This is the first in a series of excerpts from "Better Be Running! Tools to Drive Design Success" by Dr. Ronald Hollis, President, CEO, and Co-founder of Quickparts.com (Atlanta, GA). Written for business managers, the book focuses on manufacturing processes, tooling choices, and production strategies that can help companies bring products to market faster. To order the book, go to www.betterberunning.com .
Product development is the oxygen of business. Free enterprise nurtures the creativity behind product development and unleashes powerful, positive changes in the world. In the last 25 years, product development has "gone global" and continues to race after an ever-widening horizon, be it the far field of innovation or the geopolitical turf of Southeast Asia. Product development flourishes in an environment of freedom. The future looks bright in countries where businesses thrive as the primary elements of free enterprise, like China's recent firestorm of economic expansion. Manufactured parts are the common denominator to both free and un-free societies. The almighty part is the sole reason the U.S. now connects to the previously inaccessible society of China.
If you study the incredible "power of the part," you can see how it feeds into an ever-expanding spiral of interconnection. Follow the movement of each element within manufacturing and discover the ripple effect set in motion by the part. Parts generate revenue to sustain business, business sustains employees, employees sustain communities, communities sustain governments, and governments sustain other governments that, we hope, sustain a peaceful world in which we are all interdependent.
A potent driver of society, product development businesses in a laissez-faire economy are required to develop products to grow more commerce. The most dynamic product development teams require dreamers, doers, innovators, and leaders who continually add to their knowledge base, as the most far-reaching knowledge drives the greatest innovation. The latest business mantra "faster, better, cheaper" is an unrelenting standard to which we all answer. It impacts the way we imagine a new product, the way we conceive a well-designed assembly, and the way we verify, test, and produce tools and parts to make the final assembled part at the greatest quality and the least cost.
Design on Monday, Manufacture on Wednesday
"Dream it, Do it!" Today's product development cycle is almost that fast, thanks to an abundance of new product development tools. You can design a product in Atlanta on Monday, get your investor's blessing in New York on Tuesday, and manufacture it on Wednesday, -- an almost unthinkably fast creation story. When the product developer of the twenty-first century realizes that the world really is his her or toolbox and understands how to apply these new tools, nothing can stop their glorious success. Isn't this a strong enough motivator to learn a new manufacturing paradigm?
Some 30 years ago, American product design became complacent, appearing lackluster in innovation. The illusion of product development prowess in the U.S. was still strong. In reality, it was a time of exploding Pintos, heavy telephones, and clunky televisions. Fat, dumb, and happy, design companies were sleepwalking, and product developers seemed to be resting on collective laurels of the U.S. as a "success culture" of the '50s and '60s.
In the '70s, global competition reared its head for the first time. Fortunately for the U.S., Japan decided to intervene and take over the U.S. market for everything. The old corporate geezers in the U.S. did not want the world to change until they retired. These long-timers shifted the problem to the next generation, letting Japan's elegant know-how be someone else's problem.
As it turned out, the Japanese invasion of the U.S. market shook things up and released a new wave of innovation and corporate development in the '80s. Out of obvious necessity to compete globally for the first time, the next generation of Americans germinated many innovations, including computer-aided design (CAD) software and sophisticated technologies that convert the output of the CAD software to real parts using additive fabrication (AF). Additive fabrication was called rapid prototyping (RP) in the beginning and is still a common term used.
In the '90s, innovation was revealed through more sophisticated 3D software and newly released AF machines. The turn of the century gave the mass market access to that innovation, now at the point of fully evolving into new realities of layered manufacturing and low-volume production.
Amazing Technologies and Strategies
The process of using advanced technologies for product development begins with the transformation of electronic representations (CAD files) into the physical world of real parts. The Product Developer's Toolbox is a choice selection of CAD-friendly product development tools that bring about product innovation faster and better. It includes a mouthful of hard-to-say processes including: the AF processes of Stereolithography (SL), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Low-tech manufacturing methods of Cast Urethane (CU) and Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) parts are also included, as are tooling strategies that feature the ability to make plastic injected-molded parts from thermoplastic materials in days, and production injection molds in weeks. By using the Product Developer's Toolbox fully, you will eliminate inefficiencies in proofing product concepts, leaving you plenty of time to focus on innovation itself.
Evolution of Product Development Technologies
The purpose of RP is to get expert input into your design early in the product development process to reduce failures that are likely to happen. Therefore, it makes no sense for today's product developer to skip the RP process. In the '80s, a designer made 2D drawings and gave them to a model maker who hand carved mostly prismatic objects. Design changes and extensive labor meant that getting approval on the design could take weeks or even months.
Product development radically changed in the late '80s when the virtual world involved high-end, high-cost 3D modeling software. First used in very few specialized, high-tech programs, such as the Space Station, this technology has since proliferated to the masses. Today, sophisticated 3D solid modeling software costs very little, which means that everyone should design in 3D and 2D drawings should be for reference only.
Now that every design is virtual, physical verification is required. Rapid prototyping, in reference to being a product development technology, is an extension of the modeling and verification process. If you are in the product development world, you already know it's an expensive area. Every change that you don't have to make in tooling is a cost savings. Prototyping actually turns out to be free if you consider that, as an iterative design process, it validates your designs prior to producing the tooling, launching marketing programs, and even mass-producing the part.
In the late '90s, it was common for a designer, engineer, or manager to spend a quarter of his or her time in sourcing and buying the parts needed to verify the product. Today, with online instant quoting, you buy custom-made parts as easily as buying books from Amazon.com. This leaves the remaining 75% of your time for administration, meetings, and actual development of the product. Using these new rapid technologies, you can now recover and invest almost all of that first 25% of your time in the actual product development process.
As product makers, we are clearly not in Kansas anymore. This exciting new information will take you on an extraordinary road trip across an expansive paradigm shift in manufacturing. If you are not well versed in CAD technologies, stop reading now and run to the nearest software provider . Get your hands on software that will allow you to evolve your process into the twenty-first century.
About the Author
Ronald L. Hollis is the President, CEO and Co-founder of Quickparts.com, Inc. He has provided the leadership and execution to build Quickparts into one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. This was accomplished through innovation and accepting the risks to change the way you buy custom parts with instant online quoting. Dr. Hollis and Quickparts are also the recipient of many awards including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist; Deloitte Fast 500; Inc 500; and 2004 Catalyst Innovator of the Year. He is a graduate of the MIT Birthing of Giants program and served in leadership positions for YEO and YPO. He earned a BSME, as well as a MSE and Ph.D. with a focus in technology-based business from the University of Alabama. Dr. Hollis is passionate about building businesses that apply technologies to solve problems and drive efficiency.