By Mike Vettraino, Principal Designer, PTI Design
Have you ever looked closely at an object and thought about how it's made? What are all the steps involved in creating the item from initial design to final production? Maybe you would like to take on the task of getting a product manufactured. There are many aspects to the process of creating a wide variety of products, but they all have something in common at the beginning. You will need to understand this common element because it's the key to a successful design.
Let's assume the light bulb in your head has been switched on, and you have the next greatest idea for an invention since, well, the light bulb. You have gathered all your "design fuel" of the features you want to incorporate into the product, and you've done your market research to see if there is a place it fits best. Now you're ready for the design phase – the point at which you begin sketching out your concept. The design phase of a project is critical, so you need to plan appropriately. There are no limits to your imagination, but Design for Manufacturing (DFM) must come into play to keep you on the right track.
In short, the term DFM means to design and engineer a product so that it can be easily manufactured for a given function. There is little value in a design if there isn’t a way to reproduce it accurately. Applying the DFM practice will help eliminate downstream problems, ensure better quality results, and provide cost savings by reducing manufacturing expenses. Once the method of how to make a product is determined, the design needs to be tailored for that process. Bear in mind that not all manufacturers are created equal; each one may have specific requirements and limitations that you need to fit within. Some general rules of thumb can be taken advantage of when creating a design for manufacturing. Let's say, for example, your part is plastic, and the plastic injection molding process seems to be the best option. Designing that part for injection molding is different than designing it for plastic thermoforming or blow molding, even though they can all be used to make plastic parts.
Utilizing online resources such as How-To Manuals and Design Guides for injection molding will significantly improve your design. Some suppliers even offer hand-held design aids which contain physical examples of various design features. A design aid can ultimately help an engineer with decisions for a design direction. For example, one of our customers needed to design a plastic boss close to a vertical wall and had concerns on how to achieve the best result. When the customer asked if we had an example of a plastic part with this feature, we suggested that the use of a design aid would not only be beneficial for visualizing a feature that was done correctly, but it would be equally effective for highlighting the flaws of a poorly designed feature. Here is a resource that provides both a DFM Guide and a plastic Design Tool for aiding in the injection molding part design. With these types of design references at your fingertips, you’ll be in a great position throughout the project. Starting your product design phase with the DFM practice in mind will help keep you on the path to success.