Product Development Processes: Exploring the Pros and Cons

Whether you run a startup or you founded a successful company with decades in your given industry, engineering and product development may be at the forefront of what you do. Bringing new products to market is one way that businesses can compete. After all, careers involved in product prototyping (including graphic designers, software developers, mechanical engineers, and others) accounted for 1.2 million jobs nationwide in 2016. In other words, there’s a demand for new and innovative offerings that can improve our lives.

However, getting to the final development stages is no easy task. Even determining the need for a certain product or the basic details of said product can be a challenge. And in many cases, the steps to creating a given product aren’t totally clear.

If all of that sounds familiar, your business could benefit from working with a product development firm. It’s one thing to have incredible ideas; it’s quite another to make them into a reality. All of that starts with identifying the right product development process for your business — and working with a product design and development company that can accommodate those preferences. Whether you need guidance on software design or you’re looking to receive step-by-step assistance on the development of new electronics from a product development firm, understanding the possible processes you might use for developing a new product can be a great place to start.

Waterfall Approaches

Traditional engineering and product development will typically align with “waterfall” approaches. It’s essentially a linear process, meaning that there are specific stages that need to be completed in a certain order before the next one can begin. After a stage is completed, the team generally can’t go back to a previous stage. Instead, movement through the development stages goes in only one forward direction (hence the name “waterfall”). In many cases, there’s a “gate” that exists between each stage, as well; these milestones need to be checked off before moving ahead to the next stage. The original model for waterfall product development featured the phases of product requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing, and operations, but subsequent models have included different variations on the initial process. Usually, waterfall product development approaches are structured as one large project that has well-defined requirements made before beginning any work. Waterfall approaches are used in all kinds of product development, from software and IT to manufacturing and construction.

Waterfall approaches have historically been a popular choice for engineering and product development due to their ease of use. The process is simple to follow and to manage, which also means team members don’t necessarily require any additional training to use it. It’s also a process that’s easy to share with clients. In fact, doing so is actually part of its design. That said, waterfall product development approaches do come with certain limitations. Changes are difficult to accommodate and because the process is so rigid, it can actually be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

Agile Processes

Agile product development processes, as their name might suggest, are more flexible in nature. Agile actually refers to a large category of several different processes, including scrum and Kanban (though there are distinct differences between them). Agile methodology forgoes detailed planning at the beginning of a project, instead favoring to changing requirements based on feedback and knowledge. It’s a more incremental approach that focuses on accountability, communication, and collaboration in order to achieve both the customer’s needs and the internal goals of the organization. Efficiency and frequency are prioritized, as are simplicity, sustainability, and competitive edge.

The adaptability of agile processes is a huge selling point, as are the values of consistent improvement, teamwork, and customer feedback. However, these processes do require highly skilled individuals and increased dedication to product development. By working with product design consulting firms, agile development processes are more likely to produce effective results.

When choosing a methodology for your engineering and product development, one type isn’t necessarily superior to the other. Your decision should be based on the needs of your customers, the capacity of your team, and your ultimate vision for your organization. To learn more about how our engineers can help streamline your company’s product development, please contact us today.

Bioptigen Envisu Image System

Bioptigen, a technology leader in ophthalmology from Morrisville, North Carolina partnered with Porticos, a product design and product development engineering consulting firm in Morrisville, NC to create the Envisu, a state-of-the-art OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography). The Envisu is a system that produces detailed images of the internal structure of the eye for both clinical and research applications. 

Designers at Bioptigen needed to advance their product and they selected Porticos’s engineers for the design. Porticos optimized Envisu by utilizing the proprietary “engine,” while also mitigating annual production costs. 

Ultimately, Bioptigen considered a reduction in size & weight, with improved thermal performance and shock resistance. The designers also added the ability to disconnect specific components, which made the unit easier to build and service.

Porticos’ engineers partnered with multiple Bioptigen teams to identify the device’s most essential features, as well as areas that needed to be improved. Following multiple iterations of industrial design concepts and mockups, Porticos designed a new system that met all of the objectives.

This led to the creation of the probe interface module, which allowed interchanging the scanner probe in the base unit.  This module required adding a new connection point in the main optical fiber. The connection was executed with minimal signal loss and included a clever dust cover for the optical connection.

Separate optical and electronic modules were created, which were independently removable from the chassis for servicing.  This configuration assisted with assembly while a hinged electronics enclosure aided with debugging, allowing service personnel to access the interior while operating the unit.

