From Concept to Production: The Development Cycle

People come to By Design Group in search of help to develop their ideas. But not everyone understands the steps that are needed to accomplish this task.

This page explains the development cycle, or process through which a new idea proceeds from initial concept right through to production and finally sale.

While we have set out the design cycle as a logical step-by-step process, it's not really quite that simple. Issues such as marketing and distribution need to be kept in mind from the start. In fact many of these steps should be considered concurrently even though you work through them consecutively.


1. Concept Phase

1.1 Concept Recognition/Definition.
The basis for all successful new products or ideas is typically some form of opportunity. You may recognize this opportunity when you run into a problem, or perhaps you spot a need which could be filled.

After the initial inspiration, your first step should be to define a specification. This lists the requirements that any solution needs to have if it is to provide a satisfactory answer to the problem. You may need to investigate the original problem further before you can write this specification.

If you are starting out with a great idea, it is still worth reviewing that idea and writing a specification for it.

1.2 Concept Investigation.
Once you have written the specification you can start investigating possible solutions to the problem. List all ideas uncritically, as in a buzz group, without pre-judging any of them. You probably won't be able to recognize a good solution, unless you already have a bad solution to compare it with.

At first you should try to come up with some of your own solutions before you look to see what anyone else has done. If you review someone else's work first, it becomes fixed in your mind and may prevent you from coming up with a better idea.

1.3 Concept Selection.
After you have thought up and explored at least three concepts, it is time to rate them so that you can choose one to concentrate on developing further. Don't just consider the concept that best meets the specification, but also look at cost and ease of manufacture, aesthetics, and packaging, etc.

Keep those concepts which you don't choose on file as you may need to review them again in the future.

1.4. Concept Review
Now is the time to review the work done to date. If you are developing your idea with a partner, check to see if they are happy with your choices as they may have some further ideas or information that could influence the design process.

By this stage your investigation may have shown that costly issues still have to be resolved, or perhaps the solution will be too expensive to manufacture.

Now is the time to decide whether to continue or discontinue the project.

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2. Design Phase

2.1 Planning
Once the decision to continue with the project has been made, you should start to plan the rest of the process. In addition to the detailed development, start to think about issues such as funding, marketing, distribution, manufacturing and where your product will be made.

2.2 Preliminary Design
It is often necessary to include a preliminary design phase, especially on larger jobs, where not enough of the "bigger picture" problems have been solved at the concept stages. Continue working at this level until a good clear picture of the final solution emerges.

2.3 Design Review
If you carried out the preliminary design stage then you should conduct another review before you continue.

2.4 Design/Analysis/Review Loop
The following three steps are carried out in an iterative loop as the final design evolves into shape.

2.5 Detail Design
By this stage most, if not all, of the "big picture" issues should have been resolved; you are now ready to tackle the multitude of details required for a complete solution.
This is typically the longest stage in the design phase. Access to state-of-the-art CAD (computer aided design) software, such as Pro/ENGINEER™ can be a huge benefit here. Good CAD leads to higher quality design and much shorter development time.

2.6 Analysis
Structural analysis, motion analysis, ergonomic analysis, cost analysis - these are just some of the analyses that may be needed during development and is usually done in conjunction with the detail design stage.

Fortunately, a lot of this work can be done on a computer, which means that the solution, as it exists at the prototyping stage, will be very close to the final solution.

2.7 Design Review
Now is the time to review the design yet again, in the light of the results of analysis and before taking the next and often expensive stage of making a prototype.

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3. Prototyping/Testing Phase

3.1 Prototyping
It is always important to include a prototype in the design process. Prototypes help you gain a feeling for the product that is difficult to get from drawings or images. Also, they are good for checking function, clearances, aesthetics, etc.
There are some terrific tools available nowadays that assist with the prototyping process, such as stereolithography and vacuum casting. These work well with 3D CAD modeling to produce good prototypes of plastic parts.

3.2 Testing/Debugging
Now you should exhaustively test the prototype to make sure that it does exactly what it is supposed to do, reliably and efficiently. Complex products may require multiple prototypes as each one is tested and improvements are incorporated into its successive models.

3.3 Design Review
With the experience of a working prototype, thoroughly tested, it is time to review the design yet again. Depending on the results of the tests it may be necessary to go back to an earlier design stage, but if all is well, after minor changes, we are nearly ready to go.

3.4 Release Design for Production

Now you will need to define the design enough to be able to manufacture the product in the required volume. Usually this mean making working drawings, but sometimes comprehensive instructions for machined tooling are compiled in digital form.

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4. Production Phase

4.1 Tooling Design and Manufacture
Now that you are ready for production, the tooling required for production can be designed and produced. Planned production volumes will have a big impact on the type of tooling required. Also as a general rule, more expensive tooling will result in cheaper manufacturing costs, however, it requires greater production runs to justify the higher expense.

In practice this phase is also considered during the detail design phase to ensure that the articles you design will suit the appropriate tooling manufacture.

4.2 Production
This phase covers the actual production of the item and it can consume a great deal of time and money. A lot of planning is usually required in order to get this running smoothly. Items to consider will include location, staffing, training and infrastructure, etc.

4.3 Marketing
While marketing is usually considered as a separate issue to design it is important that you consider marketing all the way through the process. Even excellent designs may not sell for many reasons - competitive products, poor promotion, an unfortunate choice of name even.

4.4 Distribution
Distribution can in some cases be the most important part of the whole process. It not only covers the physical dispatching of the items, but who will actually buy them or better yet sell them for you. Selling to the big chains like K-mart is not a given. If you choose to sell direct to the public yourself, consider how will you do this? Will it be via ashop, mail order, internet?

There is much to consider here.

The above is an idealised description of the design process. In real situations the process may be simpler, or it may be even more complex, depending on the degree of novelty in the design. But the best advice we can offer is to discuss your project with professionals, such as the By Design Group at an early stage. We could save you from spending big sums of money and help you get a better product into the market sooner.

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For more information please contact us.