One way is through encouraging a “product families” approach, that is, creating product lines—for example, coffee makers—that use one or more of the same components in all of the devices, while, at the same time, allowing add-ons that make some of the machines more sophisticated.
“Coffee makers can be inexpensive to very expensive, depending on the bells and whistles,” she says. “Some of the things you put in coffee makers will not be the same in all of them but maybe the warming plate is the same in all of them. This way, the company doesn’t have a complicated inventory. If I can keep the same warming plate in all of them, I can keep the price lower and my own price lower. This saves me money as the company, but also provides the consumer with choices.”
The center also is working on methods to deal with “obsolescence,” that is, to predict when something will become obsolete, and develop ways to address it before it happens. “There might be ships and planes around for decades, with sophisticated systems that involve radar and cameras that become obsolete,” Terpenny says. “The government and defense contractors spend a lot of money chasing down these problems, trying to fix them or find new parts. We are trying to find strategies that will help extend products—not just in the defense industry, but in all the products we use as consumers.”
The center also advises manufacturers on how to produce a product while they are still designing it, so companies don’t end up with products too expensive to make. It encourages them to include input from “stakeholders,” such as consumers, suppliers, distributors, sales and marketing before they begin. “It’s important to consider the entire life of a product,” Terpenny says.
The Center for E-Design has established a repository of information—essentially a large data base—to collect and share expertise, so that accumulated design, manufacture, and technology knowledge is never lost.
“Typically, when I retire from a company, all my expertise disappears with me,” she says. “We want to prevent that from happening. This knowledge base will capture the what, when and how of what I’ve done before, so that expertise can be tapped and shared. It will keep people from having to reinvent the wheel, and learn from scratch.”
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