Case Study - Brink Bionics Inc.
The gaming industry is a dynamic landscape of constantly changing and improving technology. When competing digitally, success can hinge on laser focus and split-second reaction time. Brink Bionics wanted to help gamers achieve their best, and have developed the Impulse Neuro-Controller to improve click speed.
The Impulse Neuro-Controller is a fingerless glove with sensors that detect the first neural impulse that goes into the finger. This detection then reduces the time between intent to act and execution. Brink Bionics had a 3D-printed proof of concept and were beginning to plan for production when they were introduced to Berlin KraftWorks (BKW). As a new company they were advised to have a design review, and review of their electronics to set themselves up for scalable manufacturing.
Creating a Supply Chain from Scratch: Part 4 – The Bill of Materials: The journey is at least as important as the destination
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
In part 3 of this series, I discussed the planning hierarchy and how it can be adapted and used to create both a model through which to structure a supply chain (from both a strategic and executional perspective) as well as how it can be used as a lens to prioritize supply chain activities.
Its critically important to have a set of rules or standards around which to compare and contrast strategy and execution. It is the Bill of Materials (or BOM as it is commonly referred to) that sets these standards. Many early-stage companies believe that supply chain begins once the BOM has been established, but this is a critical error. This is because the BOM doesn’t exist on its own. While the BOM informs supply chain of required materials and specifications, it is the supply chain that informs the BOM itself about what it can viably include. Therefore the BOM serves as the bonding point between two iterative functions: supply chain and product design.
However, it is important to remember that the BOM as a completed data set is merely the result, and a snapshot in the evolution of that data. It will continue to evolve with the product. The journey to get to a completed BOM is at least as important, if not more important, as the BOM itself.
Throughout my career I have seen failed product launches due entirely to designs that have not been informed by critical factors such as: supply availability of specific parts, international trade considerations (logistics, regulations, customs, etc.), and even social/political/economic factors of either the regions of the materials supplied or the regions where the product is being shipped. That’s because a BOM can only represent what goes into something, it cannot represent why or how. It is in fact the journey of iterative exploration of different materials, parts, suppliers, manufacturing methods and supply regions that informs as to the viability of any design consideration, and invariably will influence design towards the lowest risk options while maintaining the overall functional requirements of the design. Sometimes functional requirements cannot be supported after supply chain research, and this is better to discover early on (as opposed to pre-production). Baking-in materials or processes into a design that are impossible to buy or support reliably (humorously referred to as “unobtanium”) is a recipe for failure. Often however, the design viability can be improved drastically with early iterative interactions between design and supply chain.
Perhaps the most important part of the process is the creation of specifications for each and every item which will eventually be included in a BOM. This is as equally important to supply chains as they are to product design. In Design, all the components must act together as a system, ultimately focused on the form, fit, and functional requirements of the end product as dictated by the business case. For every item in the BOM, specific requirements must be spelled out including not just dimensions, and tolerances, but also (for commercially available components) approved brands, models, and manufacturer specifications.
Even more important still, is the understanding of why all those specifications are required, relative to the greater system in which they are to become a part of. It goes farther to support strategic management of materials and supply strategies, also referred to as “Plan for Every Part”. These specifications are always arrived at through continual trial and error, testing and refinement. In supply chain, its impossible to source products, evaluate potential suppliers, or manage inventories or demands, without specifications. It is those specifications which will measure what will be acceptable, and what will not. For this reason, sourcing is often executed after much or all the BOM has been established. However, this is far too late and ensures delays, and risks failure in the development process.
Instead, supply chain must work hand-in-hand with engineering through the design process, considering possible sources, and manufacturers in concert with the engineering effort. Supply chain also needs to engage possible suppliers for advice (particularly for any item made to specification – but not exclusively since “off the shelf” products must also be fully specified and understood) to understand manufacturing limitations and opportunities for efficiency. All of this must be gathered and relayed back to engineering as meaningful data, and engineering can then reciprocate with design iterations that are viable from a supply chain point of view.
The importance of revision control
Of course, as the design is evolving a tremendous amount of time and effort will be lost if there is no mechanism in place to track the evolution as well as documenting every change and the specific reasons for the change. For engineering, this is the process where all the learning and intelligence (IP) around the product is developed and retained. So it is also true with supply chain, as supplier and component strategies depend on understanding the intimate details (and challenges) of every specific part. Supply chain is sometimes affected by revisions, and other times is the cause of revisions (supply problems OR possibilities of better items/technologies become available) but a complete knowledge of the evolution is required to strategize and optimize the supply chain as well as manage day-to-day operations once in production.
