Structure in the design process
By Alex 07-12-2021
We’re always looking to understand and reflect upon how different companies operate through their own cultural ties and how they inwardly manage themselves to provide an end product.
Toyota, the main company of focus were studied for a period of time as it became clear that their internal structure in the design processes differed significantly from other more western-style companys. The research identified that Toyota hold very strong beliefs upon a number of major factors relating to their use of the design process which go against the grain when compared to other leading suppliers in their field. These very perticular differences raise some interesting questions over the westernised interpretation of the design process and how it is managed.
For those readers already involved in design, you’ll most likely be aware of how concurrent engineering (CE) is used to streamline activity by those involved in the development of a new product.
The various stages which product development goes through from concept design right through to production typically involve various groups of people from OEMs to tool providers and beyond. CE acts as a tool to help all parties operate effectively in terms of how information is shared, how the transitions are made between the different stages and ultimately reducing project lead-times and minimising costly errors.
“Concurrent Engineering is a systematic approach to the integrated, concurrent design of products and their related processes, including, manufacturing and support. This approach is intended to
cause the developers from the very outset to consider all elements of the product life cycle, from conception to disposal, including cost, schedule, quality and user requirements”
-Pennell and Winner, (1988)
CE itself has been adopted as a standard format during product development across the world, no more so than in westernised countries where they have developed and been influenced by globalisation. With constant pressure to reduce product time to market and achieve an advantage over competitors, CE has proven itself as a major method of operating a manufacturing business. If we look at some of the major automotive businesses, all of them have followed CE principles for a long time as otherwise it would become almost impossible to remain competetive in a constant changing economy. There are however some differences in use and implementation, which is where Toyota come into question.
As a company, Toyota use a set-based method of CE during product development, something which differs from that seen normally where products are developed through iteration. Typically, a designer will take an idea and develop it until it is at a state that meets its initial requirments. This process will occur many times over the course of the design process, consrantly tweeking the design where necessary.
The set-based method at Toyota has a completely different approach to this, whereby the design team have a set of designs at hand at the concept and detailed stage of the design process. These sets of designs are gradually reduced in size by eliminating inferior alternatives until they come to a final solution.
The main difference between the iterative approach and the set-based approach is within how the designer interacts with the design. Set-based CE requires the designer to define and communicate about, and explore sets of possible solutions, instead of modifying one solution until it reaches a point of requirement.
These designs already exist having been previously investigated in past projects, where they are catalogued in what Toyota refer to as their ‘lessons learned books’. This method is used to constrain the designer from conceptualising stylistic ideas which cannot be manufactured.