Concept design sounds easy, right? A bunch of engineers, sitting around, brainstorming. Although the concept phase sounds as simple as sitting down and spouting off ideas, it’s much more time and thought consuming. Creating a product from start to finish is an all-around labor intensive process, and the concept phase is only a small part of the overall product development process, but getting it right is crucial.
We often assist many of our customers with their concept phase, sometimes as the lead, sometimes as part of the team. Our engineers have collectively logged many thousands of hours throughout their careers on this phase alone. In the concept phase there are several steps involved. We first sit down with the customer and find out their initial wants, needs and must haves. Now let me tell you, you can’t have it all. Customers don’t always like to hear this, but it’s the unfortunate truth. There are tradeoffs that need be explored, questions of form vs. function, manufacturability vs. salability and cost vs. well, everything (time, etc.)… And no, we haven’t touched the design yet.
Once the customer’s product and regulatory requirements have been established and categorized (Must / Want / Nice to have), next comes the design concept. This includes sketches, 2D models and eventually 3D renderings. Doing all this first on paper, a dry erase board or in a program is going to be more cost effective as opposed to creating a million prototypes. Not to worry, I’m sure there will be plenty of iterations there too, but hopefully not as many as you’re going through on paper.
Considering all of these variables in the beginning sounds a bit excessive, but it’s not. Most of the manufacturing costs are committed during the concept phase. It’s only a small fraction of residual costs that will follow. Whatever side you’re on, marketing or accounting, manufacturing or design, trust me when I say it’s important to take your time during the concept phase. You’re going to save yourself a lot money and frustration in the long run. And let’s be real, who doesn’t want to save time and money?