A component layout was established to maximize thermal performance, and this was eventually coupled with the positive pressure fan cooling system. Hot swap hard disk drives were implanted, with custom shock mounts, rounding out the internals Bioptigen was looking for.

A unique optical fiber routing tray that accommodated an array of fiber lengths was fitted with size and weight distribution that, along with handholds in key locations, enabled disassembly of the unit to assist with portability during transport.

Porticos implemented lightweight and strong structural chassis, low-cost thermoformed covers, and removable spool to improve transportability, as well as adapted OEM medical cart to complete the system.

Overall, Porticos worked to improve product aesthetics and ergonomics, along with manufacturing methods compatible with a limited annual production volume and a simplified design. The engineers provided expertise with Design for Manufacturing (DFM), Design for Assembly (DFA), and Design for Service (DFS).

Product design for cooler pet beds. Literally.

A cool concept. A bed for your pet that will help them keep their cool, literally.

The Porticos team was approached to redesign a non-functional cooling pet bed.

Product design: Engineering challenges overcome by critical thinking

An interesting concept that had several pieces and parts from the different components involved in the bed itself, analysis of dc adapter or ac power, how to keep the fan quiet, portability, and cost.

Then there were design challenges the Porticos team met with enthusiasm such as: how to simulate a dog in a computer thermal situation, what device to use to actually cool the bed, what the proper amount of cooling should be appropriate for a model-sized dog, and which materials would be most efficient.

Engineering consulting for Fido

This was another successful design completed with a pet bed that becomes cool to the touch in only a few minutes, and can provide enough cooling for even a 70-90 pound dog.

See more about the cool pet bed by reading the technical case study here.

Convenience at Your Fingertips: Porticos Helps Develop Automated Medication Dispenser

We’ve all been there: worried that a loved one isn’t taking his medications or, perhaps worse, is taking medication improperly. It can lead to hospital stays, the inability to live independently, and lots of stress on patients and loved ones.

Spencer Healthcare Solutions, an RTP-based company, has developed a hardware and software platform to address this medical challenge.

The “Spencer” is a smart, connected health hub that dispenses the right pills at the right time. Since patients and pharmacists don’t have to sort or count pills with Spencer, the danger of human error is drastically reduced. Plus, Spencer can send reminder alerts and even connect patients to Spencer-trained pharmacists for questions and advice.

So patients and their loved ones can feel confident that medications are taken properly and at the correct time. If you’ve ever worried about a loved one on multiple medications, you know peace of mind is life changing!

Porticos Design Challenge: Balancing Precision and Ease

One of the fundamental pieces of the platform solution is to provide the medicine to the patient in a format that the Spencer device can properly dispense. For the Spencer that means a cartridge containing prepackaged foils of medicine. To meet this need, Spencer Healthcare Solutions engaged Porticos to develop the “Spooler”. The Spooler allows the pharmacist to efficiently and reliably package the patient-specific foils into a cartridge that can then be put into the Spencer unit for dispensing by the patient.

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Creating a product with such a high-stakes role in patient health presented several challenges. First, the Porticos design team needed the Spooler to be agile and dependable: small enough to fit on a countertop, fast enough to produce a medication pack every 30 seconds, and reliable enough to be a life-or-death part of a healthcare plan. It also needed ethernet capability and an easy-to-navigate touch screen, so even the least tech-savvy could use it with ease.

As the name suggests, the Spoolers’ main function is to wind and unwind the foil packets of medication to fill the cartridge. One of the obstacles to performing that function while meeting the time requirements is for the medication packs to jam or be torn by the mechanisms during that process. To overcome this obstacle, Porticos engineers ideated a variety of unique mechanisms and performed design of experiments to prove out the concepts. As a result, Porticos was able to create a Spooler that winds and unwinds smoothly every time – a reliable solution for a critical part of patient care.

One of the key steps that Porticos advised all customers to consider as part of the design process is to prototype the design to allow functional evaluation before proceeding to production manufacture. Case in point was an obstacle that was identified during initial prototype functional trails; specifically engagement and disengagement of the Spooler “arm”. The arm interfaces with a hub in the cartridge to perform the winding function. Originally, Porticos designed a traditional latching mechanism to secure the arm in place, but the team soon realized that optimizing (1) the forces necessary to ensure good engagement with the cartridge hub and (2) the need for the pharmacists to easily disengage the arm was problematic. To solve this challenge Porticos engineers devised a unique magnetic solution that not only meets the functionality requirements but exceeds the life cycle requirements as well.

