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Product Design and Development Approach

VPI's Approach to Product Design and Development

What is the driving force behind new product development? Is it a demanding need? Changes in consumer preference? Advances in technology? Increasing competition? Brand awareness growth? Whichever the driving force, a strategic and planned out approach to product design and development is imperative to the new product’s foundational success.

Before jumping in and starting work on a prototype for a new product, what should you consider doing?

Systems engineering tasks that must be conducted to ensure successful product design and development outcomes include designing the system’s architecture, developing a high-level system design, and fleshing out a detailed product requirements document. These activities enable thought processes about the product that may have been overlooked or not considered. Making high-level design decisions at the outset of the product development process is vital.

Below are the approach steps VPI takes for successful product design and development:

System Architecture

System Architecture development tasks involve high-level design exercises to create the big picture of how the product will function and be used. Defining inputs and outputs, user interaction, use cases, major system components, objectives (form factor, fit, function, target bill of materials cost, power consumption, etc.), creating a system context diagram, external interfaces, and other high-level requirements need to be completed in this effort.

System Design

Following System Architecture, System Design is the next step in VPI’s approach to product design and development. While System Design may seem similar to System Architecture, it actually covers some different objectives including capturing high-level designs in a system specification document. These high-level designs include electrical design, mechanical design, software/application design, firmware design, and design for manufacturability requirements.

The electrical design process involves research and selection of major system components including processors and logic components, power and control systems, interfaces between devices and humans, and communications for both wired and wireless connectivity. Mechanical design maps out how the product components come together and interact spatially and structurally with an efficient cost perspective. Industrial design is often part of the System Design portion of a project where the look and feel is designed as well as interaction with environments and people using the device. Software and/or application high-level designs are mapped out, again defining how users will act with the system. Firmware design or embedded system design provides input on what electrical components are used and what embedded system protocols will be used. Lastly, design for manufacturability evaluates how the product can be engineered in such a way that it can be manufactured in mass quantities with parts that are readily available.

 Product Requirements

After navigating through System Architecture and System Design, the next step is to assess all requirements of the product. While considering each of the following details, questions or problems may arise, giving the opportunity to avoid time-consuming setbacks later in the development process.

First is to list the product objectives. These often include such items as:

  • Form factor (physical look, shape, touch and feel)
  • Fit (how it assembles or attaches to other assemblies)
  • Function (what it does)
  • Target bill of materials cost
  • Power consumption
  • Heat dissipation

Second, discuss concept and alternative trade-offs such as size, weight, power, cost, second sourcing, upgrade path, tool costs, complexity, risk, testability, and manufacturability.

Third, specify the required use cases and possible future use cases. Detail the functionality of the device and how it will be used in a variety of scenarios, how it will interact with users, a contextual environment, host devices, etc.

Fourth, describe the user interface: buttons, displays, commands, prompts, and messages. Where appropriate, use pictures. State diagrams or menu trees are useful for describing system navigation.

Fifth, identify the external interfaces and define each interface between the project and other systems, specifying the physical interface, communication media, protocol, file formats, etc.

Sixth, list the performance requirements including the measurement criteria, such as:

  • Memory Size
  • Power consumption
  • Sleep state
  • Idle state
  • Active states
  • Output Power
  • Range of operation
  • Noise Immunity
  • Special Timing Characteristics
  • FCC and UL qualified
  • Other Regulatory Qualifications

Seventh, include any applicable studies or white papers.

Eighth, list components that may require special attention and add cost to the design. These may include ASIC, FPGA, Analog IC, MMIC, Custom display interfaces, Custom antenna design, Tooling, and Test Fixtures.

Ninth, specify the environmental and physical constraints such as size, weight, power, materials, operational environment conditions, and storage environment conditions.

Lastly, describe the design for X criteria. For example, the system is to be designed for the following:

  • Testability
  • Extensibility
  • Modularity
  • Signal and Noise
  • Transient Conditions
  • Steady-state Conditions
  • FCC Qualification
  • UL/CE/CSA/ETL/RoHS/International Qualification
  • Ruggedness
  • Fault Tolerance
  • Reliability
  • Power Management
  • Corrosion
  • Radiation Hardening
  • Volume Manufacturability
  • ...

The delineation of requirements for the developing product enables clear and concise details needed to advance forward into the prototype stage.

Prototyping

Building a prototype is an important step in product development. The prototype process can flow easily since all product requirements and details have already been planned out. This pre-production prototype will be built in accordance with the design specifications listed in the product requirements document.

A simple yet working prototype can be very beneficial for those looking to show their product concept to potential investors, stakeholders, or business partners in physical form, rather than a drawing or written idea. Designing for manufacturing comes into play here, as parts are carefully selected to enable high-quality yet economical and readily available components for a smooth manufacturing process. With 3D printing, our experience with injection molding, and using state-of-the-art methods, we can design components to be efficiently produced.

Final design, testing and certification, and pre-production

Once a prototype has been built, VPI moves the project into a final design phase. As part of the design finalization, VPI will complete prototype bug fixes, measure and evaluate prototypes against design and functional requirements, and make changes based on feedback from customers. Electrical and firmware designs are updated. Updated prototypes are created. Firmware and software beta tests are performed, assembly drawings are finalized, and tooling is planned. Manufacturing test fixtures are also designed where required.

Certification and testing are also a part of finalizing the design. Different products will require different testing and certifications for the usage of the product. There are tests that validate product functionality under various environmental conditions: temperature, humidity, vibration, shock, water/dust ingress protection (IP rated testing), etc. In addition to environmental tests, VPI also conducts regulatory testing in our laboratory and at our open-air test site. Examples of government-mandated regulatory testing for both the U.S. and international markets include FCC, Industry Canada (IC), EU testing, CE mark and safety testing.

After designs are finalized and product testing and certification is done, preproduction activities can commence including assembly of manufacturing fixtures, manufacturing test fixture validation, and documenting a manufacturing process. Tooling for metal, plastic, and other resin-based parts should be close to completion when preproduction activities start. For customers who have plastic housings for their products, starting early on kicking off plastic injection mold tooling is important as there are long lead times associated with designing and fabricating those types of molds. After procuring system components, a small production run of a limited quantity is completed to validate the manufacturing process. After this manufacturing validation process, the project can move into full manufacturing. VPI Manufacturing provides assembly and manufacturing services for many types of products. We manufacture low and medium volumes in the US and provide full-service manufacturing services for high production volume in Asia (principally in the Philippines).