Industries have to continuously upgrade their products as well as introduce new products in the market in order to retain as well as to increase their market share. The product development is the responsibility of the research and development (R&D) department of a manufacturing company. When a product is initially introduced the sales volume will below. If the product is good and satisfies the customers, the sales will pick up. Sometimes, if there are any problems in the product the company will have to make changes or improvements in the product which is a very expensive proposition. If the defect is serious enough the company may have to recall an entire batch of products at enormous cost and loss of goodwill. The sales and service department usually takes care of attending to the customers’ problems. That is why manufacturers of automobiles, entertainment electronic goods, fast moving consumer goods like washing machines and refrigerators etc have elaborate sales and service network.
The sales volume will pick up gradually and peak after some time. The product will continue to sell for some time. The sales will then start gradually declining owing to availability of better products in the market. It is time for the company to introduce a new and improved product in the market as well as to retire the old product. The companies will usually advice the customers that the old product will be further supported by the sales and service department only for a limited period of time.
The cycle through which a product goes through from development to retirement is called the product life cycle. The variation of the sales volume during the life cycle of a product is graphically shown in Fig.2.1.
The product development cycle starts with developing the product concept, evolving the design, engineering the product, manufacturing the part, marketing and servicing. This is shown in Fig. 2.2. The idea of a product may come from a patent, suggestion of the customers, feedback of the sales and service department, market research carried out by the marketing department or from the R&D department itself. The next stage is the conceptualization of the product. The cost at which the product could be sold in the market is decided and the overall design in terms of shape, functional specifications, ergonomics, aesthetics etc are considered in detail and finalized at this stage. The work of product development is then taken to the next stage by the design department who carefully designs each assembly and each component of the assembly. Detailed design analysis and optimization is carried out at this stage. A design may have several variants. For example, a passenger car may have what is called a stripped down version with the bare minimum options and luxury versions with several add on functionalities. Between these two extreme versions, there will be a number of models or variants to meet the needs of customers with different paying capacities. In a similar way, a satellite launch vehicle may be designed for different payloads. A fighter aircraft may have different versions. A refrigerator will have to be marketed with different capacities. The design department creates these designs through a top down approach or a bottom up approach. In top down approach, the entire assembly is designed first and individual designs are done latter. In bottom up approach, the component design is done first and the product is realized by assembling the components suitably. The design also will involve preparation of detail drawings. Engineering the product consists of process planning, tool design, facility design, capacity planning, quality assurance activities, procurement, assembly planning, etc. Marketing department will have the responsibility of carrying out appropriate product launch activities as well as planning the sales and service network, advertising and training of sales and service personnel.
In actual practice product development activities form a spiral as shown in Fig. 2.3. The product goes through a series of continuous refinement and improvements, additions etc. A typical example is a software package improved versions of which are released as new versions at periodic intervals. The feedback from the marketing and services leads to improvements in design and/or evolution of new designs. As an example, the reader is advised to make a study of the evolution of the various models of aircraft or passenger cars over the last five decades.
This is how most of the present products have been evolved over the period. One can evidently realize it by comparing a 1928 model T Ford car with the current jelly bean shaped cars. However, the design evolution however does not stop at any stage and is a continuous process.
Similarly one can observe the vast improvements that have taken place in the design of entertainment electronic goods, computers, aircrafts and even domestic appliances like refrigerators. Often an altogether new concept may make a design obsolete. Songs were recorded at different times on discs, tapes, cassettes and CD-ROMS. Correspondingly, the design of the music player has also undergone radical changes from the old gramophone record player to the present MP3 player. It is interesting to note the rate of obsolescence of technology in music players.