Design for disassembly

The small consumer goods company was always looking for ways to reduce the costs of its products and to make them more competitive in the marketplace.

So when the representative from the Design For Assembly (DFA) company came a-knocking on its doors, hoping to drum up some business for its new software, the company management were only too pleased to give him the time of day.

And in the hour or so presentation that followed, the management and the senior engineers became convinced that they could use the new software to save money by avoiding many engineering change orders and wasted engineering prototypes, as well as shaving several dollars off the cost of their products.

So the software was purchased and some of the junior engineers were given the job of using it to reduce the parts count from one of the products that the company had under development. Although their role developing a simple power cable and wiring harness was quite straightforward, the young engineers were keen to demonstrate how they might use the DFA software to their advantage.

And that they did. Although the new software had shown them how they might cut just a few pence in manufacturing costs of the subassembly, the head of the engineering department was highly impressed with their efforts. Since the company’s products sold in their thousands, it was obvious to him what the effect on the bottom line would be thanks to their efforts.

Naturally enough, it didn’t take long for him to decide that the company should make more extensive use of the software in question. And so all the engineers – mechanical, electrical, and electronic alike – were sent on a training course to ensure that they were ‘au fait’ with the software so that it could be more widely deployed in the next product that they had under development.

One year later, the results of the training on the new software certainly had paid dividends. The company had effectively used it to cost-reduce numerous subassemblies in their new product. So much so that there was hardly a fastener to be seen on its exterior – the entire external plastic subassemblies, and many of the internal ones too, could be simply snapped fit on the assembly line.

The design team were delighted when their new design went on to win a sizeable share of the marketplace. And despite the fact that the marketing department of the company had anticipated that its sales would peak after just six months, the new design was still selling well after a year.

Sadly though, for the consumers who bought the product, the DFA process proved to be more of a nuisance than a benefit. Because as easy as it had been for the company to assemble its new product, taking it apart to resolve even the most minor of problems was another matter entirely. It proved totally impossible to repair.

Still, the product itself was so inexpensive that most consumers simply bought another one when theirs broke. And that’s what really mattered, wasn’t it?

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Engineeringtalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest engineering products andservices. To subscribe click here