With Tim Uys, Director of Design at MAKO Design
Tim Uys has spent 25 years as a senior leader and lecturer in the industrial design and mechanical engineering world. He has worked for Nike Golf, Dell, Qualcomm, Ironman, and many others while the director of design for IDOne, which was one of the top Austin design firms back in the early days before it was acquired. For the past 6 years, Tim has been the head of design for our very own Mako Design out of our Austin, Texas office. Today Tim is going to share some valuable knowledge on how inventors, startups, and small manufacturers can understand the importance of design for manufacturing, 3 big tips on how to succeed in doing it, and where DFM fits into the overall product development process.
Today you will hear us talk about:
- Concept design
- Design for Manufacturing
- Keep positive and think nimbly about your project going into production
- Have a clear idea of what is important to your product, in priority
- Speed, quality, cost, features
- Perfection is the enemy of success
- How to communicate from final engineering and prototyping to the manufacturer
- Bill of materials
- Materials specifications
- 2D drawings
110: Design for Manufacturing Consumer Products
With Tim Uys, Director of Design at MAKO Design
00:00 | Kevin Mako (KM): Hello product innovators. Today, we learn from a 25-year product design director on the importance and process of design for manufacturing of consumer products.
00:12 | Voice-over: You’re listening to the Product Startup podcast. The show that helps bring your product idea to life, by chatting with successful inventors, product developers, manufacturers, and hardware industry professionals. Our goal here is to get to the bottom of what makes a product successful, from initial idea to getting your product on store shelves. We’re taking you step by step to build a functional product and scale your product business. Hosted by Kevin Mako, one of North America’s leading experts on hardware development for small product businesses. Now, on to the show.
00:48 | KM: Welcome back everyone. Today I’m very excited to introduce Tim Uys to the show. Tim has spent 25 years as a senior leader and lecture in the industrial design and mechanical engineering world. He has worked for Nike, Golf, Dell, Qualcomm, Ironman, and many others, while the director of design for ID one, which is one of the top Austin industrial design firms back in the early days before it was acquired.
01:07 | KM: For the past six years, Tim has been the head of design for our very own MAKO design out of our Austin Texas office. Today, Tim is going to share some valuable knowledge on how inventors startups and small manufacturers can understand the importance of design for manufacturing. Three big tips on how to succeed in doing it. And where DFM fits into the overall product development process. Now on to the episode. Hey Tim, welcome to the show.
01:30 | Tim Uys (TU): Thanks Kev, really appreciate you having me on here.
01:32 | KM: Well, we’re excited to have you on today as definitely one of the foremost experts in design for manufacturing. You’re calling out of our Austin Texas office right now. I’m out at the Toronto office. So I appreciate you jumping on. And for anyone who doesn’t know, Tim Uys is the Director of Design for MAKO design out of the Austin Texas office.
01:49 | KM: Today, we’re talking about a really important subject and that is around design for manufacturing. When you’re designing a product to actually compete in the market, whether you plan to license or sell or distribute or partner or whatever it is, they want a product that can sell. In order to have a great product that can sell it’s critically important to think about design for manufacturing.
02:09 | KM: How is that product going to be built? Because that is the thing that gets bought at the end of the day. It is the manufactured product. So no matter what way you look at it, there are two directions to design. There is the design where you’re roughing and ideating and all that sort of stuff. And then there’s the much bigger field of design, which is designed for manufacturing. And that’s what we’re talking about today. But Tim, before we jump into that, just give everybody a quick background on your history in industrial design. You’ve been doing this for a long time.
02:35 | TU: Yep, It’s been over 20 years, reaching to 25 now and started out in my native South Africa. Hence the weird accent that’s coming across. It never goes away. I spent several years in South Africa working as an industrial designer and then transition to Austin, Texas working for a company named ID1. It was one of the top firms here in Austin and definitely did some fantastic work there.
02:59 | TU: We were able to learn a lot, grow a lot. And then ended up going on my own for several years until I ended up joining MAKO about six years ago, doing a little bit more in-depth design here with startups and individuals.
03:15 | KM: And it’s been quite a journey. We’ve worked on hundreds of projects together. And those all come down to this concept as designed for manufacturing. Now you’ve worked for some of the biggest players out there, Nike, Golf, Dell, et cetera. So bringing those design principles from some of the best design houses in the world. And applying that to startups is a really core piece of our model, obviously at MAKO design, but a really core piece to any project that is looking to professionally and properly, get a product to become an actual success, a financial success, something that actually gets out into the market and that can either be used to raise money, to scale the business around the product or sell the product or license it or do whatever else it all comes down to production.
