Design for Manufacturability

Design for Manufacturability in the Automotive World

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Imagine you are stranded on a desert island and you have infinite amounts of sand, palm trees and salt water.  However without the means to put them all together into something that will help you to escape the island, these raw materials mean nothing.  You need a saw to cut down the trees and ropes to bind them together, fresh water to drink to survive and fertile soil to grow food; each of these things requires special tools in order to be useful.  The same idea is true when you are working as an automotive engineer. There are many materials and design possibilities, but without the tools or the means to put them together, you will not have a product that you can bring to market.  Also, to be successful as a design engineer you must understand the production line capabilities and limitations in order to design a product that can be produced.

Gain the skills to design new manufacturable products

Creativity is key to gaining a competitive edge in the market, no matter what segment you are in. However, if your creative design engineers exceed the capabilities of your production group, then it doesn’t matter how ingenious your designs are; you are going to fail when your product does not make it to the market. Modern automotive designs require a delicate back-and-forth between design and manufacturing to ensure that a product is actually feasible.

Car in assembly lineBut how do you know when your product is manufacturable?  

The first step in designing products that your production department can build is to gain the education you will need to design manufacturable products.  The best way to pursue that education is to obtain a degree in mechanical, electrical or automotive engineering.  Each of these degrees will give you the basics you need to work in the design arena for the automotive industry.  In addition, you will gain an understanding of the production requirements that design engineers face.

Learn manufacturability early in your career

While you are earning the basic degree to begin your career in the automotive industry, you must focus on the practical experience needed to thoroughly understand the automotive field. This practical experience can be from labs, projects or internships with automotive design companies. Working in these environments will help you understand how a vehicle is manufactured and the limitations of the production environment.

Choose the classes and experiences to help you succeed

Car keys placed beside a book with a cloth backdropWhen you are working in the automotive engineering field, you will find that your career will benefit from having a multitude of different experiences in addition to one specialty.  When you choose your core engineering courses you will want to select the basic calculus, physics and chemistry classes that provide a solid core understanding of the processes, materials and mechanical designs that you will face when you are on the job.

Next, you will want to complete more detailed courses that give you the specific skills that you will need to work in your desired field. For example, you might get involved in coursework that teaches the power train design requirements for an automotive engineering degree or electrical circuit design for an electrical engineering degree.  In order to understand the manufacturing processes and their capabilities, consider taking manufacturing engineering courses, robotics and electrical test courses.  Finally, in order to be successful as an automotive design engineer you will want to earn practical design experiences and join in the extracurricular programs that give you design experience in the automotive field.  These could include competitions that pit you against other engineering schools or internships that give you practical hands-on experiences in the field.  No matter which area you choose, practical experience is key to being successful.

Design engineering requirements for manufacturability

When you are working as a design engineer in your chosen specialty, the first thing to establish is a close working relationship with both the manufacturing and test engineers within your company.  Some companies offer a rotation program for new engineers to introduce them to the entire organization. This experience is invaluable for new engineers, so if your company offers this training, be sure to take advantage of it.

Working in the manufacturing environment is the most critical experience design engineers can have as they will gain skills with the  manufacturing processes required to assemble the products they design.  Practical experience working on the production line will give you valuable experience in how items are actually built once the design is completed.

Design For Manufacturability Considerations:

For DFM, you need to think beyond function and focus on what potential issues can come up in the future. To do this consider the following tips:

  • Fewest number of parts – Yes, sometimes adding additional parts will improve function. However as you add additional components, your cost and handling time goes up exponentially. Keep it down to the fewest number of parts to avoid logistics, handling, and inventory.
  • Avoid complex designs – The only thing worse than adding extra parts, is making ones that are overly complex and difficult to manufacture. Although, it seems to contradict I just wrote, if it is easier to make an assembly of two parts, than it is to make one crazy looking part, then go with the two. The rules of manufacturability come down to common sense and if it is easier to put a small bolt into a part than it is to create a complex mold that costs double to make, use the simpler option.
  • Think of how you would physically put the parts together – As a designer you should always be aware of the assembly method that would be used to create the parts you are looking for. If you are using something that screws in, but have no room for anyone to twist the part, maybe making a snap-on part would be better.
  • Use of standard components – This is a big one that many companies miss. The use of standard parts dramatically reduces the cost of the design for many reasons. First, standard or common parts are always cheaper than custom ones. Second, the design is usually tried and true.
  • Part Poke-Yokes – whenever possible build your manufactuability right into the part. For example if you have a blind hole that a bolt needs to be set into, but the hole is fairly small, why not make a cut away on either side of the hole that someone can fit their fingers into.

With the strict cost constraints and short timelines of the automotive industry it is more critical than ever to focus on design for manufactuability in every design and process. The earlier a problem is dealt with, the less expensive it is to solve the problem. It is important to remember that the best designs that are produced, are ones that actually see the consumer.

What are some of your experiences with DFM? Any manufacturing engineers out there wish one of their parts was better designed for manufacturability?

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