Design is the driving force of the entire manufacturing process. We no longer just design components and products that are easy to manufacture and assemble. Instead, product design these days considers the entire lifecycle, from concept to manufacture, to maintenance and repair, right through to end of life processing.

I see a number of drivers in the design-led manufacturing world and I am convinced that UK manufacturing needs to recognise and embrace these to remain competitive. 

Legislation such as the end-of-life directives has given manufacturers a level playing field of extended responsibility for the entire product lifecycle. That includes the responsibility to design products that can be properly dismantled so components and materials can be remanufactured or recycled. As a consequence, automotive vehicles are now designed with efficient and ecologically sound recovery and repurposing of materials in mind.  

New materials like bio-composites and new processes, such as additive layer manufacturing (or 3D printing), open up new design freedoms and create new design rules. The decisions derived from these new freedoms in turn impact on the equipment and capital investment companies make, and the layout of the factory shop floor.

Design therefore isn’t just relevant to the product, it impacts on the safety and quality of the manufacturing environment for those who work there. And it’s not just the environment of the large manufacturers; their design choices are passed on to their supply chain too.

Designing a product so that specific components can be taken out, remanufactured or replaced quickly, easily and cheaply is key.

The increase in servitization – manufacturing companies offering their customers holistic solutions, rather than merely selling them a physical product – makes issues of repair and maintenance much more important to manufacturers. Designing a product so that specific components can be taken out, remanufactured or replaced quickly, easily and cheaply for example, is key.

We now expect to be able to monitor a product’s performance and behaviour remotely. Modern digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things, allows us to gather relevant data about the usage of a product which makes it possible to accurately plan maintenance and repair activity, remove risk and maintain performance and reliability. This “Big Data” can also be used to inform the development of next generation product designs.

For business, adapting to new design rules and new business models can be daunting and costly. At the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – which forms part of Innovate UK’s Catapult programme – we work with companies of all sizes to commercialise new manufacturing technologies.

We use our capabilities in IT and visualisation and VR for example, to help companies test designs ranging from individual components to entire factory layouts, in a virtual and therefore safe and cost-effective way. We also have expertise in Product Lifecycle Management, supporting the journey from idea to a product’s end-of-life.

There is much talk of Industry 4.0 as a new era in manufacturing. We are helping to demystify the process of integrating IT into manufacture and adapting designs to best suit this way of working. It is one of the many ways in which the High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres work with business in order to keep the UK at the forefront of the new industrial revolution.

For more information, visit hvm.catapult.org.uk.

Dick Elsy is CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Dick will be speaking at the Leading Business by Design Summit on Thursday 18 June.

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