Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Considering Feature Set Value in the Product Development Process

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to enhance our ZPrinter® product line in ways that truly add value to the end user. In fact, when I think about the end user I consider both the person using the printer and the person in need of the printed model. Of course there are other stakeholders but none are impacted by a feature enhancement more than those two. The person who needs the part might be more interested in how fast he can have his model, how accurate the part is, or maybe how close the model’s material properties are to the intended material of the production part. On the other hand, the person running the printer is probably more concerned with ease of use features, such as auto-alignment, cartridge loading, and comfort and visibility while interfacing with the printer.

The design challenge is that often in order to improve one feature, another is impacted. Let me give you a hypothetical example: we might be striving to improve part accuracy, but doing so might slow the print speed. In order to make that decision, we have to understand how to measure the value of further improved part accuracy against reducing print speed to the end user. I would think about this problem in the same way we approach our own product development process where making a single change in a late stage of the process is far more costly than frequent changes in the early stages. Using 3D printing early and often can not only reduce the risk of late stage changes, but will often lead to better decision making and reduced overall cost of development programs. So feature set enhancements that allow for more iterations in the same amount of time and for the same cost are feature sets that add real value.

It doesn’t stop there though. In my example, having more models in the early design stage improves decision making by improving the way the design is communicated. Therefore feature set enhancements that improve the model as a means of communication also add significant value. It is well known that our color printers can be used to create life-like models. Consumer products can be modeled in the intended color combinations or with graphics printed right on the part. Often overlooked is the ability to label models with part and revision numbers or by color coding differences between on model and another, all with the intent to improve and speed up the decision making process.

My question this week is, do you agree with my assessment of value? What do you value in 3DP?

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