Let’s go for a drive in my Ford Pinto!
No? Why not?
The Ford Pinto is possibly the most recognizable product failure from our era. For those too young to remember, the Pinto had a product defect which would cause the gas tank to be impacted in a rear end collision and have a high risk of fire. The infamous “Pinto Memo” is an internal calculation by Ford of the cost benefit analysis of settling with consumers for injuries and fatalities and the cost to fix the defect. Estimated cost of settlements; $49.5 million, estimated cost of fix $137 million.
Of course, even with the vomit factor of such a memo, the real legal costs were much higher — including 117 lawsuits, and the first-ever criminal indictment of a corporation for reckless homicide. The total cost to the company, however, was even higher.
The reputation of Ford was severely impacted and it has taken the company a generation to renew Ford’s reputation as a high quality, safe American motor company. By now, most young consumers haven’t heard of the Pinto or expressions like “Fix Or Repair Daily” or “Found On Road Dead.”
So what’s the lesson for a manufacturer of today? Most product defects are thankfully not as disastrous as the Pinto, but the message is the same. Being short sighted can have consequences far beyond any pretty spreadsheet.
A product failure today, even if it does not cause physical harm to customers, can still cause great harm to the company brand. The power of social media alone has made it imperative to prevent “trending” for all the wrong reasons.
Top 5 factors of product development success
So what should a manufacturer focus on in their product development? It’s an easy top five:
- Safety of product
- High quality of product
- Innovative design
- Shorter time to market
- Reduced cost of product
If a company is consistently focusing on these priorities in their daily business practice, their chances of kicking butt in the market place are pretty great!
The good news? It has never been more technologically possible or affordable to become an industry leader.
Eliminating product failure
So, how do you make sure your product is safe, great and innovative while not breaking the bank or the schedule?
Quit “business as usual”
You start by banning the terms “good enough” and “we’ve always done things this way” from all places of the company, especially in the management teams.
In all my years visiting manufacturers, none were more confident in how great their products were than those who hadn’t redesigned the products in 30 years; had no idea what was going on in the market place; and used a lot of material to make sure it didn’t break.
“Ignorance is bliss“ isn’t a term that belongs in modern business.
Empower your team
You empower and enable the design and engineering teams to share their knowledge and ideas bottom up. I have talked with countless engineers over the years who are passionate about their companies and product potential, but don’t feel comfortable or have no opportunity to share their vision. There is a correlation between organization structure and culture, and product innovation.
Don’t guess. Make design and material choices based on facts, not guesses. Fully understand the real world behavior of your products. The earlier you find potential failures in a design, the lower the cost. Being able to validate designs early in the process also allows you to be much more innovative because you can rule in/out more daring design choices quickly. You can also use optimization tools to uncover designs you had not imagined. Using simulation and analysis technology to drive the entire product development process is key to creating innovative, high quality and cost effective products in a timely manner.
Building prototypes to visualize your designs is helpful to understand the form and function of your products. And now, with the advent of affordable 3D printing, that can be easily (and quickly) done onsite. There is a plethora of available technology, including some that can even print carbon fiber and Kevlar.
Field testing is last and sparse. You do physical testing of your products only as a means to validate results you already have from the virtual domain. If you encounter product failure in the physical testing stage, it’s way too late. Physical validations should never uncover surprises that will set back the product development weeks or months.
Research tools carefully
Ten to twenty years ago, simulation and optimization technology was accessible primarily to enterprise only, but this is no longer the case. The technology to drive innovation, safety, quality and cost savings has been mainstream in the small and medium business sectors for quite some time.
Hardware has plummeted in cost from 30 years ago, software costs have remained pretty constant, and there is greater availability of designers and engineers experienced in using this technology.
There are many solutions in the marketplace to optimize designs and better understand potential failures; some are going to be better suited for your business than others. Taking the time to do careful comparison research will pay off in the end.
Many companies are hesitant to implement “high end” technology. However, these tools are often necessary to get the most accurate results and they are increasingly becoming the standard technology in the simulation and analysis market as companies continue to push boundaries.
Safe and profitable aren’t mutually exclusive
Learn from the lessons of the past and fully understand the total risk of product failure. You can create safe, great products and be profitable and timely. Your company brand is definitely worth vigorously protecting.
Questions? Give Us a Call
3DSMan does extensive consulting and process assessments on design and manufacturing processes. Let’s talk and see what your company might be able to do to increase efficiencies.
We’re available at (630) 451-9033, and we’ll be happy to answer your questions. Or feel free to email us.