This article is tailored for those who are on their path of shaping a new product development strategy. Discover the best practices for your engineering firm.
As businesses fiercely compete to stay ahead, they continually seek ways to optimize their workflows. Engineering companies strive to implement effective practices and methodologies to streamline development, cut costs, and enhance product quality.
Two widely embraced methodologies in hardware development are Lean and Agile. In this article, we'll dive into the nuances of Lean, drawing comparisons with other approaches and providing valuable insights into best practices that can help hardware developers in their pursuit for a successful new product development strategy.
Defining Best Practices
Best practices are essentially the tried-and-true methods that have proven to be the most effective and efficient in achieving specific goals or tasks. They are widely accepted across various industries. For example, in business, best practices are often applied in project management to help employees complete tasks efficiently.
In the context of hardware development, best practices refer to the most efficient and effective ways engineering firms and independent developers can employ to design, develop, and produce hardware products. These practices are based on industry standards, research, and experience, and they continue to evolve with advancing technology. Keeping up with these best practices is essential to stay competitive and efficient.
Lean, Agile, Scrum
Lean, agile, and scrum are all used in project management and product development, but they differ in their approach and focus.
Lean manufacturing is a philosophy based on an ideology of maximizing productivity while simultaneously minimizing waste within a manufacturing operation. According to lean, waste is anything that doesn’t add value that the customers are willing to pay for. It originated most famously from the Toyota production system, bringing together ideas by Henry Ford, W. Edwards Deming and others.
Agile is a broader methodology that encompasses various approaches to project management and product development. It prioritizes iterative and collaborative development, with a strong focus on customer feedback and the ability to adapt to changing requirements. Agile methodologies emphasize flexibility, teamwork, and customer-centricity.
Scrum, on the other hand, is a specific framework within the Agile methodology. It's a structured approach to project management that divides work into small, manageable units called "sprints." Each sprint typically lasts two to four weeks and results in a potentially shippable product increment.
At EnCata, we wholeheartedly adhere to the principles of Lean methodology, which allows us to delve into it extensively.
Lean Manufacturing Principles
The value is determined from the customer's perspective and depends on how much they are willing to pay for goods and services. A deep understanding of customer needs not only improves the quality of customer service, but also reduces waste and, ultimately, increases the value of the product.
Traditional production follows a predictable path: schedules drive production, raw materials are ordered in advance, and goods are made based on projected customer demand – this is known as push production. In contrast, pull production flips the script. When a customer selects a product from the final production stage, it triggers the production of the next part.
For instance, consider a manufacturer of electronic components for smartphones. Instead of making a large quantity of a specific processor chip upfront and storing it, they use a pull system. As orders come in, they pull the required components from inventory to fulfill them. If something isn't in stock, it signals the need to produce it.
This manufacturer adopts a just-in-time (JIT) inventory system, ordering raw materials only as needed. This minimizes excess inventory and reduces waste.
Implementing a pull production system requires cross-functional teams, including members from sales, marketing, production, and logistics. These teams collaborate to identify and respond swiftly to customer demand.
Develop Error-Proof Processes
Poka-yoke, a Japanese term, means 'mistake-proofing.' This principle stresses the need for processes that prevent unintended errors. The goal is to quickly spot and fix errors, freeing up employees to focus on more important tasks instead of dealing with mistakes. Error-proofing methods can vary, from rigorous quality checks to automatic error correction mechanisms.
Focus on Quality
The principles of lean manufacturing stress both quality preservation and waste reduction as paramount. Companies must establish a robust system to ensure quality maintenance. In the realm of lean manufacturing, the overarching goal is to swiftly deliver maximum consumer value without compromising quality. Thus, giving utmost priority to quality maintenance is a pivotal tenet of adhering to lean manufacturing principles. In the context of new product development, particularly for startups, teams frequently neglect to define quality criteria or testing methods for the product or its prototypes.
