Design for manufacturability (DFM) is an essential element to the success of new devices from a standpoint of time and cost. Designs must be created with manufacturing in mind, before the design is locked down, to mitigate areas in production that would drive up costs and delay product launch. However, device companies struggle with matching internal expectations around timelines and budgets with external manufacturing expertise.
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One way to tackle DFM is to partner early, right at the product’s concept, with a manufacturer to address potential problems with the design before production. Selecting a manufacturing partner early rather than shopping around for the best manufacturing price once a design is finalized can actually net more savings in the long run, by giving contract manufacturers a chance to identify where the design can be optimized for cost-effective and timely production.
“ [OEMs] want to freeze the design, get multiple bids for the lowest cost and then choose a supplier,” says Nick Ouwerkerk, Senior Project Manager at Cadence. “That means manufacturers have to quote parts that are two to three times more expensive than if they were done with DFM in mind. Saving ten percent on the bidding process leaves about two times higher cost than what the part should have been if done in a different way. But, the DFM process would add time for the design team to iterate in that phase. They want to rush the design to get the product in the market sooner, to gain revenue. The revenue gained is good, but at a cost of downstream revenue that is lost.”
This early collaboration involves a strong relationship with your manufacturing partner.
“We give priority in our scheduling to customers willing to [partner early] with us,” says Jeff Thornburgh, Co-Owner of Precision Medical Technologies. “For the five to ten percent they’re going to save by shopping at four different places, we can save them 20 percent by being involved earlier. Then it becomes a partnership. We become committed much earlier; we feel like we’re part of the launch, so to speak. We’ve got some skin in the game.”
Besides the emphasis on partnering early and forming solid relationships with suppliers, design engineers will be well-served if they familiarize themselves with certain manufacturing considerations. Designs best suited for manufacturing are not necessarily simpler in construct, but they do consider manufacturing implications related to feature size, tolerance and inspection.
Feature size is one important consideration, as surgeon and patient demand for less invasive procedures increases, says James Eastwood, Engineering Manager of Implants at Precision Medical Technologies.
“As surgeries become less invasive, features become smaller,” he says. “At some point, they become so small that they’re difficult to manufacture, they require smaller tooling, and you have to cut it a little slower. It increases cycle times by decreasing the size.”
Tolerance is another important design element to consider, as tolerance negotiations can slow the manufacturing process.