03:57 | KM: So let’s jump into the process, starting from the early levels of design, going from concept design, then through engineering, into prototyping, then design for manufacturing. Tim, why don’t you walk us through each of those. We’ll start first at the beginning and then give us any tips and tricks along the way.
04:12 | TU: So with concept design, it’s very much kind of coming up with the plan. Our clients come to us with various levels of developed ideas. Some of them have solved the problem. Some of them need problem-solving. And we go into that process of developing that idea around the parameters that the client has set us. So ending up with various concepts on how to design it. Coming up with different ideas and then distilling it down to the idea that we all feel is the most appropriate solution based on various criteria.
04:46 | TU: Now, when we start out like that, we quite often will have kind of a process in mind that say, we think we’re going to make this product out of an injection molded part, or we’re thinking of using sheet metal for this or whatever it is. And sometimes the clients will come to us and say, I absolutely don’t want to do injection molding or I absolutely need to do it this way.
05:08 | TU: And so those become some of the parameters that we include in the concept design phase, as we come up with a concept design and a solution. From that solution, we then end up going to the next phase, which is usually prototyping something out. And it really becomes a test phase. Prototypes are there to test out the idea that we all assumed it would work, or we all guess would work based on what we know.
05:35 | TU: But inevitably there are usually one or two, three, maybe more prototypes that we iterate through. And we end up developing the idea from that concept phase to a more firm solution at the end of the prototype phase. And then of course the big step comes where we decide to go to production. And that is where the phase that we are mostly focusing on here today takes place.
06:01 | TU: And the next thing is that you end up taking the assumptions that you had on processes or manufacturing techniques and taking those to manufacturers, taking the parts to manufacturers and starting to get their input on how things will be done. Now that’s where it almost goes back from being a very focused idea, to kind of a wide open funnel again, because every production facility that you go to, has a slight preference for doing things a little differently, or they have machines that do things differently or so on and they will to as to their preferred way of doing a thing, and that can sometimes influence the design.
06:44 | TU: And you may need to kind of backtrack a little bit and either tweak the design, which can be kind of a circular process, a little bit, going back and forth. Just finding the best solutions, finding manufacturing partners, who are able to do or willing to do things the way that you want them or who you can work with to get things done in a successful way that ends you up with a decent product.
07:10 | KM: I mean, that’s a really important thing that you bring up about design for manufacturing and that somewhat circular process in the end, because a big part or a big understanding I would say, is that you do the design. And assuming that you’ve built a great quality foundation in the concept design, then you’ve gone through and you’ve prototyped out all the different elements and figured out really exactly how you need this product to work and function.
07:31 | KM: You’ve tested it. You’ve got the final CAD design and all that stuff to go to production. There is this stepping stone that happens when you go to production, where you want to make sure that the prototype that you went into it with is mimicked in production or even improved in production. And that is where there’s a very key process that happens between the designers and the engineers that have actually built and engineered and prototyped and tested the product and the engineers on the production side of the manufacturers.
07:59 | KM: And there’s a bit of a gap there that needs to be bridged. And that’s where you really want a quality team, both on the development side. And a quality producer on the production side, working together to figure out exactly how those pieces and how those parts fit together. And that is a really important and crucial step to maintaining the quality of your product as it goes into production.
08:22 | KM: One of the biggest misunderstandings out there that we see all the time, is that somebody well even worse so, they take a rough design and they try and go to a producer. That’s impossible or nearly. It almost never work out, I’ve never seen it work or they’ll go and they’ll have a pretty decent, let’s say prototype, that’s been designed and engineered and just slap it in the hands of a manufacturer or a manufacturing rep, and hope that they’re magically going to figure out all the little nuances of your product.
08:47 | KM: They’re going to fully understand it and going to put it into processes that can be used to manufacture it at good quality, at good prices and at good timelines. So Tim, you’ve got three things that you really talk about often in terms of design for manufacturing. Three essentially states of mind and tips and tricks. Can you walk through those three and how those relate to that DFM process once you’re finished prototyping and ready to move into that step into production.
09:14 | TU: So coming out of the prototyping process, we inevitably end up with a prototype that works perfectly. It’s doing everything everybody wants it to do, and everybody’s happy with that. But getting it to production and putting it through a process where it gets made out of the materials and the processes that are good for mass production sometimes that can actually affect that manufacturing or that functionality again.
