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How the Product Development Cycle Has Evolved Over the Years

October 08, 2019 by Sam Holland

Today, engineering products and systems are increasing in complexity due to rapid miniaturization and expanding functionality. Nonetheless, manufacturers must introduce new, innovative products to keep up with a competitive market.

Time is also a factor. To maintain a competitive edge and retain market share, manufacturers must release products rapidly. For this to be viable, they must improve on their product development and management processes.


What Is the Product Development Lifecycle?

The product development lifecycle (PDLC) for an engineering product is a measurable progression from the conceptual phase through design and manufacturing, and up until decommissioning or destruction at the end of its useful life. The main reason for defining a PDLC is to have a clear-cut strategy for delivering a new or rebranded product to an existing market profitably and sustainably. 


Product Lifecycle Management

Product lifecycle management (PLM) encompasses all the people, processes, data, and business processes involved in managing a PDLC from start-to-finish. 


Why Is Product Lifecycle Management Essential?

Effective PLM offers the following benefits to organizations, it:

  • Minimizes prototyping costs

  • Improves product quality

  • Reduces the Time-to-Market (TTM) for new products

  • Increases overall productivity 

  • Ensures repeatability of production with minimal deviation from pre-set values

  • Reduces the environmental impact of products at the end of their useful lives


Product Development in the ’80s

One of the first efforts at standardizing engineering product development was by American Motors Corporation (AMC) in the 1980s. The company was looking to speed up its production process to compete favorably with larger competitors such as Ford and General Motors. When introducing its Jeep Grand Cherokee, AMC implemented the PDLC across two phases. 

In the first phase, AMC engineers utilized computer-aided design (CAD) rather than manual engineering drawings to boost productivity. Secondly, they warehoused the designs and product information in a central database, allowing for swift conflict resolution and modification of existing designs without incurring additional costs. 


An illustration of a typical project management cycle

An illustration of a typical project management cycle. Image Credit: Pixabay


Current Trends in Product Development 

Big data, agile project management, computer-aided manufacturing, and additive manufacturing are some best practices and technologies driving innovation in present-day product development. 


Big Data

The rapid proliferation of the internet has shaped how we receive, transmit, and store information today. Product development is a global market generating vast amounts of data annually, making it a viable prospect to big data solution providers. Many companies are using data technologies such as supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), and product lifecycle management (PLM) to collate, track, and generate actionable business intelligence from data obtained over various phases of the product lifecycle. 


Agile Project Management

Agile project management or APM is an iterative approach for managing product development. By “iterative”, it means that parts of product development are broken down into discrete steps or segments, where each step is considered a single development cycle. 

APM is commonly employed during the design and manufacturing phases, although it can be adapted and scaled over other stages of the PDLC as well. Agile product development allows engineering teams to build products and systems that are highly reliable. Since the design is carried out in segments, teams receive feedback continuously, and software errors or manufacturing defects are resolved quickly. Consequently, the final products have lower failure rates. 

The main challenge with agile product development is to ensure compatibility across all iterations. To overcome this, engineering companies employ reverse engineering to verify that design rules in newer and older iterations are congruent. 


Teammates working on a shared project

Teammates working on a shared project. Image Credit: Pixabay


Advanced Manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing involves using innovative or cutting-edge technologies to improve the speed and efficiency of production, as well as the quality and reliability of finished products. Industrial automation such as additive manufacturing and computer-aided manufacturing enables engineers to build highly-reliable products that go to market faster. 


Computer-aided Manufacturing (CAM)

This technique uses machines controlled by software and computers for the manufacturing phase of a PDLC. Each CAM system consists of three components–software that tells a machine how to perform a manufacturing function, the machine that receives the instructions, and post-processing that creates a “toolpath,” or a set of coordinates for the machine to follow to carry out a manufacturing process. 

CAM is particularly useful for manufacturing tasks that are too dangerous for engineers to perform manually as well as to speed up production and minimize human errors. It is also used alongside CAD software which generates relevant engineering drawings and simulations of the product. 


Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing techniques such as 3D Printing, material extrusion, and VAT photopolymerization create 3-dimensional structures by adding layer upon layer of materials, such as thermoplastics and metals. For example, Harting Mitronics, a German manufacturer uses 3D manufacturing to create 3-dimensional molded interconnected devices (3D-MIDs) that integrate electrical, mechanical, thermal, and optical functions. 


Product development and management are processes that we expect to evolve as business processes and technology continue to advance. Research and development into existing production models often reveal areas that can be modified or optimized. By employing agile project management and cutting-edge technology, manufacturers can enhance the quality and functionality of final products while reducing the TTM. This strategy allows them to acquire more market share, improving overall profitability. 

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