Mechanical products can be simple or considerably complex. Many modern products feature mechanisms, integrated mechanical fastening and structural features for strength. If the design of such a product is not thought through completely and diligently, it could cost many thousands to correct and ultimately lead to product failures in the market at the hands of hopeful customers.
There are five main stages for a professionally-developed mechanical product. This involves:
1. Generating a concept to the specification
Concepts are all about generating feasible product ideas for the given specification. If a specification document is not created there is nothing to work towards. Such a document will often detail general features, performance characteristics, environmental considerations, constraints and subsequent market release notes. This central document is often used by the design and engineering development team.
Once several concepts are generated they are reviewed and rated against feature criteria. One or two of the most promising concepts are chosen to progress.
2. Detailing the chosen design
You now have a promising concept design that needs to get drawn up in 3D CAD software and detailed with consideration for materials, fixings and joints. This detail design model will also allow you and your design team to finally meet your brain-child and further refine some aesthetics and form.
Consider this stage as an extension of the brainstorming and concept-generating stage with more refinement.
3. Preparing the design for manufacturing / fabrication
The initial CAD models provide a tangible view into the idea developed (even if only still in the digital domain). The product will now need to be considered for the specific manufacturing processes that will allow it to be physically created. This mostly depends on the materials chosen and could mean you need to consider Injection moulding (for mouldable plastics) or CNC machining (for precision metals) for example.
4. Creating a prototype
This is a very important stage as you now set out to get your design idea into the physical world. You have the option of using a modern 3D printing method allowing you to create functional mechanical parts and review aesthetics / form. Although this has now become a first choice and considerably cheaper than before, the prototypes are often brittle plastics and may not be appropriate for demonstration. They are built by layering plastics in the Z height going up which adds to their structural problems.
A more robust prototype can be created using close to end materials such as metals or PE/ABS using short-run, one-off production. These will be more expensive but much more durable and appropriate for demos.
5. Iterating stage 3 and 4 (VERY important)
You learn a lot about your product through the previous stages and the process will inevitably lead to changes needing to be done to the original design. It is best to get the obvious issues sorted at this stage of development rather than later, in which it becomes very expensive to do so, sometimes prohibitively(!).
6. Testing the product
Test, test, test. It has been proven to be a wise choice to make an effort in assembling a small focus group of target customers to provide product usage feedback. You will get information such as ease of use, opinions on the aesthetics, feedback for product fit and even constructive recommendations. Again, it is better to iterate a few stages back now before releasing to the market as a whole