09:38 | TU: And so when it comes to developing a product for the DFM phase, I like to keep to kind of three rules of thumb that are important. First one being that, you have to go into that phase with a relatively open mind, you need to go in and say that unless you absolutely had, right from the start said, there was only one way we were going to do this. You need to realize that there may be more than one option for producing a product. Maybe it’s injection molding, or maybe you need to do some other kind of molding technique.
10:15 | TU: There are so many different and varying forms of injection molding out there. We say injection molding, but it covers a host of variable design methods or production methods that are available. So keeping an open mind is a key thing and saying that you’re willing to be a little bit flexible there.
10:34 | TU: Second thing, is to have a clear concept of what’s important about your product. Is it that your product remains cheap or is it that your product needs to get to market really quickly? Or is it that this has to be a super high-end product and quality has to be fantastic. Those are the, things that you want to highlight when you’re going into design for manufacturing, because those are kind of the Hills that you’re going to die on, when it comes to you approving the product for going forward and actually mass manufacturing.
11:07 | TU: And then the third thing is to remember that based on that second option, that perfection is the enemy of success. Quite often, you can get a product that’s 99% there. It’s doing everything that you need it to be. But one little aspect of it, is a niggle to you and you don’t like it. And it’s the thing that as a result of a process is just ending up the way that it is. You have to ask yourself the question, is this good enough to go ahead and send into the world? Or am I going to delay the production of this product one more week, or one more month or a year before I get it right?
11:47 | TU: Because I want it to be perfect and end up missing your opportunity to sell that product, because it’s a trending thing. It’s something that really is hot right now, but not hot in a year’s time. So those are the things that you really need to keep in mind.
12:02 | KM: Those three variables are so powerful Tim. I love that you put only the three frames of mind, but also the three variables in there, speed, quality and cost. And like you said, there’s an age-old expression, pick one or pick two of them. Because you’re going to have a hard time picking all three. And that is the reality, especially if you’re manufacturing a new product and especially if you are budget conscious about both the development and the manufacturing processes and the unit cost.
12:31 | KM: And at a lower unit cost, you’re generally paying more because you’re not yet achieving economy to scale. You don’t have a ton of negotiating power. Even if you’re working through a design firm like MAKO design that has all the relationships and partnerships with all these great manufacturers, you’re still starting at the bottom of some totem pole.
12:47 | KM: And the reality is that it’s going to take you some time to build trust with the manufacturer, to build a strong relationship with them, to the point where they’ll start really working hard on every single element and every single detail of your product to start costing it down. But that’s sort of the beauty of scale, because you start with your big opening product to market, and you’re not overly concerned generally on your first production run, about profit margins then.
13:10 | KM: You’re just trying to get some units into user’s hands. Then we look at the equal element and that’s really important because I like to, especially with hardware startups, especially in 2022, I like to focus very aggressively on that element, making sure that you spend a little bit extra time, a little bit of extra effort to ensure that the quality is there, even at the expense of time or cost.
13:32 | KM: Quality is one of those things, especially in hardware. When you go to market, you’ve got one shot at doing it. And we’ve talked about it many times on the show, as well, is keeping the product simple. We have a design slogan at MAKO design, brilliantly simple design. Effectively making sure that your feature creep isn’t going crazy because the simpler you make your product, the less features, the more effort, the more time more money you can spend on making the few features that you have of a great quality.
14:00 | KM: The easier it is then going to be once you’ve designed and engineered those features at a great quality, the exponentially easier it’s going to be for Tim or other mechanical engineers or other team members on the electronics side or whatever it is. If you have electronics in it, for them to now carry that process into the manufacturers.
14:17 | KM: Tim, I want to break down a bit of that handshake when we get to our final prototype. You mentioned when you finally got that thing, it’s designed out well, it’s prototyping the way you want it, it’s working well. There are a number of elements that we do when we’re actually transferring the CAD files to the manufacturer, including the bill materials, the actual CAD file itself, the 2D line drawings, the specification documents, how the actual product works, the physical prototype itself. Just highlight some of these elements and why they can be very helpful in improving that handshake and smoothing the process between getting to your final prototype and the manufacturer kicking off their first production run of your units.
14:55 | TU: This is an interesting thing that you bring up because inevitably when you work on a project like this sometimes you’ve spent months and some people have, when they come to us as clients, we often ask them, how long have you been sitting on this idea? And sometimes it’s decades. They’ve had this idea in their heads and they know all about it and they have researched it to death.
