Design for Anything !

Design that works !!!

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” (Jobs, 2003)

The industry of producing engineered goods has been evolving, and very quickly at that. Globalization, stiff competition, and customized products have become the norm in our business environment, driving far-reaching changes in the product realization processes. Organizations now face the following challenge in their realization process:

  1. A new breed of informed and alert customers with very specific, who do not compromise on their requirements, and are often vocal about product shortcomings.
  2. Uncertainty about product development, and the issues that arise out of consecutive steps.
  3. An increasing complex ecosystem, where there are multiple dependencies between different elements of the value chain.
  4. A high degree of compliance norms, which vary with industry, region and the kind of product focus.

Consequently, the product development process is now highly influenced by a variety of stakeholders, each with their own focused set of requirements. This is affecting the cost, quality and timelines of the product realization process, hence making the process complex. As a result, it has become imperative to create products which are inexpensive, fast and convenient to manufacture, assemble, transport, service and use. The industry is responding to these needs through a new philosophy of design, popularly known as Design for Excellence or DFx.

There is often a misconception that, for the sake of simplicity different aspects of design must be applied discretely and chronologically. However, a closer look at the cost and time implications shows that the earlier DFx is applied in the product realization lifecycle, the greater the benefits for all stakeholders involved. In fact, the case is strong for the use of concurrent engineering, where participants in downstream activities are actively involved in the upstream activities in order to achieve a significant improvement in every stage of the output delivered.

The design stage, while occupying a shorter and less expensive place in the product realization lifecycle, nevertheless plays the most critical role in its cost contours (Plexus, 2013). It is in this stage that much of the system architecture is freezed, the revenue model is more or less agreed upon and important decisions around manufacturing and supply chain are thought over. The later the stage in the product lifecycle, the harder it is to control costs as well as less impactful.

The same holds true for timelines, too (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology: Department of Mechanical Engineering, 2010). Concurrent engineering drastically reduces time for development, by both crashing the schedule and also by avoiding time consuming mistakes. For many clockspeed industries, concurrent engineering is a powerful strategic tool.

The Genesis

Though Design for excellence is now an imperative for product realization success, the “X”ses were, for many years confined to only two; manufacturability and assembly. Design for Manufacturing caught on during the Second World War, with a crunching scarcity of all resources and a constant pressure to build products for war machinery at breakneck speed. It was perhaps, also the first time that the concept of integrated product development originated; with a variety of experts chipping in on critical projects (patriotism was a huge motivation, perhaps!!!).

More recently, emphasis has been placed on designing not only for manufacture, but for the whole life of the product including: manufacture, service, repair, and, ultimately, disassembly and recyclability – in short, DfX. Throughout this entire evolution, however, the basic premise of designing a product for ease of assembly has been constantly updated as the methods and techniques of manufacturing have changed.In the late 1950s and early 1960s, organizations began to realise that the current design methodologies and paradigms were not applicable to the new style of automated manufacturing. One of the earliest work on manufacturability was by General Electric and was called the Manufacturing Producibility Handbook. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many companies realized the need to streamline their designs and processes for the evolving paradigm in manufacturing and did a lot of internal research independently.. By the 1980s the concept of DfM and DfA was being embraced by many companies. During this time, many of the previously determined rules were being quantified and programmed into computers for automated analysis of designs.

The Paradigm

The Criticality of Design

While Design for excellence had traditionally been the forte of product companies, engineering services companies were, to a great extent restricted to a narrow silo of design and development activities. However, with these companies becoming more tightly coupled with the OEMs and with their participation both in upstream and downstream activities, it is imperative that they adopt and execute design philosophies that will truly deliver as per customer and end-user specific needs. Another reason for this increased involvement is the innovation in business and revenue models; partnerships are now moving from a purely transactional model of time and money to a risk-reward model of revenue sharing. In this context, the company involved in outsourcing has to think beyond working purely as per contract and also bear the additional and shared burden of ensuring that the product and the program are successful.

This enhanced scope increases the importance of getting the design right. The design should not only meet end user needs as per specifications, but also make the development, manufacturing, selling and sustaining of the product viable. Hence, a large portion of product and program critical activities need to be planned and executed concurrently in the design phase (Bauer & Paetzold, 2006). By design, we primarily mean the product design; however, there is often a spillover into the process design. This necessitates the use of concurrent engineering, where teams of different subject matter experts join together in defining processes, parameters and controls. This is a daunting exercise, requiring meticulous planning by a group of experienced professionals as it is clear that planning for a downstream activity requires a lot of tacit knowledge and an understanding and appreciation for planning for abstractness. This can be refered to simply as frontloading of activities.

A Framework for DFx

For the sake of organizing this document, we categorize the DFx methods based on two ways (Chiu & Okudan, 2010). The first categorization is based on the perception of whether we are considering a product or the system around it. Another categorization is based on the end objective; we are either designing to achieve the product goals, typically the economics or we are trying to achieve our goals of sustainability. These categorizations help the system engineers in the early stage to gather stakeholder requirements, analyze them and plan to develop design processes which can most elegantly satisfy the functional aspects of these requirements.

The table below (Arnette & Barry L Brewer, 2014) lists an indicative sample of DFx methods and the objectives they are trying to achieve. They are by no means exhaustive; increased competition and competitiveness now mean that organizations use every tool at their disposal to beat their rivals. However, an attempt has been made to include the most widely used ones.

