Manufacturers are fully aware that the key to creating innovative new products is in the development of good concept designs or conceptual models. The earliest phase of new product development plays a vital role in the ultimate success of a new product and the prevention of time-consuming and budget-killing changes later in the development cycle. This early phase of the design process is when a wide range of design options are discussed, vetted, blended, and refined before designs proceed downstream to detailed design.
Participants in a recent study entitled, Trends in Concept Design, conducted by PTC, were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: To be successful in business, you need innovation in new products, and that depends upon good concept design. The lion’s share of participants (83%) agreed with that statement, with nearly half (45%) “strongly agreeing” with it.
Many questions are asked during this idea generation/selection stage to ascertain whether proposed designs are the best choice. Questions include: can I transfer and/or build on previous designs/ideas? Do we currently have the technology in-house to design and manufacture this design? Are functions/design parameters being satisfied? What new materials could be used to improve performance? Is this idea or design patentable? Are we infringing on other’s IP?
The key to answering these questions and developing innovative new product ideas is putting processes in place that foster and facilitate the generation of new ideas. Placing priority on this stage of design is critical and affording designers and engineers the luxury of time is paramount to success. Manufacturers must invest the time required to generate new product ideas or their product pipeline will become stagnant and business will suffer.
Concept Designs and IP
Innovative concept designs are important assets to manufacturing companies and represent vital intellectual property (IP) that must be safely protected. In the PTC survey, when asked if the concept phase is a rich source of IP for your company, 70% of the survey’s 193 participants responded “definitely.” When asked if there were company-wide procedures in place to identify and protect IP during concept design, a little over half (56%) responded “definitely,” however another 23% responded that their companies had no procedures in place to protect IP during this stage.
Safeguarding IP is something that all manufacturers should prioritize. Procedures should be established and maintained to document each development project. One person on the concept development team should be designated to document and record—either electronically or in an engineering notebook—project developments.
This record should include the daily activities of each person contributing to research, development, and testing of a product or method involved in the project. It is critical to show that a continuing development effort occurred during the term of the project. These records could prove invaluable in the event a controversy arises regarding ownership of IP.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” Steve Jobs, Apple
Often creativity and innovation are thought to be the same thing, though they are not. Creativity is the generation of new ideas, whereas innovation is the successful implementation of those ideas within an organization. Creativity is easy, while many times innovation is not. Why? The conceptual stage of product design is a costly endeavor, in terms of time, money and resources that must be allocated by an organization; however, the cost of not innovating can be more costly in the long run.
Many companies become competition chasers instead of market leaders. When the competition markets a new innovation, the company reacts. If manufacturers don’t continually innovate, they are no longer in control of their future and will eventually experience zero growth when their existing products reach the end of their lifecycles. In order to survive in today’s competitive markets, product-driven companies must become market leaders instead of market followers, and key to doing that is the continual investment in innovation.