As further testament to Porticos innovative contribution to the Spooler and Spencer products, Porticos engineers were named inventor on multiple patents.

“Porticos engineers did an excellent job of developing the spooler unit,” said Jeremy Bridges, Hardware Manager with Spencer Healthcare Solutions. “They worked very well with our team and were very responsive to our needs. We were especially impressed with some of the innovative solutions that they develop and were able to integrate into the product.”

Porticos Production Challenge: Balancing Cost and Medical Standards

Once the Spooler was designed, Spencer Healthcare Solutions needed a cost competitive production plan that could also meet the high-quality standards for medical equipment. Porticos Asia, the production services arm of Porticos US, was able to identify the perfect production spot for a custom build—one that could match quality and cost efficiency with an aggressive delivery schedule. They were able to ship the first batch of Spoolers just twelve weeks after the start of production—all the while analyzing the manufacturing flow for further cost reduction in future production runs.

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Meeting The Challenge: Another Product Design Partnership

Through both the development and production stages, Porticos US and Porticos Asia were proud to support Spencer Healthcare Solutions.

“We consider Porticos to be a valuable partner in reaching our company goals,” said Ben Wetzel, Finance Manager at Spencer Healthcare Solutions. “They have provided excellent engineering and manufacturing support. Furthermore they have remained flexible throughout our engagement to meet our changing needs.”

For more information on the product, visit www.helloimspencer.com.

For more examples of how Porticos is Product Design for the Way We’re Designed, visit porticos.net.

The Right Light in a Touch: Porticos Develops Bezel for Revolutionary LED Lamp

Did you know that the right light can help us improve how we wake, work, and rest? Unfortunately, the problem with lighting today is that replacement Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs have limitations and can’t provide the brightness and light quality that we expect and deserve. Lighting technology has the potential to deliver so much more.

Porticos Product Design Challenge: The Orchid LED Table Lamp

Lighting should be energizing and beautiful, bringing brightness to any space. When Purillume, a new kind of lighting company, was ready to work on its first lamp—the Orchid LED Table Lamp—Porticos was pleased to answer the call.

The Purillume team conceptualized the Orchid LED Table Lamp body and bulb assembly to deliver a bright (2750 lumens) and high quality (color rendering index = 92/100) light output. However, one key aspect was still missing—the addition of touch screen functionality for the ultimate user experience. Purillume wanted to create a table lamp that would combine an elegant design with LED power and efficiency to deliver beautiful, fully controllable, omnidirectional light that could be easily adjusted to a user’s lighting needs at any given time.

Product design - consumer design example - purillume

Product Development Challenges: Balancing Cost and Size

Purillume partnered with Porticos’ product design and development team in order to be able to deliver the right light at the touch of a finger. Porticos was tasked with developing a plastic bezel assembly to mount a touchscreen LCD display to the lamp body. The Porticos product development team had to meet very demanding product requirements for this design. The team had to ensure that the touch screen LCD design would work with a range of lamp body materials and thicknesses.

“Ease and cost of assembly were also prioritized along with minimizing the size of the bezel,” said Porticos Design Engineer Lewis Joyce.

The project evolved into designing a bezel assembly, electronics enclosure (e-box) and refining the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) of the lamp body. The Porticos team also worked on optimizing the overall assembly design and created 2D drawings of all mechanical parts.

“While Purillume had preliminary designs of several of these parts, Porticos was brought on to incorporate Design for Manufacturability (DFM) principles, reduce time to market, and offer general mechanical and product design expertise,” said Joyce.

Meeting Product Design Challenges: The End Result

The end result is a revolutionary lamp, the Orchid LED Table Lamp, with an LCD touch screen that allows users to adjust brightness and color with customizable presets, save their preferred lighting settings, display time and settings or dim to black.

“The Porticos team was able to take my incomplete design, clean it up, and get it ready for manufacturing, said Neeraj Lal, Founder & CEO of Purillume, Inc. “Their thoroughness and attention to detail helped to complete my product design.”

The lamp also contains dual USB ports for charging mobile phones or tablets. The development of the bezel to mount an LCD touch screen to the Orchid LED Table Lamp has allowed Purillume to create an intuitive lighting experience for use in homes, offices, hotels or anywhere you’d use a lamp. Users can easily change the brightness and color temperature of their Orchid lamp based on their mood or activity.

Porticos is proud to have been chosen by PURillume for this project.