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June 24, 2024

The Power of Shifting Left in Product Design

Shifting left in product design empowers teams to make informed decisions that impact cost, manufacturability, and sustainability. A digital copilot like aPriori makes this easy.
David Van Och speaks about product design on this podcast
David Van Och, Senior Solution Consultant, PTC


Competition today means that product-focused organizations need to constantly think about new strategies to pack more value into their products and to get those products to market faster. One way to do this is to shift left.

What is Shifting Left?

Shifting Left is a concept of empowering product design teams by giving them insights into all the decisions that come after them – or to the right of them – in the timeline of product development.

How does shifting left work in practice? Today we’re talking to an expert on this topic, David Van Och. As a designer and senior CAD analyst, David was responsible for a widespread initiative to shift cost left into the purview of design engineering. Today, he is now a senior solutions consultant with PTC, where he helps other product design organizations reach their goals. David Van Och, welcome to the podcast.

David Van Och: Thanks for the nice introduction.

Leah Archibald: So let’s give our listeners an idea of this concept of shifting left. What does this mean to you?

David Van Och: Think about the design engineer. The design engineer has the biggest impact on everything that happens downstream. While a design engineer is creating their geometry, they have the biggest influence on not only cost, but on manufacturability, how to assemble it, how to test it about, and even sustainability. There’s a whole range of DFX capabilities that a design engineer needs to have in the back of his mind while creating geometry.

Shifting Left and DFX

Leah Archibald: Expand on that term. What does DFX really mean?

David Van Och: DFX is actually a group name of all kind of design for excellence. You’ve got DFM for manufacturability, DFA for assembly, DFC for costing. So DFX is actually all the decisions that a design engineer can make or has to make while creating the geometry. 80% of all the decisions are made while a person is designing. If you’re already downstream you can only affect 20% of change after a product has been defined.

Leah Archibald: You’ve been a designer. Are you really thinking about the cost implications, or whether a product can be recyclable?

David Van Och: Constantly. If you even make a small hole in a product, you have to think: how am I going to create this hole? Can I manufacture it? What is the cost implication of this hole? Especially if you’re in a mass production environment, a small hole in a product can have a massive impact on the amount of material usage and how to manufacture it. Do I need additional tooling in order to create that small hole? And while you’re designing, you have all the effect of the downstream implications. You have it in the back of your mind: the function, the quality of the product, but also the cost. And these are, let’s say, all the DFX capabilities that as a designer you need to have in the back of your mind while making your geometry.

Now, if we’re talking about cost, this is a very challenging one. It’s hard for the design engineer to discover: what is the should cost or the manufacturing cost of this product going to be? But if you have a digital partner sitting next to you with all the expert knowledge, and you can ask for its assistance, well that’s very powerful. If on a click on the button, you have that co-pilot give you that insight of the trade off between cost, sustainability, all other aspects of the DFX realm? This really helps the designer build a more confident product going forward.

A Copilot for Shifting Left

Leah Archibald: I’m glad you brought in this idea of a copilot. Because when you were saying “this is what a designer has to have in the back of their mind,” I’m thinking, I don’t know if organizations can really make that happen. That’s not actionable for a whole organization. But a copilot takes all that decision making out of a design engineer’s mind into a digital system. Talk more about that. How can that work?

David Van Och: So first of all, when a design engineer is creating geometry, the design engineer needs to work against certain requirements, meaning you get a set of requirements for a single component, a subsystem, or even the entire system you’re designing. Now, while you’re designing, you want to have that copilot advising you according to your requirements that you have given as an input. This is the direction you are designing into, and this is the potential outcome. So like the example earlier, if you add a hole, what is the implication of cost? What is the material use? And so on and so on. Having that copilot constantly available without having the need to wait for a couple of weeks because the expert is perhaps not in-house, but at a supplier. Well, if you need to wait for the feedback for a couple of weeks, time to market is challenging.

Now, there’s also another topic that I would like to address towards shifting even further to the left: Having a good database on the material library. Having a good material library with all the needed data in terms of sustainability, and in terms of what is the cost of the choice of a certain material.

Leah Archibald: And this is where it helps if your insight system is also related to LCA data providers – external data providers who are giving you information about the carbon impact of certain materials.

David Van Och: Correct. Having an entire BOM structure, you want to make sure that components that you purchase also comply with your strategy.

Leah Archibald: When you are talking about a copilot, are we talking about AI? Is this artificial intelligence here?

David Van Och: My perception of AI for design engineering is something different. I’m asking it create me a certain geometry that meets certain requirements and that the geometry will pop up as it can be created or manufactured. At this moment in time. I’m not really aware of such a system existing. So everything we discussed or talked about before is, in my perception, not really the AI I have in mind. But it is shifting in that direction. Meaning the copilot in the end should be AI in terms of it’s like having a physical person that can make connections between the different systems. Having the expert next to you and guiding you in the direction you want to go.

Leah Archibald: There certainly are elements of the start of AI in this conversation. The more intelligent your system, the more insights that you can get left in the process, the more that takes out potential risks further downstream.

David Van Och: It’s all about reducing the risk of moving in the wrong direction or making the right trade-offs. For me, AI is something like if you don’t understand the technology that is sitting in the background for you, it is probably AI. For the person who deeply understand how it works, it is a bigger computer language. So that’s for me the difference between AI and understanding the system, how it works and how to manipulate it.

Leah Archibald: You’re saying AI is in the eyes of the beholder?

David Van Och: Yes.

Leah Archibald: Before AI, it’s insights.

David Van Och: Correct.

Leah Archibald: And that’s really getting back to the focus of this conversation, which is that the more insights you can put in the hands of your design engineers, the better your entire product development cycle is going to be.

David Van Och: The product development cycle, yes, but also the manufacturing, the trade off of where I’m going to produce this product, how it’s gonna behave in the field, how is the end of life of the product, how can I recycle it or reuse it, and so on and so on and so on.

Leah Archibald: David Van Och, thank you so much for talking to us on the podcast today.

David Van Och: My pleasure.

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