15:16 | TU: And then you’ve gone and you’ve developed this product and you’ve built multiple prototypes and everybody’s onboard. And now you take it to a manufacturer and it’s the first time you’ve seen it. So he’s never seen the product like this. Quite often, we are solving a problem that’s not been solved before. Nobody’s even thought to solve that problem. And so explaining to that manufacturer what this product is, what it does, even sometimes why it’s important because sometimes manufacturers will look at it and go, well, you know, deep down, I don’t really believe in this product and that can psychologically have an effect on your success or your failure with that manufacturer, whether they take you seriously or not.
16:01 | TU: So getting that idea across to them of what this product is, is really important. And that’s where a lot of this documentation comes in. And a lot of the work that we do upfront in that design phase, is producing really beautiful storytelling of the product and what it is. As I said, the design phase is really our plan of what this product is, how it works and what it does for you.
16:26 | TU: And so we usually create a lot of documentation around that, that tells the story through images. And through even sometimes animations, even sometimes alternative methods of storytelling to tell the public. And then in the end, that manufacturer, well, here’s the product, and this is what we think it can be made or it can look like, and we need you to give us your input based on your manufacturing processes and things. And work with us to get this done.
16:59 | TU: And so the better they understand where you’re at and what your requirements are, the better they can come back and give you advice on how to get that product made and successfully produce it out of their facility.
17:12 | KM: Really good notes. And one of the things that I find is so powerful, even if you’ve gotten an established a relationship with the manufacturers, when you come to them with a complete list of all of these details, you look extremely professional. Because of the effort you’ve put into the product to do the product right. And because of your passion for quality or cost or timing or whatever it might be of those three variables that we talked about earlier.
17:35 | KM: It really helps to manufacturer buy into your story and put the extra effort in that might be required to find those solutions for you to make it work. No two products are the same. Everything always has little nuances to it. It really requires that collaborative effort, but your upfront effort, before you ever go to the manufacturer, to ensure that you have everything that you could possibly do on your end done, before you’re approaching that producer for them and asking them. And almost always for free, asking them to put in a tremendous amount of work in order to figure out all of the element that it takes to produce your product, and then figuring out the upfront cost and the variable cost to actually produce that.
18:15 | KM: This is something that isn’t free on their end. It costs them a lot of money for these manufacturers to put a quote together. Even if you have all these elements, you have all the CAD files, you’ve given them everything they need. It’s going to take them time to go through it part by part, figure out both how to make those parts, where to source the materials for the parts, where to source things that they don’t produce to bring in house.
18:35 | KM: Sometimes actually I would say quite often, it’s multiple different manufacturers that we work with to get a single product done. Then figuring out how to put that all together. And all of this stuff takes a lot of effort, especially if you want a reasonable price or them to put their best price forward. Because the way that they give you a good price is by looking through all of these details, figuring out the methods to a T, precisely how these things are going to get done, figuring out the exact capital costs and variable costs that it is to them.
19:02 | KM: And then obviously putting a mark up to you. if there are some uncertainties or things that are unknown, they have to charge, for each of those unknowns, they have to charge the highest possible price for that part. Because they don’t know yet what might actually be entailed to that.
19:15 | KM: This just all comes back around to how important it is. I wouldn’t even say it’s important. I would say it’s impossible to go to a producer, almost impossible I would say, in almost every instance. Especially in mass-manufacturing of consumer products, to go to a producer without a well-vetted, finished prototype engineering, build materials, materials spec CAD, even animations, et cetera.
19:35 | KM: If you don’t have that, you will not be able to successfully work with the manufacturer on the front-end door. It’ll be extremely difficult. Tim I appreciate you mentioning the psychology to it too, because I think that’s often overlooked with a manufacturer.
19:46 | KM: People are looking at a manufacturer for cold hard dollar sign, but these are humans. They’ve got quite an operation going. They are where they are because they’ve been successful in the industry. And they’ve been doing this generally, especially if it’s partners of ours, they’ve been doing this for 20 plus years. Building the product category, which they’re good at.
20:03 | KM: So they’ve built up a rapport and you need to come to them with that respect and that appreciation for them by having your homework done essentially on the front end.
20:12 | TU: Right, that’s a huge part of what we do, is we have vendors that we’ve worked with for now over 15 years, in some cases, vendors that we know what they’re doing on a day to day basis. They know us personally, we have sent clients to their facilities and they are a core part of what we do.
20:31 | TU: So it’s not a case of, oh, I ship this to this anonymous guy and he figures it out. But there becomes this real time relationship where they are part of the team and we send them stuff and we communicate with them well. They know it’s coming from a good team. It’s coming from somebody who knows what they’re talking about. That’s super important to them because you’re not the only person coming to them.
