Using a Digital Mindset in Product Development & Manufacturing

Solutionology Podcast #24: a perspective shift in product design, development, management & manufacturing | 22:30


What is a digital mindset & how does it apply to product development & manufacturing?

In Episode #24 of the Solutionology Podcast Carl Douglass, P.E. and Brian Douglass from DI Labs dig into this topic. Brian starts by providing a simple definition of a digital mindset from the DI Labs perspective. “A digital mindset is a way for us to stay flexible throughout a process or project… so that we’re not locked into a preconceived bias… it’s the ability to create rapid changes and store them in a quick and lightweight format like digital…”

Carl then quotes an article from the Harvard Business Review by Tsedal Neeley and Paul Leonardi called, “*Developing a Digital Mindset.” Under the section “Change as a Constant” he reads:

According to change management theory, organizations move from a current state to a transitional state and then on to a future state… In a digitally driven world, however, there is no endpoint to the transitional phase.
This excerpt resonated with Brian and Carl due to the never-ending state of transition, which is a mindset they embrace. An example of that can be seen in the automotive industry where parts from full assemblies have been marked with revision controls that document improvements made to specific aspects while still keeping the end product flexible. The revision controls act as breadcrumbs to track ongoing changes.

Applying the digital mindset to product development with the same sort of controls in place is a challenge. Effectively breaking up, documenting, and revision-controlling product designs through the development phase can be painful, especially if you believe that when a design is done it’s final and will require no more changes. That mindset prevents you from being methodical about the journey and building in the flexibility to make future design adjustments in areas you know are critical for the functional use of the product.

To apply a digital mindset, you must approach the design and development process as if it’s never finished. That means designing products so they can be revised easily without being recreated from scratch.

Brian explains, “When most engineers or product developers are given a problem, they tend to take it whole. They’re not chopping it up and deconstructing the problem into its finite components. If you miss that step… you have this heavily constrained geometry that’s not very flexible. But if you break it up into the critical aspects of that product and treat them both individually and as a whole, it allows you to look at them through a different lens.”

Carl points out that when Brian designs a product, he often breaks it into 10-15 components that are created in separate models with smart feature trees. Then he creates an assembly model that is the composition of those different components. The models are all interdependent and the assembly model will update almost automatically based on revisions made to the components.

From a collaboration standpoint, Brian believes it’s important to split designs up because specific components impact specific departments (of a company) and can be shared separately to validate features and get quick, efficient feedback. It sounds simple but it’s not. It’s about creating a base product design that is drafted with a digital mindset so it can evolve. As the earlier HBR article stated, a digital mindset means working as if the transition phase is perpetual. While it’s not a concept exclusive to additive manufacturing or 3D printing, it supports the deployment of these technologies to create adaptable and flexible digital manufacturing paths.
Brian says, “Tools like additive manufacturing put the pressure on us as designers to be more efficient and effective.”

Carl adds, “Medical device is a key industry that benefits dramatically from this sort of approach, but it’s not the only one. The more this digital mindset can be applied to all products being developed the more it can have a dramatic impact on time to market and overall cost of projects.” In addition, Brian believes that when product launch timelines get extended due to development issues, valuable features or components of that product can get cut, diminishing its overall value.

At DI Labs, we’ve been applying a digital mindset for a long time and are now helping clients build it into their programs and products, leading us to what’s next! Stay tuned to learn more about the custom-designed Solutionology Sessions we’ll be offering to companies interested in mobilizing their teams with a digital mindset.

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