The increased scope of activities in the design stage will necessarily mean that the time, money and efforts spent in this stage increase (Ming-Chuan Chiu, 2011). We would argue that this is well spent, as the benefits are exponentially high and sustaining. A well planned design means that there are fewer problems, more flexibility, lesser costs, quicker response times to failure as well as longer and better working life of products. A reputation for strong design philosophy and practices etches powerfully in the minds of customers and end users and breeds a loyalty that ensures repeated and higher value sales, often more effective than expensive marketing campaigns!!!

The Application

DFx System Architecture

A robust method of applying DFx is to consider it from a systems perspective, i.e the DFx method involves tools and activities, which are enabled by the inputs about the process and the product and produce controlled output. We should also consider the effect of noise, or the quality of data in this context. All parameters which are directly derived from the product (geometry, logic, software, structure) are classified as product data whereas any information which directly or indirectly contributes to the progress of the methods is described as a process promoting parameter. This approach is also useful to carry out concurrent engineering, with each system engineer having her own inputs, processes and outputs.

Extending the systems, framework, we derive a layer based architecture (Lukasz Malinowski and Tomasz Nowak, 2007), which integrates the traditional gate based approach with the different DFx tools. The framework consists of three basic architecture layers: the information/input layer, the activity layer and the analysis/output layer.

The Information/input layer stores the input data required by given engineering task, and the output information which will be used for subsequent gates. It also contains the intermediate technical results and design proposals which are transmitted between different DFX tools.

The activity layers manage DFX approaches, which are specialized methods to evaluate the design concept from given product life-cycle perspective. The most common DFX perspectives are :

  • Modularization, which maximizes product variety as perceived by the customer and end user.
  • Standardization, which minimizes the internal effort required in realization.
  • Process, which includes Manufacturability and assembly
  • Customization, which differentiates product variants by application of supplementarymanufacturing steps or optional modules
  • Quality, which ensures product reliability and minimizes defect.

Application of the dedicated design approach is controlled by the Information layer of DFXframework, which invokes given tools or software packages, depending on the stage of designdevelopment. It also ensures that said approaches evaluate the design concepts in terms of cost, timeand quality. The particular economic estimations and measures are transferred by the user to Analysis layer.

In the analysis layer/input layer, the total benefit model is constructed. The key issue in DFX Platform is to be able to reliably estimate, calculate and verify the benefits of different design options at different stages of product development. Even though different DFX development approaches mayhave different intermediate metrics, finally the design options should affect the overall operational and financial KPIs, like revenue, profit, productivity, cash flow, net present value and return on investment. The business impact model must link the intermediate product and process development measures and targets with the overall business performance measure in a way that it takes into account in an approximate but accurately enough way all significant factors (including risks, effects to overhead costs and so on) and interactions between the measures.

The table below shows a mapping of the different activities and the DFx methods they impact. The use of these tools to achieve the desired DFx is highly contextual, and a careful study of the prevailing conditions is extremely critical in order to successfully apply the tools in order to achieve the stated DFx goals.

Sequence of Application

A simple method of applying DFx is shown below (Mark Rockwell, 2014), and is generic for any of the Xes which is in our purview. This is intended to be applied in a rigorous manner in all DFx implementation, in order to standardize the use of various methods across different program. It is meant to make life simple for practicioners, who would be exposed to different creative directions and hence varying styles of DFx structures and framework. It is also advisable to consider DFx as required curriculum for all engineering courses even from the undergraduate level, as it enables students to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of any engineering endeavor, from the very outset of their careers.


DFx, when applied in the right context and with the right tools by an experienced engineer, provides for an extremely efficient and effective way to achieve targets within the boundaries, constraints and parameters with which most complex programs are nowadays run. They should be pursued with great rigor in the early stages of product realization process and in a concurrent manner, with involved participation from different stakeholders to arrive at an elegant solution. Here are some thumb rules to look at DFx as a parting note (Lindemann, 2007).


(2010, 10 16). Retrieved November 25, 2014, from Hong Kong Univeristy of Science and Technology: Department of Mechanical Engineering:

Arnette, A. N., & Barry L Brewer, T. C. (2014). Design for Sustainability (DFS): The Intereection of Supply Chain and Environment. Journal of Cleaner Production , 4.

Bauer, S., & Paetzold, K. (2006). Influence of DFX Criteria on the Design of the Product Development Process. 6th Integrated Product Development Workshop, (p. 5). Magdeburg.

Chiu, M.-C., & Okudan, G. E. (2010). Evolution of Design for X Tools Applicable to Design Stages: A Literature Review. International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and (pp. 1-3, 7). Montreal, Quebec, Canada: ASME.

Jobs, S. (2003, 11 30). The Guts of a Machine. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from New York Times:

Kai Yang, B. E.-H. (2003). Design for Six Sigma: A Roadmap for Product Development. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lindemann, U. (2007). A Vision to overcome “Chaotic” Design for X Processes in Early Phases. International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED’07 (p. 3). Paris, France: ICED.

Lukasz Malinowski and Tomasz Nowak. (2007). DFX Platform- A holistic approach to Design Concepts Evaluation. International Conference on Engineering Design (p. 3). Paris, France: ICED.

Mark Rockwell, J. M. (2014, April). Retrieved November 25, 2014, from University of Detroit at Mercy:

Ming-Chuan Chiu, C.-Y. L. (2011). An investigation of the applicability of DFx tools during Design Development. International Journal of Product Development , 8.

Plexus. (2013, January 13). Retrieved November 25, 2014, from PLexus:


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