Shared ownership is no ownership
While the BOM is the connective tissue between engineering and supply chain, responsibility for the BOM, its revisions and specifications lie squarely with engineering. Why? Because the BOM is the stated design intent of all components relative to the end product (or in other words, relative to the system they must work together in). Design intent cannot be shared jointly by supply chain and engineering, nor should it ever be. Likewise, responsibility for supplier relationships, strategies and sourcing methods lie squarely with supply chain and cannot be shared with engineering. These are, in effect the “design intent” elements of the supply chain system and production execution that must produce those specifications dictated by engineering. While both design intent and supply/execution strategy inform and influence each other, anything less than a clear delineation of ownership will make everything run amuck in short order.
When creating a supply chain from scratch, the finished BOM is only a snapshot in time. The knowledge generation, supply strategies, and overall viability of the supply chain is made or broken by the journey to the BOM, not the BOM itself.
Want to read more in the Creating a Supply Chain from Scratch Series? Click the links below:
Part 1 - Understanding What a Supply Chain is and When to Start Establishing Your Product's Supply Chain
Part 2 - Understanding Chaos and How to Work With It
Part 3 - The Planning Hierarchy: Unlocking the Path Forward
Part 5 - Supplier Management
Is Your Prototype Ready for Production?
Peter Heuss, P.Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
You’ve created a working design, the next step is to start production, right? The simple answer is unfortunately, no.
Building more than one of anything effectively and efficiently is completely different than building just one. That’s a sweeping statement, but there’s a lot to consider in planning your production. By assuming that you can simply duplicate your initial builds can lead to costly delays, significantly higher manufacturing costs, more frequent redesign, and often considerable post sale costs due to warranty and service issues.
Building one or two units of a new product to prove out a concept is a necessary step in new product development. These first builds, or proof of concepts, help to prove that the idea is viable, can theoretically meet the business goals , and should be developed further. They allow for testing the concepts before spending any significant time and resources on engineering and manufacturing. However, those first units are typically hand crafted, often by the engineers/designers themselves, using whatever parts can be found quickly. Taking great care to make and fit parts, they test out functionality and tweak the design to work and hence, these first builds require a great deal of time and skilled labour to build and commission. Once the first builds are complete, there is a lot more work to do before the product is ready to be built in any volume.
There are a host of considerations that go into a production ready design based around being able to provide a consistent, high-quality product at volume. The business plan will help identify the quantity of units that need to be produced and when. It should also outline the expected cost (profit) goals that will help determine what can and cannot be considered in production.
Custom and Fabricated Parts
Most products are going to be a mix of custom fabricated and purchased parts. If you don’t consider how the custom parts are made, you can design parts that are difficult, expensive, or even impossible to make. You need to select your fabricators and work with them to ensure the designs work for their equipment, tooling, and processes. You can craft a lot of things by hand that can not be made cost effectively in production. Ramping up production over time may also require a series of different designs to suit different manufacturing methods. Machining vs. injection moulding a plastic part is a prime example, you have to consider when does the extra capital cost for moulds make budgetary sense for your unique product.
Additive manufacturing allows designers to get hands-on examples quickly and can be a great development tool. However, 3D printing is currently not a cost-effective process for volume parts and often produces a part that is significantly weaker with poorer surface finishes than other lower cost production options. 3D printing also allows you to create features that aren’t practical, or impossible, to make with other fabrication techniques which will lead to part redesign.
Building Supply Chain Simultaneously with Product Design
Supply chain frequently gets overlooked in the early development. However, sourcing the correct parts from reliable vendors that can be supplied at a reasonable price and in the quantities required throughout the lifetime of a product is critical. Not being able to secure a single chip for example, can mean a PCB can’t be assembled which can delay the entire build and a purchased part that gets discontinued can mean a lot of part redesign to accommodate an alternative.
Logistics and regional requirements can greatly affect your design. If your product contains batteries for instance, there will be special considerations on how you package and ship your product. There are some jurisdictions that will require information on where all of the parts were made and assembled, and that can affect shipping and sales.
It’s crucial that you develop your supply chain as part of the design process (not as a separate activity). Developing your supply chain in collaboration with your product design rather than one after the other not only improves your product design and delivery, but speeds up your time to market. This is a huge topic and we will dive into it further in a future post.
Probably the highest cost of most products will be the assembly. It can also be where the most variability is added to the final product. At the end of the day, every finished product should be as close to identical to the rest as possible, consistency is paramount. Assembly must be as simple and as quick as possible to insure the lowest cost with the fewest quality issues.
