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Fred Schenkelberg


What Is Design for Excellence?

Generating a desired set of characteristics for efficient processes and reliable products

Published: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 15:08

When products were crafted one at a time, the design and manufacturing processes were often done by the same person. For example, a craftsman would design and build a chest of drawers or a carriage. Some trades would employ apprentices to learn the craft, which also included design.

Larger projects, like a railroad or a bridge, for example, might have included an architect or lead designer along with a team of engineers. The railroad engineer’s shop or the bridge site was not far away, allowing close communication between the ironsmith and design team.

With the rise of production systems came the rise of production facilities that specialized in mass production of an array of designs. Clothes, home appliances, and consumer products are examples of products that separated the designer from the day-to-day manufacturing experience. The advent of mass production gave rise to the necessity for product design teams to learn about the capabilities and limitations of a production system.

Early design for excellence (DFX) systems focused on design for production. As far as I know, the term “design for production” first appeared in a 1953 report by the British Productivity Council titled “Design for Production: Report of a Visit to the U.S.A.” 

DFX definitions

A design for excellence (DFX) methodology is a systematic way to communicate a set of knowledge that focuses on successful product design using a desired set of characteristics. For example, design for production includes a set of rules or constraints that the design must incorporate or meet to permit production at a given factory.

In their 1988 paper, “Structuring Design for X Tool Use for Improved Utilization,” published in the Journal of Engineering Design, B. Watson and D. Radcliffe noted the increased popularity of “design for” approaches. They attempt to provide a definition and framework for management teams to evaluate and select a suitable DFX method for their particular situation. Plus, the framework can be used by developers of DFX tools to ensure their products are efficient and achieve the desired outcomes.

Product Design for Manufacture and Assembly by Geoffrey Boothroyd, Peter Dewhurst, and Winston Knight (Marcel Dekker Inc., 1994) provides a set of scoring algorithms that guide a design to minimize assembly steps and costs.

DFX guidelines

The guidelines for “design for” approaches are a set of recommended design practices that include broad design rules and specific implementation strategies. They serve as a set of constraints to the design process. They also provide a means to evaluate a design against a set of rules.

In some cases, the guidelines provide unique information that increases awareness of specific desirable design characteristics. The idea is to inform the design team of ways to optimize a design or to minimize costs for the life-cycle phase under consideration.

With design for assembly, for example, the strategy may include creating a tool-less assembly method. A specific implementation element might be the use of snap fit attachment solutions.

DFX analysis tools

A DFX method should also include a means to evaluate or judge the design. This provides the design team with feedback and information concerning the existing design and options to improve toward the specific DFX set of goals. The analysis tools use the guidelines to form a rubric and, in some cases, a scoring as part of the output. The analysis could be accomplished in conjunction with the design work, or during a design review process.

For example, design for manufacturing tools exist to check design guidelines for electronic circuit boards. The design checkers evaluate a design for clearances, dimensions, and other specific guidelines using the design files. In some cases the design rules are built into the design tools and provide immediate feedback when a guideline is violated.

DFX effectiveness

A critical aspect of any DFX method is its effectiveness. The structure, applicability, and feedback all matter.
• Does the method assist the design to achieve the desired results?
• Does it guide design decision making with timely feedback?
• Does it apply to specific elements of a design and/or the overall system design?
• Does it lead to effective solutions?

The intent of DFX is to become part of the design process by focusing on a specific “design for” topic of the DFX method.


About The Author

Fred Schenkelberg’s picture

Fred Schenkelberg

Fred Schenkelberg is an experienced reliability engineering and management consultant with his firm FMS Reliability. His passion is working with teams to create cost-effective reliability programs that solve problems, create durable and reliable products, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce warranty costs. Schenkelberg is developing the site Accendo Reliability, which provides you access to materials that focus on improving your ability to be an effective and influential reliability professional.