Comment: DfX - giving your new product innovation the X factor

When it comes to new product innovation (NPI), there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach and engineers often find that juggling different priorities leads to costly, late-stage design changes, say Paul Cooper and Alan March from Vendigital.

‘Design for X’ is a collaborative, cross-functional approach to NPI
‘Design for X’ is a collaborative, cross-functional approach to NPI - AdobeStock

By embracing ‘Design for X’ (DfX) principles, companies can unlock significant cost savings while delivering innovative, high-quality products to meet market demands.

NPI can be very costly and challenging, especially in process industries, which typically operate high-volume, fixed production lines. When a prototype is in development, extensive testing and significant capital investment is required to reach the production stage. If flaws are found early in the design cycle there can be a tendency to keep searching for solutions, regardless of how costly or difficult to scale they might be, rather than ditching the idea and starting again.

While it’s important to stay focused on cost, quality and delivery, design engineers know it’s rarely possible to achieve all of these equally. There can be a tendency for perfectionism, but if delivery timetables slip or costs increase beyond stakeholder expectations, this can result in the NPI programme being scrapped before capital expenditure is allocated. To mitigate the risk of NPI failures, design engineers often rely on tried-and-tested ways of working that have delivered results in the past, rather than trying a different approach. However, this could cause NPI strategies to underperform over time.

‘Design for X’ is a collaborative, cross-functional approach to NPI, which guides engineers through the whole design lifecycle, from ideation through to commercialisation. At planning stage, the design engineer selects the most critical factors to include in the ‘DfX wheel’ and ranks them according to priority. Each factor is considered concurrently as part of the NPI process, which helps to cut costs and reduce lead times to market.


To illustrate the benefits of the DfX approach, an R&D project team developing a new biro, for example, might choose to prioritise ‘design for cost’ and ‘design for recyclability’, rather than ‘design for quality’, in view of the products limited lifespan. By contrast, an R&D project team designing composite wing technology for a military aircraft is more likely to prioritise ‘design for quality’, ‘design for reliability’ and ‘design for regulatory compliance’. The DfX approach can empower R&D teams to try new things, rather than sticking to a legacy mindset and realise significant cost savings as they do so. For example, a manufacturer producing aluminium components for an aerospace OEM, had been doing it the same way for years. During a cost reduction project, an AI model found an innovative plastic material with similar attributes to aluminium that could fulfil the same function for a tenth of the cost.

As markets for new products evolve, the R&D focus can change. For example, EV makers have been ‘designing for weight’ for a while now, to improve energy efficiency and optimise range. However, as more mass-market EVs are launched, we could see greater focus on enhancing customer experience by designing for convenience or comfort. By using a DfX approach, design engineers can reduce NPI failure rates by ensuring that the customer’s voice is an integrated element of the design process and end products are both viable and scalable.

Growing use of AI simulation models and other data-based tools can also boost NPI outcomes. Trained on a mix of business and third-party data, they can be used to test design solutions at different stages of the process. Predictive models can also help to identify potential manufacturing issues, reducing lead times to market and de-risking capital investment decisions.

For example, an AI simulation model could enable the design engineer to see how a new advanced material might flow into a casting or injection mould and analyse its porosity or susceptibility to shrinkage. Depending on the outcome, decisions can be taken about whether the programme should stay on course, make refinements and switches, or shift direction.

The DfX approach can bring cultural benefits for R&D-led businesses too by helping to break down departmental barriers. Collaborative by nature, this approach to NPI relies on input from cross-functional teams and helps to eliminate a mentality whereby an innovation is passed from one department to another without any sense of shared responsibility.

New product innovation is never going to be risk-free, but by adopting DfX principles and focussing on cost, quality and delivery, businesses can ensure that their innovations are market-ready and have plenty of profit-generating potential.

Paul Cooper, a director at Vendigital

Alan March, head of cost and value engineering at Vendigital.