The first builds take a great deal of time, skilled labour can do anything with enough time and money, but that’s not the goal behind production. Production has to be the repeated building at the lowest cost to meet the sales requirements (business case).
To optimize assembly, you have to look at each assembly step and ensure that it can be done as simply, safely and as quickly as possible. Parts need to align well without extra effort, tooling should be easy to use and fastening should be common throughout whenever possible. The entire process must be well documented allowing consistent training and the development of quality control standards.
When you have a product idea that can go to production you need to go through the entire DFx process - design for manufacturing, design for assembly, design for test, design for supply chain, design for service before it is truly ready to be made in any volume. Moving from a prototype into production is not a simple journey to navigate and it takes skill sets that are specific to new production introduction. Most companies will need some external support to do it well and efficiently and it’s well worth seeking input early in the process.
Advanced Video Technology Solutions Ltd. (AVT) was formed by Engineering graduate, Chris Cavalieri and faculty member, Adrian Kitai, both of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. They started the company based on their innovative ideas for configurable, large scale displays. One idea was a 6’ by 6’ seamless LCD screen, which used AVT’s own technology to blend images from an array of small LCD-hybrid screens into one large seamless image capable of displaying up to 100MegaPixel. This exciting project came with a few challenges, the first of which focused on their supply chain. AVT needed help sourcing materials, services and components, as well as managing the logistics and tariffs that came from importing to the U.S. for processing, before arriving in Canada. They reached out to Berlin KraftWorks Inc. (BKW) for assistance.
Once the BKW team had worked through the design and sourcing challenges, they worked with AVT to create a test portion of the screen. This was a scaled down version of the screen which would later become part of the finished 6’ x 6’ screen. AVT was then ready to order the final pieces and assemble the full screen. The full-scale display is due to be delivered to AVT’s client in Q2 2021, with high hopes of future development of the project.
What the hell is a prototype anyway?
Peter Heuss, P.Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Prototype seems to be one of the most misused words in manufacturing. An early working example of a concept is often referred to as a prototype; however, a prototype is actually the final design on which the manufacturing is patterned, the last design before you start to manufacture in volume. From Webster’s dictionary “a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction”.
This early conceptual design is a proof of concept and is a totally necessary step to show that an idea is valid, determine if there is sales interest, and to test engineering ideas. Too often though, we see companies come up with a conceptual design, build a proof of concept and believe that the design is done and that they are ready to take the idea to production.
Conceptual design is very much a creative activity and creativity cannot always be rushed. However, if the requirements of the product are well understood, knowing who the stakeholders are and what constraints must be met, conceptual design can avoid many issues. Creativity, however, does not negate good planning. Lean principles can still be used to plan and efficiently execute conceptual design.
A good proof of concept needs to test if the potential product merits development. It will likely help determine how the final product will look, what features are required, and how they all fit together. It’s a learning step to help specify the product. There could many iterations, and it will focus on defining and confirming the requirements, but not on how it will be built.
The final proof of concept should define the product requirements. The next step is to understand how to turn it into a product, something that can be built in volume repeatedly. Prototype design will take that conceptual design and figure out: how best to fabricate custom parts; what purchased components are suitable, available and at what cost; and how to assemble, package, ship and service the product. The necessities of cost and schedule will often dictate how much of the proof of concept design has to be modified. The final product will likely be a set of compromises from what was envisioned to what is practical.
Both steps are essential. Both steps require different skill sets and input from different stakeholders. They both take time to do properly. So, it’s natural to want to skip some or all of the process, especially in a young company where budgets are tight. Every idea needs to be fully defined and vetted to ensure it meets the business needs. It’s the prototype that defines the final configuration and how that idea can be built and sold - and how profitable it will be.
As applied to organizational improvement, system thinking is grounded in the following fundamental principles:
System thinking takes a birds-eye view of how the firm is employing the resources it has invested in in delivering value to its customers. System thinking posits that a firm’s resources do not operate independently, but work together in an interconnected and interdependent fashion, not unlike the musicians in a world class symphony. System thinking focuses on aligning and synchronizing the flow of activities among and between each resource as they collaboratively work together to create and deliver ever-increasing customer value.
When should we use a system thinking approach?
Any organization interested in improving its operational and financial performance should employ system thinking. System thinking is a different way of viewing and thinking about how your organization creates value for the customers that buy your products and/or services. In a business environment, system thinking focuses on delighting the customer by significantly improving flow in the value creation stream in your firm.