20:56 | TU: They have 10 other guys coming to them. Also wanting stuff made, also wanting stuff done. And if they know that when you come to them, you’ve got all your nuts and bolts together and everything is in a row. They are going to take you a lot more seriously and give you better pricing, better understanding, the better guys are going to get put on your projects because they have A and B teams.
21:16 | TU: It all starts from that first time you go all the way through to the 10th time you order something or the 100th time you order something. Those are the important things to keep in mind with those folks.
21:27 | KM: They’re amazing at discovering things, too, especially as you talk about going to subsequent orders. One of the things that we love to do with the manufacturer, especially if we’re managing the relationship, is having our engineers and their engineers talk about that first production run after it went to market, and we got real user feedback to it.
21:45 | KM: What do we need to do on that second production run to shore up some of the things that went wrong? Or are going to be even more important, what are some of the opportunities, both from a product standpoint, but also from a manufacturing standpoint on the back end?
21:56 | KM: Maybe they’ve noticed that something, there was a material that was far too expensive, and there’s a great alternative that’s half the price. Maybe there’s an option to go into a recycled version because now that we’ve tested enough units, we know that the properties of a recycled material that we’re looking at, will perform equally to the product needs that we have as what exists.
22:15 | KM: There’s a lot of opportunity to tap into the resources of these manufacturers, into the years and years of experience of each of the folks that you’re dealing with on the other side and try and see what is the best of the best they can bring forward to help you as your product and your brand evolves as all products evolve.
22:33 | KM: The biggest company in the world, Apple, every year they’ve got a new iPhone. They’re evolving, they’re doing this exact process. Their engineers in California are working well all over the place. Now, Austin and elsewhere, but you’ve got their engineers all over the world, working with their manufacturers hand in hand to come up with the next version of the product.
22:50 | KM: It’s a two-way process. And that can really work if you build that relationship very strong from the beginning. One of the best things that can happen with all of this is, when you get that relationship going with your manufacturer and the trust is built in both directions, really beautiful products come out of it.
23:05 | KM: It is how you get those award-winning items that are on the shelf. It’s how you get that extra little 5% of the product that just tip the scale competitively over the next group. It’s how you get that product that just seems to have a bit more shine or glimmer or power to it than something else that’s sitting at the trade show. And a lot of that comes back to this relationship between your design team and your manufacturing team.
23:31 | TU: Yeah, we actually just recently, it just came to mind when you were talking about that. It was a case where we were working on a project for a client. We’ve got it all the way to manufacturing. And as we’re going along with this process we suddenly realized that there was this opportunity to actually simplify the product based even using existing components, but actually simply leaving out certain components and adding a very few new components to it.
24:03 | TU: We were able to produce a base model product as well as their high end product. And suddenly they ended up with two different products out of the design that we had come up with initially, which allows them to have a kind of an entry-level unit as well as a high-end unit. And suddenly they’ve got a product range instead of just a single product.
24:29 | TU: And so again, that hand in hand working with the manufacturer to be able to do those things is what gives us opportunities to see those chances do happen.
24:41 | KM: Tim, I know we’re coming up at the end of time here, so I just want to say thanks for taking time out of your day to do the podcast today, to share this knowledge with the world. And we’ll talk soon. Appreciate it. Take care.
24:51 | KM: Okay. Appreciate it, Kevin. Thanks. Good.
24:54 | Voice-over: Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the Product Startup podcast. The show that teaches you what it really takes to bring your product to market and turn it into a big success. This podcast series is brought to you by MAKO Design + Invent, the original and leading firm in North America to provide global caliber end-to-end physical consumer product development to startups, inventors, and small product business clients. If you’re looking for product development help on your invention, head over to makodesign.com. That’s M-A-K-O design.com, for a free consultation from one of MAKO Design’s, four design studios from coast to coast. Thanks for listening and see you next time.
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Thanks for tuning in! See you next time.
About: MAKO Design + Invent is the original firm providing world-class consumer product development services tailored to startups, small manufacturers, and inventors. Simply put, we are the leading one-stop-shop for developing your physical product from idea to store shelves, all in a high-quality, cost-effective, and timely manner. We operate as one powerhouse 30-person product design team spread across 4 offices to serve you (Austin, Miami, San Francisco, & Toronto). We have full-stack in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, patent referral, prototyping, and manufacturing services. To assist our startup and inventor clients, in addition to above, we help with business strategy, product strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. Also, our founder Kevin Mako hosts The Product Startup Podcast, the industry's leading hardware podcast. Check it out for tips, interviews, and best practices for hardware startups, inventors, and product developers. Click HERE to learn more about MAKO Design + Invent!