Design for manufacturing: How it can reduce manufacturing costs

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What is Design for Manufacturing (DfM)?

Design for manufacture is an approach to actively take manufacturing considerations into account during the design stage of a product. The approach looks to make it easier, quicker, and cheaper to manufacture the product by specifically designing the product with manufacturing in mind. 

Why is design for manufacturing important in cost leadership

Design for manufacturing is one of the most important components of cost leadership. Ultimately, if you don’t take manufacturing costs into consideration when designing your product, and the product is inherently expensive to manufacture, your company risks a competitor entering the market with a product that can be produced cheaper, in turn undercutting your position.

Something key to remember is that cost savings are much easier to achieve at the design stage. If you bound in an expensive design to your products, you may be stuck with the inherently expensive manufacturing operations, where efforts to reduce costs may have a relatively minimal impact. If on the other hand, you are aware of the manufacturing implications when designing a product, you can more effectively develop a product that is inherently less costly to produce. 

Philosophy of design for manufacturing

Design for manufacture is as much a design orientation as anything – being aware of manufacturing processes to produce the goods, and considering ways in which these costs can be reduced at the design stage, can go a long way in reducing the costs to produce the goods. Rather than viewing design and manufacturing as two separate activities, design for manufacture encourages an awareness of the manufacturing process during the design stage. 

Key examples of design for manufacturing

Adjusting the design to remove manufacturing steps

One of the primary ways of making a product easier to design is to remove unnecessary features and finishes from the product that are not integral to the functioning of the product. If you take for example an internal component, that is not visible to end-users, time that is taken on adding corners to corners or smooth the surface of the item may not be necessary stages, potentially details that were added during the design stage without any real justification for any benefit that this would result (they may, for example, be details that simply looked better on the CAD rendering).

Designing for manufacture means being aware of the difficulty features will have on the manufacturing process, and only including those features that are necessary to the functioning of the final good. 

Reduced the machining tolerance requirements

Another approach for reducing manufacturing time and costs is to relax unnecessary stringent tolerances. Tolerances that are stricter than they need to be can significantly increase manufacturing costs – increasing the time to precisely manufacture the products or wastage associated with items that don’t meet the manufacturing tolerances. Rather than adding high tolerances across dimensions, design for manufacturing philosophy puts emphasis on considering what tolerances are important, and which ones do not need to be as precisely specified. 

Changing the materials

Another change that can have a significant impact on the manufacturing difficulty of a product is the materials that are used in the manufacturing process. Using materials that are very hard can have a significant impact on the time required to machine various components. Adjusting materials to ones that are easier to machine may substantially speed the manufacturing process, in turn reducing the manufacturing costs.