The focus on customer value creation distinguishes system thinking from conventional cost-driven management approach. Simply stated, cost-driven management breaks down the organization into its individual resources, products and services, then focuses on driving down or optimizing the cost of each resource in isolation. Unfortunately, this approach not only results in sub-optimal system performance but also ignores the only part of the system which generates cash inflows and future growth, the customer.
System thinking as a best practice focuses on aligning and synchronizing the activities of all resources in a system. In the process, waste is eliminated, lead times are shortened, labour is freed up, capacity is released, costs are reduced, operational and financial performance is improved, and the firm becomes increasingly competitive. This approach will also effectively reduce a firm’s carbon footprint by reducing the production of greenhouse gases through the elimination of wasteful non-value adding practices.
Organizations are constantly facing new challenges, and the future is unknowable. The current pandemic adds additional layers of complexity and volatility into an already challenging hypercompetitive marketplace. As a manager or business owner it can be overwhelmingly difficult to determine what the next step should be for your business in this increasingly complex environment. System thinking helps clarify and simplify the way forward.
If your organization is struggling with any of the following issues, system thinking can help.
BKW’s Business Alignment Program
BKW can help you resolve the challenges you are facing, and help you insulate your firm from the myriad of complex challenges you are faced with every day. Our Business Alignment Program based in system thinking is a proven approach. It will help you to identify hidden opportunities, release untapped capacity, and improve your business’ resiliency.
If you are a small to medium sized manufacturing firm and anything you’ve read above resonates with you, we can help and would like to hear from you. Please click the link below to provide us with some preliminary information and BKW team member will contact you to discuss how we can help. Click here to contact the BKW team.
The Canadian Manufacturing Identity Crisis - and the opportunities it offers for all of us
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Manufacturing has been around for a long time. From the time early humans picked up a sharp rock or stick and grasped the concept of a tool, we have had to consider how to make things to survive and thrive.
Manufacturing is simply the process of converting something into something else of greater use/value. Although the methods and materials we use have, and will continue to evolve, the requirement to produce physical things will never go away and the need is ever increasing. But there seems to be endless confusion about what manufacturing is.
So why then if manufacturing is a part of our survival, have we become content to be so vague in our understanding of it? On a global scale it does make sense to trade with other nations for different aspects of manufacturing, but this does not relieve us of our responsibility to maintain our manufacturing knowledge and innovation. To do so is to cut ourselves off from opportunity.
Confusion caused by disconnected points of view
There’s a lot of terminology out there: Industry 4.0, Advanced Manufacturing, Additive Manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing, IoT, Digital Transformation in Manufacturing, Technology Adoption for Manufacturing, etc. The confusion comes as each of these approaches to manufacturing splinter the focus into separate solutions bringing with it contradictions and generalizations. The resulting confusion translates into lost productivity and lost opportunity, for individual firms and for Canada.
If we focus on individual tools as universally applicable, we gloss over the opportunity to understand the true operational challenges facing the majority of Canadian manufacturers, who happen to be manufacturing start-ups and small and medium enterprises, at a macro level. There is no substitute for going out and listening to folks at individual firms who can tell us those things which are not written down, unlocking the experience and tacit knowledge that lives in individuals, and individual firms, which can then develop into new knowledge for innovation collaboratively. This cannot be done in isolation, or through any kind of automated method.
Manufacturing is more than factories and folks in coveralls
There are many firms who produce physical products (in some cases the physical products are simply a device to deploy software as a core product) who vehemently reject any association with “manufacturing” in favour of being “tech” or “IoT” (Internet of Things, which from a purely manufacturing point of view is simply any manufactured product with connectivity). In doing so, they set down a path of reinventing the wheel with the belief that their firm or product is unique, and they disconnect themselves from over a century of knowledge advancement around how to produce things effectively, and competitively. All the while, time to market is extended, as is cost and risk. While not the sole cause, this is a major contributor to Canada’s decline in productivity on the global stage compared to other nations.
It’s a little like watching someone starve while they sit in front of a feast.
To be clear, this is not the fault of “tech” or “IoT”! My belief is that it’s the fault of all of us who call ourselves professionals in manufacturing.
Manufacturing is our best kept secret
Canada has a strong manufacturing sector and in fact, is exceptionally good at manufacturing and product development. It’s a massive part of our economy. However, misinformation runs rampant and we hear myths like “You can’t develop product in Canada”, “Canada can’t produce products economically” and “manufacturing is dead” which is frankly, garbage. As manufacturing splinters itself into the categories mentioned above, we miss the forest for the trees.
