product.
The definition of the material is crucial; it contributes to the product perceived quality, the feelings of the user while touching and looking at it and the product ageing. Following up with the mobile phone example, we have defined to use injected plastic for the shell; hence we need to select a high quality finishing material, UV radiation resistant and a material that avoids injection marks. For example, if we select a PP with internal fibers, we will have a disappointing surprise in the injection moment because these fibers will appear in the surface drawing the path that they follow when entering the mold. Therefore, it is vital to study with the supplier thoroughly the injection process of the object and the color range that we can achieve.
This is just a small view out of many other aspects to be analyzed when designing a product. This is not a rigid and close process, it is flexible and it varies in every case depending on the type of project. Product conceptualization demands a certain material, while others focus on a fixed cost that cannot be surpassed. It is our task to creatively apply of our expertise to satisfy the requirements of our clients in order to deliver a relevant product which do not disappoint the end users.