Over the years, our team has worked on hundreds of product design and engineering projects. While some businesses bring us in to focus on one specific development step, many engage us in the complete process: from pre-concept work to manufacturing startup. Using well-defined phases allows for multiple pivot-points or times at which progress can be assessed, and direction changed if needed. Every project is a little different, and we are able to apply the project structure that works best for each client. A step, of a phased approach to development, is important because the findings of each phase will change the direction for subsequent work. In general, a successful product design project will include these steps or phases:
Phase 0: Feasibility Analysis
The goal of this phase is to identify existing technology to achieve the intended high-level function. If technology can be purchased as opposed to developed, the scope of subsequent development phases changes.
Phase 1: Specification or PRD (Product Requirements Document) development
In this phase, product design and engineering focus on documenting the critical functionality, constraints, and inputs to the design. This is a critical step to keep development focused, identify the high-risk areas, and ensure that scope creep is minimized later.
Phase 2: Concept Development
Initial shape development work identifies options for form, as well as possible approaches for complex mechanical engineering challenges. Initial flowchart of software/firmware also happens here, as well as concept design level user interface work. Aesthetic prototypes may be included in this Phase, if appropriate. Prototype in this phase will not typically be functional.
Phase 3: Initial Design and Engineering
Based on decisions made at the end of Phase 2, actual product design and engineering programming can start. In this phase, Level 1 prototypes are often used to test approaches to technical challenges.
Phase 4: Design Iteration
This part of the project is where we focus on rapid cycles, quickly developing designs and prototypes, as the depth of engineering work increases. This phase can include Level 2 and 3 prototypes, typically through multiple cycles. Some products require as many as twenty prototype cycles in this phase. Others may only require two or three.
Phase 5: Design Finalization / Optimization
With all assumptions tested and validated, the design can be finalized and then optimized for production. To properly optimize for production, product design and engineering teams take into account the target production volumes, as well as the requirements of the manufacturer. Regulatory work may start in this phase.
Phase 6: Manufacturing Start and Support
Before production starts, tooling is produced, and initial units are inspected. Final changes are negotiated with the manufacturer. Regulatory work also should wrap up in this phase.
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