Ultimately the decision of where to produce is a data-based equation specific to each product and there is no one-size fits all answer. But many products can be developed right here, quickly and economically, regardless of where they are ultimately produced, and this has been demonstrated time and again by many firms. For the most part however many of us in manufacturing are guilty of saying “we’re too busy getting the job done to talk about it”. We really need to shift that perspective.
Collaboration is key
Our friends in tech have an approach that we should definitely learn from. Many tech folks regularly share information, articles, celebrations, etc. through LinkedIn and other social media outlets. While it may seem time consuming, it does demonstrate a different approach – let’s share knowledge, let’s collaborate, and let’s solve common problems together so we can focus our individual innovation effort on the things that make us different and competitive. While many firms divorce themselves from being “manufacturers” and therefore from manufacturing knowledge, Canadian manufacturing itself hasn’t adopted the same external collaborative philosophy common to tech and common to manufacturing in other nations, and so we also sit and starve at a table full of food.
I’m as guilty as anyone. But because of that, I know that for any firm which produces a physical product – any physical product - there is a definite path to break through the fog.
Manufacturing is strategic, not transactional
If your firm generates revenue from a physical product, then your manufacturing is the engine that enables your firm to deliver the value your customer will pay for. Often, it’s viewed as just the opposite, as an afterthought or as transactional activity. The reality is how well you manufacture will decide how well your firm will survive. Supply Chain is the connective tissue from your customer’s customer to your supplier’s supplier. But manufacturing is the one element of overall Supply Chain that must be supported by the whole organization, and in turn it supports the organization itself. Manufacturing by its nature can multiply value (or waste if managed poorly), so its worth placing it as front and centre if your business relies on physical product to make money.
There is tremendous opportunity!
Canada sits on the edge of massive opportunity! The connectedness of our modern world affords opportunities to re-imagine manufacturing. Specifically, Canada is very well positioned to be a global leader in the manufacture of low volume, high value/complexity products. Think MedTech, DeepTech, Machinery, Automation Equipment, and virtually any other product where the volume will not be that of consumer goods, but precision as well as reliability is critical. This is Canada’s future, and its ours to lose!
From my point of view, here’s how we can collectively improve Canada’s productivity from the grass-roots on up, and get past manufacturing’s identity crisis:
1) Seek to understand your own firm and your own business case
Applying a system thinking approach to your firm’s challenges will separate symptoms from root cause problems if applied horizontally across all functions and not localized within one department. Understanding how to select the right data to base decisions on is key, since too much data (and over-complexity) can be as problematic as none at all.
2) Seek to understand manufacturing beyond your firm, for better context
A common truth around all of these manufacturing approaches is that they all have value, but none of them can solve all problems for all firms (nor should they). Its up to each firm to acquire knowledge specific to their manufacturing first in order to identify the right tools and then know how to apply them effectively. Application is key.
3) Finally, collaborate outside of your firm.
Both your competitors and your colleagues in manufacturing will face common operational challenges. It is a waste of money and worse, a waste of time for firms to work separately to find solutions to common challenges when they could leverage knowledge across industries to solve them. Instead, grow your involvement and awareness of your own ecosystem, who the players are and ways to work together for common benefit which will increase knowledge development, and innovation. This will increase the time and resources you have to apply internally to those things that differentiate your firm from others – your competitive advantage.
Canada’s manufacturing can have a bright future, and we have all we need today to get there if we collaborate under a system thinking mindset. Who’s in?
Les Hirst, P.Eng.
Design Guide, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
My Dad taught me a lot of life lessons, but two of them really stick. The first is to be honest; the second lesson is to buy the best quality products that you can afford and take care of them - they will reward you with a long life of use.
What products do you use – whether it’s a tool, an appliance, an article of clothing, a musical instrument, camping gear, or anything else - that have had a long, useful, life and are a pleasure to use? Bring to mind the older things that you consider to be vintage.
Recently I listened to a podcast featuring Satish Kumar, where he says: “whatever we have should be beautiful, useful and durable at the same time.” It’s advice that he got from his grandmother. He calls it the ‘BUD’ principle of elegant simplicity. Let’s break that down a little - and as we do, I encourage you to think about how this applies in your life and experience.
Later in this article, we’ll look at why forward-looking companies can benefit from adopting these principles for the products they design and manufacture.
