Friday, October 5, 2007

Life-cycle approach improves product development process - SDM Pulse, Fall 2007

Harry H. Ayubi
SDM ’06
By Harry H. Ayubi, SDM ’06 and 787 wing integration project manager at The Boeing Company

There is more to product development than design, build, test, and deliver. Even after the product is sold, long-term issues such as maintenance and disposal costs can affect profitability. That is why MIT’s System Design and Management Program teaches a life-cycle approach to new product development—the same approach increasingly used by industry.

Many aspects of the early phases of development are well understood (e.g., concept selection, trade studies, requirements management), but those occurring later in the product life cycle often receive less attention than they deserve. A more complete product life-cycle approach means taking into consideration service, maintenance, decommissioning, and even dismantlement—at the design stage. This approach is consistent and commensurate with the systems viewpoint central to SDM.

Although this holistic approach is not a new idea, design teams have only recently learned how to address all of the related life-cycle needs during the early stages of product development, which is when the opportunity to satisfy these needs in the design still exists.

For example, a requirements-driven design process is necessary to ensure that all aspects of the product life cycle are considered and balanced as an appropriate design solution is selected. Service, maintenance, and
environmental impact issues need to be managed as requirements of the design solution, in much the same way that more traditional performance and manufacturing issues are handled.

The usefulness of life-cycle design can be seen in the development of new commercial airplanes. Consider the Boeing 787 commercial jetliner.

Officially launched in 2004, the 787 is the first all-new commercial airplane produced by Boeing in more than 20 years (the last was the Boeing 777, with a program launch in 1990 and the first airplane delivered in 1995). Affectionately referred to as the “Twenty-First-Century Jet,” the 777 offered innovative design features and set new standards in commercial airplane development. But much has changed in the world and in the commercial airline industry since the early 1990s, and while the 777 is still popular, airplane product development has had to adapt.

With increasing awareness of an airline’s total operating expenses, design teams are able to address such issues as maintenance cost by designing for serviceability and repair, as well as for performance (e.g., low weight, low aerodynamic drag) and manufacturability (e.g., fewer parts, ergonomic installations). For example, when considering the spatial constraints necessary to integrate structural components and systems during the design phase of the product, adding additional space for the installation and removal of components in the field improves product serviceability. And choosing materials that are less susceptible to corrosion, while perhaps not optimal for minimizing weight or manufacturing costs, might substantially reduce total maintenance costs over the life of the product. The life-cycle approach calls for a risk benefit analysis at every stage of development.

As an added benefit, there is often synergy between some of these considerations. For example, a product with fewer parts results in improved manufacturability, and fewer spares are needed for service and maintenance. Ergonomic considerations during the manufacturing process (i.e., making it easier for the mechanic to access assembly areas) can also help the service technician maintain the product in the field.

Attention to the impact of materials on the environment is another characteristic receiving increased consideration from today’s product development teams. For example, some metals and chemicals used to treat the surfaces of metal components are no longer used in new products because of the risks they pose to the environment—despite any short-term benefits they might have for the design.

Within SDM, this more complete life-cycle view of the product development process is seen in courses on system architecture, systems engineering, product design and development, technology strategy, and risk and cost benefit analysis. Those who would like to learn more about taking a life-cycle approach might be interested in SDM’s upcoming conference, Strategies for Balancing Risks and Opportunities in Global Product Delivery, to be held March 11–12, 2008, on the MIT campus.

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