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The product, and or project (process) life cycle (PLC) is fundamental to a corporation intent on developing new products or processes. It sometimes is called the new product introduction (NPI) process but that is only half of the life cycle. There is product support, enhancement and eventually, obsolescence. I was introduced early to the phases of the PLC process, because our group supplied all the prototype printed circuits. My first really large PLC was the HP-35 hand-held scientific calculator in 1971. I would practice the PLC on this and subsequent calculators for the next 20 years. Many considered this battery-powered marvel to be the beginning of the portable appliance age. Up to then, the only portable computing devices were the slide ruler and the abacus (not too many people had the mechanical Certa).
The PLC process consists of the all the work involved in developing, prototyping, manufacturing, enhancing, supporting and obsoleting a product as an organization’s new product for a market-place. There are generally four to six phases: concept design; physical design; prototype manufacture; pre-production and volume ramp. After this, the product will be handed over to full production, and the organization may also have some involvement in after-sales.
Phase 0—Concept & Integrated Planning
A concept is a description of the features, form and function of a product and is usually accompanied by a set of requirements, analysis of competitive products and economic justification of the project.
Determination of Customer Requirements: This will be interlaced with the marketing functions that will establish whether the market exists, collect customer needs and identify lead users. Working with R&D, the project team develops a product-specific set of requirements.
The product team develops the following:
- A clear definition of the target market segment and market requirements
- An understanding of competitors’ activities and their potential effect on the proposed product
- Assesses leverage opportunities that will enhance the development effort
- Identifies preliminary resources and investment needs
- Determines potential development interdependencies
- Defines a Phase 1 study plan and a product requirement document (PRD)
Phase 1—Study & Define Objectives
The functional areas respond to the PRD with a proposed product definition that satisfies customer/user needs and time-to-market constraints. The product team will develop initial product functional specifications including resources, schedules, testing strategies and external dependencies.
Product Design Specification: The development team will identify and benchmark competitive products and provide functional requirements and technical specifications. Plans for product options and extended product families will be developed. The product manager identifies and resolves differences between the Product Specification and the requirements stated in the PRC.
Design analysis: Initially, concept development and technology assessment will take place considering product platform and architecture. Alternative concepts will be investigated and experimental prototypes built and tested. Selection of the best will take place.
Phase 2—Specifications & Physical Design
Each functional entity creates a design to meet the Phase 1 functional specifications. The design is complete and detailed enough that the developing entities can make a relatively accurate assessment of and commitment to FURPS+ (functionality, usability, reliability, performance, supportability, and other factors), cost, schedule, function, and performance.
Design realization: Schematics and product layout drawings will be generated and simulations of the design will be carried out for product function, cost, schedule, environment and any qualification to recommended regional or global safety or design standards.
Component procurement and supplier negotiations: Marketing commits to a revenue and unit forecast. Unit quantities would be known for bargaining power with component suppliers and designs would have to be assessed with contractors’ process capabilities.
Test strategy and process development: Manufacturing simulations would ensure the process compatibility of the manufacturing functions, both in-house and contract. Test engineers would ensure testability of the design during production.
Phase 3—Develop, Prototype & Test
Verification of design and process information: Prototypes should be built as close as possible to the full-scale assembly using the intended components and processes and to the product specification. Tooling and specialized process equipment would be designed and tested. All other functional entities (marketing, quality, manufacturing, and support) begin implementing their respective plans.
Conformance Test and Customer Acceptance/Demonstration Products: Beta prototypes would be tested internally and used for demonstration purposes or for customer conformance and .Documentation, support services, and marketing literature is prepared, as well as localization and legal requirements. Tests verify the completeness of the total solution and ensure that what has been developed matches FURPS+ objectives and adheres to product specification.
Phase 4—Process Verification and Volume Ramp
Volume manufacturing qualification:Focus is on testing the product and all supporting materials in a customer environment, and demonstrating that the product can be supported in the field. This is important for product quality and process refinement. Any final engineering changes should be actioned before large-scale manufacture and manufacturing can demonstrate the ability to build and ship in volume. Also, the work force can be trained to use any new production processes, machines or tooling and customer support can sign off on the field’s ability to support the product.
Evolution of manufacturing efficiencies and yields: The first process results are gathered for yield improvement studies, etc.
Market and supply chain development: Market push can continue with products visible at trade fairs, customer visits, etc. Regular order quantities can be placed and suppliers tested for delivery times and quantities.
Phase 5—Volume Shipment, Enhancement and Support
Product is supported by Manufacturing and Field Sales: Phase 5 enhancement is a feature or function that significantly enhances an existing product and requires tracking through an abbreviated product phase review. It is a major product addition, but not a new product requiring a new part/product number. Finance measures and reviews the actual return on investment in the product and compares the measurement to original product goals. Maturity requirements are developed and discontinuance process is initiated at the exit of Phase 5.
Issues to consider are:
- distribution and field service
- spares and repair
- take-back, disassembly, recovery, re-use, refurbishment and disposal
Responsible Organizations Plan for Discontinuance: Discontinuance planning takes into consideration customer satisfaction, the migration of customer applications, and parroting of third party products. These issues require critical consideration in future product planning.
Issues to consider are:
- Product demise
- Disassembly and disposal
- Migration or discontinuance plans
This entire PLC can be seen in Figure 1. (A higher resolution figure is available from the column download.) The PPR process is part of the larger enterprise-wide business planning process (Table 1).
Table 1: Relationship between the product phase review and the business planning process with key team goals.
Figure 1: The product life cycle with linkages, major activities and checkpoints/milestones.
Requirements and Benefits of an Efficient PLC Process
It is particularly useful to consider the electronics industry because it has been under considerable pressure recently. The sales life of electronic products has decreased, prices have fallen and expectations of quality and functionality have risen. Since the 1970s, Western manufacturing in general has seen aggressive competition from traditionally subdued Far Eastern-based companies—first Japan, then Taiwan and Korea, and now China. Communication technology has improved, with email and the internet, to the point that competition that was once local is now global. Here, we will explore these pressures on the electronics industry and the effect on profits. Once we understand the reasons, we can address them.
Most companies realize the importance of an efficient PLC process to develop products and get those products to the customer as quickly as possible. In the electronics industry it can mean the difference between success and failure or in extreme circumstances survival and closure. From a list of PLC efficiencies, we can determine a requirements list for a PLC process to maximize profits.