When something is beautiful, we will want to use it for a long time. What do we mean here by beautiful? I can hear the discomfort among our engineering readers about something so subjective, so let’s qualify it:
Think of the presents that you may have received in the holiday season. What will you still want in 5 years? What will wind up in donation pile, trash, recycling, or garage sale? Just so that we don’t get too puritanical here, useful items include toys, musical instruments, and so on. The question is whether this is something that you will want to pick up and use over and over.
When I recently downsized from a four bedroom home to an apartment, I needed to purge about half of my possessions. What do I miss? Very little – in fact there’s a sense of freedom and lightness of only having what I need.
Products that last many, many years, potentially even lifetimes. Durable products are repairable with simple replacement parts and able to retain their functionality for years to come.
The Business Opportunity
The Turning Tide
We are witnessing rapid transformation in the world. The last 40 years or so have represented a time of conspicuous consumption for many and an emphasis on low cost products that were designed and manufactured for planned obsolescence. This philosophy and behaviour has contributed to a lot of the environmental problems (landfill, pollution, climate change) that we’re just now starting to deal with.
Considering that most of us are now aware of the problem, there’s an increasing desire for products that truly provide benefit (that are a joy to use and contribute to a better world), that minimize pollution and energy use throughout the lifecycle, that are usable for a long time, and that can be transformed well after they are no longer usable.
Paying for the True Cost of a Product
Our economic system privatizes profits and socializes costs – environmental (pollution, use of land), and societal (pressure on wages, benefits, safety, local economic collapse through plant closings, etc.). Governments, communities, and families are often the ones paying the cost of poorly made, low cost products, but this is starting to change. Just recently, the Ontario government announced that it will start charging producers for waste diversion. When the costs are borne by the producer, different product design and manufacturing decisions are made. The successful organizations of the near future will be the ones who consider these costs now and shift their design and manufacturing decisions accordingly.
Our North American Opportunity
How will we, in North America, be successful in designing and manufacturing products right here? I believe there’s an emerging market for high quality, well designed and made products that are affordable for most – the market segment between the low cost/marginal quality and the expensive/ultra premium end of the market.
Many of the best designers and makers will want to work on these products and many consumers will turn to these products as their true value becomes appreciated.
What goes around, comes around. Maybe my Dad was on to something.
Efficient Product Development is Driven by a System Approach That Continually Considers Value
Peter Heuss, P. Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Nearly all product development is a multi-disciplinary effort, usually with tight constraints on time, cost and function. But most engineering groups tend to design in isolation, where even the different engineering disciplines don’t interact, let alone considering supply chain, manufacturing, service, test etc… The risk is a design that doesn’t meet the business goals and needs to be reworked or adversely affects the company’s performance. I’ve learned this hard way in the past, having to re-design mechanical systems, for example, when they wouldn’t work with what the electrical engineers designed.
There are two principles that will help develop better products, quicker – value analysis (a part of lean and value stream theory) and systems design.
Every process is made up of a series of steps or tasks. These tasks may not be linear, there may be a complex set of interactions required, but they always share the same basic structure. Every task includes a set of inputs, has a set of required outputs, has stakeholders who use those outputs, and is done under a set of constraints.
The outputs should be based entirely on the value they deliver. The end goal is always to produce a product that meets the company’s goals as outlined in their business case. If the output of any task doesn’t contribute to those business goals, it’s waste. If the output has to be reworked because it doesn’t work with some other part of the design, it’s also waste.
The inputs are where many design processes slip. I think everyone will agree that every part in a design is somehow affected by the other parts. It could be as simple as a bracket holding a PCB or as complicated as a motion control system controlling the movement of mechanical components driven by remote user input. The key to effective design is to consider those interactions from the start of design.
System thinking is a way of looking at the inter-relationships of parts once they have been combined into a system. A portion of a design may seem appropriate on its own, but when taken in context with the entire system may fail. For example:
System Design is the application of systems theory to product development, taking a multi-disciplinary approach to design and implementation. It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that will save a lot of design time and produce a better design.
The key to planning and executing the design is to first to consider the value each task creates. The three primary aspects of value are:
If we understand what value each task is to deliver, we can better understand what needs to be designed, and more importantly what is not required. And that helps determine what inputs we need to carry out that design.
Those inputs will typically be from multiple sources including the design specification, outputs from preceding tasks, input from concurrent tasks, and some additional design knowledge and information. If we continually look at how each task is effected by previous tasks and how it is effected by and affects concurrent tasks, we can complete each task in a way the develops the most value for the overall system.
By considering the entire system when planning each design task, and the value that task is generating, we can be more effective, producing better designs with less waste.