Particularly in the 21st Century, the growth industry of high technology products, change, innovation, and new product development have become a way of life. Unfortunately, too frequently product development is a solution in search of a problem rather than the other way around. To help ensure that a new product will be well received in the marketplace, a detailed requirements analysis can be performed. Concept engineering is the process of translating customer requirements into operational definitions with measurable performance parameters. Specifically, the concept engineering process comprises five stages: Understanding the customer's environment, converting this understanding into requirements, operationalizing what has been learned, concept generation, and concept selection.
There is a single-frame cartoon of a scientist scribbling madly on a blackboard while explaining his esoteric theory to a colleague. To the left on the board are arcane-looking equations and to the right was the grand solution. In the middle of all this mathematical activity, however, was simply written: "And then a miracle occurs." We laugh, of course, because sometimes the premise and the conclusions of scientific ventures seem only loosely connected, with the details a mystery. Too often, this is also the case in the practical application of science and engineering, in particular in new product development. The analysts and engineers collect data concerning customer needs and requirements and then mysteriously develop a concept that is intended to meet those needs.
Particularly in the twenty-first century, the growth industry of high technology products, change, innovation, and new product development have become a way of life. To remain competitive, new product development has become essential to many industries today and more new products are appearing on the market today than ever before. Today's cutting edge technology frequently becomes tomorrow's distant memory as new and better technologies and products continue to flood the market. This situation means that for an organization to stay ahead of its competition, it must be on the leading edge of its field. If it is not, the organization can experience numerous problems that can affect its bottom line including slow or no growth, decreasing customer base, fewer orders from existing customers, or increasing pressure from the marketplace to lower one's prices. Therefore, regular and efficient development and introduction of new products has become a necessity in many industries.
New Product Development Process
All too frequently, product development is a solution in search of a problem rather than the other way around. Yet, no matter how innovative or creative the solution, if it does not meet the real needs of the customer, then it is doomed to failure. Unfortunately, however, many organizations prefer to skimp on the front-end analysis phase of the new product development process falsely assuming that they are saving time and money. As a result, however, they often have insufficient information to make realistic design decisions that will result in a product that will meet the customers' requirements or meet the needs of the marketplace. It is the early stages in the product development process -- understanding of customer requirements and product concept development -- that are essential for laying the groundwork for developing an effective and successful product that will meet the needs of the customer (Figure 1). Yet the literature suggests that these steps are either poorly understood or poorly executed in all too many cases. However, many studies conclude that a thorough front-end analysis and focus on these steps in the development process can go a long way to making the project a success.
Before a new product can be developed either as an in-house development effort in reaction to a perceived marketplace need or as a direct result of a customer need, a detailed requirements analysis needs to be performed. To do this, the current business situation is analyzed to determine what the current state of the situation is, where the organization would like to move the situation, and what is needed to get from the current state to the desired state. This phase of the product's life cycle comprises a research study in which data on the requirements of the customer or marketplace are collected and analyzed to determine how best to proceed within the constraints set out by the organization (e.g., constraints of time, budget, personnel, or other resources).
Data collected in this process might include:
- What is currently being done.
- How frequently it is done.
- How frequently it occurs.
- The volume of tasks being done in the current situation.
In addition, the requirements analysis should include an analysis of how well the task is currently being performed by other products or services and if and where a problem exists. If a problem exists, the requirements analysis must also determine how serious the problem is to the effectiveness of the business process or the organization in general, what the cause of the problem is, and who is affected.
The next step in the process is to plan and design the new system. This involves translating the customer or marketplace requirements that were determined in the previous phase of the process into a product or service concept and concomitant design specifications. These specifications are technical requirements for the development of an application that will meet the requirements for which it is being designed. To start, a preliminary or conceptual design must be developed. The concept specifies the distinguishing features of the application and conceptualizes how they will perform in order to meet the requirements previously determined.
Concept engineering is the process of translating customer requirements into operational definitions with measurable performance parameters. In the systems development life cycle, concept engineering occurs after requirements determination and before development and construction. It is a structured process that uses decision aids and alternates between data collection and data analysis and interpretation. In particular, concept engineering helps product engineers and design teams understand what is important to the customer, how these concepts will be measured, and how they will be met in the design.
Concept engineering arose out of the philosophy of total quality management. In this approach, the goal is to continually increase the quality of goods and services as well as customer satisfaction through raising awareness of quality concerns across the organization. A number of decision aids for total quality management as applied to a...
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