Many manufacturing problems could be prevented from the outset if product designers would only create a product that can be easily manufactured. Benefits of this thought process can be seen at a manufacturer of custom scientific equipment.
Managers at MDS Sciex, Concord, Ontario, Canada, saw the need to develop a hybrid mass spectrometer combining time-of-flight technology with conventional quadrupole designs in order to maintain or grow market share. The new design had been gaining favor among chemists because it widened the range of compounds that laboratories could analyze and identify—facilitating tasks ranging from naming simple compounds to distinguishing differences among molecules as large and complex as DNA.
The company had only 12 to 15 months to bring to market a commercial product that chemists could use out of the box. A 75-member development team transformed a breadboard designed by scientists in the research laboratory into a high-quality, cost-competitive, shippable product called Qstar that did not require onsite assembly and a technician to install.
Achieving these goals was a challenge because breadboards are essentially science experiments for proving concepts. “Each one is custom assembled and tweaked,” says George Valaitis, manager, mechanical engineering, at MDS Sciex. “The scientists file parts to fit and wire pieces together.”
The engineering team used Design for Assembly (DFA) software, part of the Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) series of software from Boothroyd Dewhurst, of Wakefield, R.I. “The DFA software was a catalyst to stimulate discussion and to guide technical analysis of the design,” says Valaitis.
Redesigning the Qstar to have as few components as practical, and devising components that were self-fixturing and self-locating, were important goals for simplification. Engineers used DFA software to analyze the existing design and to spark innovative ways to consolidate parts and eliminate assembly difficulties.
“We answered the questions in the DFA software one by one,” says mechanical engineer Goran Marunic, a member of the Qstar development team. “The questions prompted a series of discussions about part count and assembly efficiency. Working closely with manufacturing engineering, we kept the design modular, aiming for more manageable development and better assembly and serviceability. We divided the design logically into subassemblies, each of which had its own bill of materials.”
By reducing the part count, Qstar engineers cut materials costs by $35,000 per unit and reduced opportunities for design and manufacturing errors. Marunic estimates that engineering corrections made per part for the Qstar amounted to fewer than half those made for three of the company’s earlier products.
MDS Sciex management calculates that getting to market in 14 months increased revenue by $20 million and allowed the Qstar to capture one-fifth of the global market in the first year of sales.