Design for manufacturing (DFM) is a proactive method for optimizing your manufacturing operations and maximizing efficiency. This article explains what design for manufacturing is and provides helpful tips for optimizing your product and part designs.
Defining Design for Manufacturing
The meaning of design for manufacturing is the process of optimizing a product’s design to improve manufacturing efficiency, quality and cost-effectiveness. While the DFM process will look different for each product, core elements of DFM include:
- Standardizing components, parts and materials
- Reducing the number of parts needed for a product
- Streamlining the manufacturing process by making production less complex
A typical DFM process takes about two weeks, but this time estimate can vary based on:
- The product’s nature
- Necessary parts
- Manufacturing processes involved
- The complexity of required operations
Here are some examples of DFM in action:
- Joints: Replacing conventional joints with snap fits can save time and costs in production, materials and assembly.
- Surface details: For components with lettering or company logos, opt for a larger, simpler design. Small, detailed designs take significantly more time to produce, leading to higher manufacturing costs and longer run times.
- Common parts: By designing multi-functional parts, you eliminate the need to design and manufacture product-specific parts. Common parts also provide increased flexibility in manufacturing and assembly, boosting throughput.
The Difference Between DFM, DFMA and DFA
DFM is also frequently referred to as design for manufacturing and assembly (DFMA) — however, these terms mean slightly different things. DFMA is an umbrella term that includes both DFM and design for assembly (DFA). The difference between DFA and DFM is simple:
- DFM: DFM focuses on optimizing parts and part design to reduce the complexity of manufacturing processes.
- DFA: DFA prioritizes cost-effective, easy part assembly by reducing the number of required assembly operations.
Why Use DFM?
Any business looking to make a profit should understand the importance of design for manufacturing. Roughly 70% of manufacturing costs result from design decisions made early in the process, which makes DFM so advantageous.
Additionally, DFM can enable your design team to identify and eliminate potential waste and process inefficiencies throughout the manufacturing and production processes.
You can also use this information as a benchmark for comparing your products against your competitors, which can help you further enhance your own design.
The chief advantages of using DFM include:
- Shorter time-to-market
- Reduced production costs
- Shorter product development cycles
- Quicker assembly processes
- Fewer parts required
- Improved product quality
- Fewer compliance issues
- Safer working environments
5 Principles of Design for Manufacturing
The following principles are central to what DFM means.
You should choose the most appropriate manufacturing process for each part or product you intend to make.
You want to avoid using cost-intensive processes like injection molding for low-volume parts. Generally, the small number of parts produced does not justify the production costs. Instead, choose a production method that will provide similar results at a much lower cost. For example, you could replace injection molding with thermoforming.
- Quantity of parts needed
- Materials used
- Required tolerances
- Surface complexity
- Any required secondary processes
Design your product to suit the process you’ve already chosen, rather than designing a product first and guessing which process would work best. For example, if you intend to use CNC machining, you’d want to consider the following design principles:
- Minimum wall thickness
- Ideal thread size and length
- Maximum depth
- Part diameter
- Acceptable tolerances
If you’re working with a contract manufacturer, discuss the design with them to ensure your design will incorporate good manufacturing principles for the process you’ve selected.
In addition to choosing the best material for your product’s intended application, ensure the material makes sense for your selected manufacturing process. This step is essential to a successful DFM strategy.
Consider the following when evaluating which material you should use:
- Strength: Your part needs to be made of a material that can withstand your chosen production process and use.
- Thermal resistance: Your part should be able to resist the heat produced during manufacturing and under typical operating conditions.
- Appearance: What color do you need your part to be? Should it be opaque or transparent? What is your desired surface finish?
- Electrical properties: Do you need a product that works as an insulator or a conductor?
Discussing your design with your manufacturer can help you pinpoint the best material for your product. Your manufacturer may also be able to source other materials that could be more cost-effective for you.
Consider your product’s typical operating environment and the stresses it will experience during manufacturing to ensure a high-quality, long-lasting piece.
5. Testing and compliance
Your product must comply with all relevant safety and quality standards, including:
- Standards for your industry
- Third-party standards
- Internal, company-specific standards
You need to know who will conduct quality control testing and where it will occur. If working with a contract manufacturer, ask about their testing facility and ensure they have the appropriate certifications, such as ISO 9001:2015.
3 DFM Tips for Designers
The following tips can help you create an effective DFM strategy for any product or component.
1. Design for Material Conservation
Total material costs are straightforward — the more material you use, the more you spend. When designing a new part or product, aim to use as little material as possible while maintaining a high yield.
Let’s say you design a part that needs to be punched out from a metal sheet. If your typical yield for that part will be one piece per sheet, you’ll likely produce excessive scrap.
However, making design adjustments that allow you to punch out two or more parts per sheet will:
- Minimize or even eliminate waste
- Reduce material costs
- Substantially increase yield
2. Incorporate Off-the-Shelf Parts
Be smart with your design. Use parts that already exist where you can instead of making custom parts for each product. As long as the parts fulfill their intended purposes and do not negatively impact your end product, you’ll save time and money by skipping the design and manufacturing steps involved with making new parts.
3. Create Multi-Functional Parts
Designing common parts with multiple uses and functions can save significant time and money during manufacturing.
Common parts can also increase throughput by providing more manufacturing flexibility — since you can use the same part on multiple products, you can save time creating parts for each new product. Plus, without having to source materials for custom parts, you’ll reduce costs and increase profitability.
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