For years (and years and years) I have tried to promote the message that no one tool within the product designer’s toolbox is more vital than another. The key to successful product development is to combine a number of advanced tools to achieve a propitious result.
My particular area of interest and knowledge is additive technology — for prototyping and for manufacturing — but within the discipline of product development this is only one component tool that can help to improve the overall process.
Off the top of my head, 3D design software, 3D scanning hardware and software, simulation software and 5+ axis machines are all advanced tools that are competitively available on the market to designers and engineers looking to enhance their product development procedures.
Within each ‘tool’ category there are a host of choices — product capabilities, costs and vendor selection are important issues, as is whether to invest in house or contract out — but the point I am making here is finding the right blend of technologies rather than picking up on one of them and believing that it will solve all problems!
As an example, there have been rumours rumbling around that some of the problems besieging Toyota in recent months are because the car giant has depended too heavily on simulation methods for testing. If this allegation is proven, this makes my point extremely well. Simulation is a brilliant tool; the developments in computing power and software interface make it a fast and accessible way of testing products under any conditions. That said, it cannot and should not fully replace physical testing with a physical model. Simulation can reduce the number of physical tests by arriving at an optimum solution faster and more economically than the traditional cycle of ‘make and break’; but it cannot be used in isolation.
Understanding how to integrate advanced technology tools for product development provides the most solid foundation on which to build an overall process that is most likely to bring success.