Sponsored By

Secrets to shaving time from design cycles

January 29, 1999

5 Min Read
Secrets to shaving time from design cycles

Electronic file transfer helped VST quickly produce SLA, sheet metal, and PCB models to validate design intent and meet early market-ing and performance requirements. First molded parts off the tool were functional with only minor cosmetic adjustments required for the finished drive.

When an unnamed IT industry expert tells you product development cycles are getting shorter, you may take the information with a grain of salt. But when someone at VST Technologies (Acton, MA) confirms that laptop computers currently need to be developed in 4 to 6 months, you might want to sit up and take notice. VST provides hardware and software accessory products to the portable computer industry. The company's mechanical engineering director, Al Larose, tells IMM that as laptops are moving toward a 12- to 18-month life, development work must also speed up to match the market atmosphere. The way VST meets this challenge is a blueprint for other markets as well.

Larose contends that a more global economy is forcing product development to become globally competitive. "This is especially true of the consumer electronics industry," he says, "and more specifically, with accessory products for laptops, which have 12- to 14-week product development cycles." The truncated cycles occur because accessory geometry and electrical requirements for laptop computers are not typically specified until the laptop manufacturers somewhat finalize their designs. Participants in this industry, then, must develop high quality products at high speeds with critical time-to-market and costing goals.

Tools that Deliver
VST meets these challenges using a concurrent and DFM/DFA environment along with a talented engineering team. This allows them to design, develop, and tool new products at a record-setting pace with minimal staffing. Recently, a team consisting of Larose, several designers, and a tooling engineer completed the mechanical engineering development of VST's latest Iomega Zip drive product for IBM ThinkPad 600 series laptops. New Zip drives for laptops are 40 percent faster than desktop versions and have a 100 MB disk, storing as much information as 70 floppy disks.

Design and development goals included a high level of quality, low cost, and ease of manufacturability. By the way, the customer needed the finished product to correspond with initial shipments of the laptop. VST's director of product development adds, "Our designs typically start with an end date already defined by external sources, such as the laptop manufacturer or our own sales force. Then, we have to work backwards to understand how much time we have to spend on each development step. Where we excel is in executing these time budgets while keeping an eye on cost and quality."

According to Larose, the present IBM ThinkPad 600 Zip design is the thinnest mobile computing Zip expansion bay package in the industry. The challenge in developing the new product was designing a means of reliably and cost effectively packaging the Zip mechanism into the thin confines of the laptop while ensuring ease of assembly.

Parallel Processes
VST's director of operations sees a pressing need to develop competitive products within a very aggressive market window. "Our product teams are focused on gathering cross-functional inputs from supplier partners in order to provide an intelligent balance between speed and total cost to manufacture our products," he explains. To shorten manufacturing cycle times and lead times while boosting quality, performance, and profitability, VST uses common tools, proven processes, and existing components. "We also focus on a reduction in the total number of parts included in our designs."

For the new drive, initial design work underwent DFM/DFA analysis to optimize both manufacturing and assembly. Results allowed designers to simplify: The drive has only seven major parts, six screws, is assembled from the top down, and is self-fixturing.

VST Technologies also uses concurrent engineering to its fullest extent. Product designs are created in 3-D solids using SolidWorks CAD package. Once the Zip drive design evolved to the point where all DFM/DFA inputs were satisfactorily captured, VST electronically transferred 3-D CAD files to its rapid prototype partners. This paperless transfer helps quickly produce SLA, sheet metal, and PCB models to validate design intent, guide design enhancements, and meet early marketing and laptop manufacturer requirements.

At the same time, 3-D solid files of critical components were supplied to moldmakers, molders, and sheet metal tool makers to capture all tooling, moldability, and fabrication design features and requirements. VST also performs moldfilling analyses concurrently while models are under construction or during the production quoting process. Additional simulations done by the toolmaker and molder during the production quoting process ensure thin sections will fill at acceptable pressures and temperatures with the proposed gating.

Production Ready
Upon receiving production quotes, high speed limited production tools were awarded as purchase orders were sent out the same day. The significance of getting the P.O.s to the vendors the same day the tooling is awarded is considered critical by Larose. "It tells the vendors you're considerate of their needs for receiving written authorization to proceed." In parallel with the tooling P.O.s, pilot and SOP part orders were provided to the vendors to ensure custom colored material is shipped in time for first shots. "This is one of the details that can hold up a tool debug and is critical for custom color applications where the material lead time is the same to slightly less than the quoted limited production tooling lead time."

VST designed, developed, tooled, and debugged the new Zip drive for production in 12 weeks. First parts off tools were functional with only minor adjustments required. Larose says, "The goal is to hit home runs with first parts off the tool. Tool debug times should fall within the standard time necessary to texture the tool."

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like