Lean manufacturing encourages continuous improvement through small, incremental changes that accumulate over time. These small changes can help to improve performance, which leads to major changes. It is also known as “kaizen”, in Japanese KAI means change and ZEN means good. In general, kaizen refers to a change for the better or improvement. The ultimate goal of kaizen is the formation of a corporate culture that promotes the development of proactive employees who always strive to improve performance indicators.
Lean manufacturing aligns seamlessly with hardware development due to its core focus on waste reduction and workflow optimization. Hardware development typically encompasses multiple intricate stages, and even minor inefficiencies or delays can trigger elevated costs and extended lead times. By embracing lean manufacturing principles, such as trimming inventory and minimizing wait times, hardware development teams can fine-tune their processes, enhancing overall efficiency.
Moreover, lean manufacturing champions an ethos of perpetual enhancement, a vital attribute in hardware development, where novel technologies and materials perpetually emerge, demanding adaptability and agility.
Best practice examples in hardware development
In hardware development, following these best practices can lead to project success. Here are a couple of key practices with examples:
- Start by clearly outlining your project's goals and requirements, covering aspects like functionality, performance, size, power consumption, and cost. For instance, when creating a new smartphone, define key features such as screen size, camera quality, battery life, and user interface.
- Break down your hardware into smaller, reusable modules. This boosts flexibility, simplifies maintenance, and makes troubleshooting easier. It also enables smoother component upgrades or replacements. As an example, EnCata's CUBY Construction technology allows rapid, cost-effective modular housing development.
- Make sure to extensively test and validate your designs, covering areas like functionality, performance, stress, and environmental factors. This ensures that your product is reliable and durable. For example, when developing an automotive electronic control unit (ECU), conduct tests for temperature, vibration, and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC).
- Ensure that your product complies with relevant safety standards, regulations, and certifications. This includes considerations like electrical safety, electromagnetic interference (EMI) compliance, and proper labeling. For medical devices, follow FDA regulations; for consumer electronics, meet standards like UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or CE (Conformité Européene). Pursuing certifications like ISO can also demonstrate your commitment to quality.
- Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Assembly (DFA) practices are essential for enhancing the manufacturability and assembly of hardware. This involves simplifying designs, ensuring precise tolerances, and opting for standardized components. For instance, when creating a consumer electronics product, streamline assembly by utilizing connectors instead of soldered connections.
In the development of the hardware safe case prototype, several modifications were made in line with DFM and DFA principles. These changes aimed to simplify the assembly and operation of the Piston Vault while also cutting production costs.
To slash mass-production costs and enhance the reliability of the Educational Robot, we recommended adopting a complete metal frame composed predominantly of sheet metal, along with robot covers crafted through vacuum-formed plastic. These DFM choices resulted in an impressive 70% reduction in production expenses.
- Hardware development teams should leverage rapid prototyping methods (as in the Blood Container and Piston Vault) to swiftly iterate on designs and subject them to user testing. This proactive approach aids in the early detection of design flaws, effectively mitigating the potential for expensive errors down the road. By adhering to these best practices, hardware developers can mitigate risks, elevate quality, and optimize the overall efficiency of their projects.
By adhering to these best practices, hardware developers can mitigate risks, elevate quality, and optimize the overall efficiency of their projects.
Best practices represent the pinnacle of effectiveness and efficiency in achieving specific objectives. In hardware development, they encapsulate the most proficient and effective approaches for designing, developing, and manufacturing hardware products. These practices are rooted in industry standards, research, and accumulated expertise.
Lean, agile, and scrum are all harnessed in project management and product development, each with distinct methodologies. Agile and scrum prioritize adaptability and collaboration, while lean production centers on efficiency enhancement and waste minimization.
Lean manufacturing is ideally suited for hardware development, as it empowers process optimization and efficiency augmentation.
Hardware development boasts several best practices, including commencing with a well-defined project scope, embracing modular design, and rigorous testing and validation procedures. By faithfully adhering to these best practices, companies can effectively mitigate risks, uphold competitiveness, and maintain operational efficiency.