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Focused Change Opens New Markets, Revenues for Electronic Design Firm

Digital Library > Defining and Serving a Market > Product development “Focused Change Opens New Markets, Revenues for Electronic Design Firm”

Innovative "top-down" design doubles business.

The electronic brain that automatically levels appliances in recreational vehicles, regardless of the slope — a creature comfort that prevents refrigerators from leaking and pots from sliding off the stove — is the electronic brainchild of engineering firm Innovative Design Solutions (IDS), Troy, Mich.

But as the now six-year-old company passed the $200,000 sales mark in 1997, corporate circuit breakers began to pop. The vision had been for IDS to focus on manufacturing. But the owners, electrical engineers Robert Ford and Shawn Haley, realized they were pushing the issue too hard too soon. Although they inked an agreement with a manufacturing concern, which allowed them to make use of the manufacturer’s production line, IDS’ access to that line was contingent on the manufacturer’s schedule. And IDS lacked the necessary funds — and manpower — that purchasing its own $1 million-plus manufacturing line would require. It became apparent that IDS must refocus and discover additional sources of income so that it could continue to grow.

IDS’ primary goal was designing and manufacturing electronic control modules primarily for the automotive industry. But another market also provided opportunity for growth: the consumer/commercial electronics arena.

At first, it appeared that the two targeted areas — automotive and consumer/commercial electronics — would require two totally independent development and manufacturing processes, which would prohibitively double the necessary investment and manpower. To cost effectively pursue both interests, IDS was faced with the challenge of developing and implementing a new engineering and manufacturing process that would simultaneously support both seemingly different growth avenues.

IDS discovered that many of the progressive designs from the automotive sector could be applied to the commercial/consumer electronics sector long before competitors began to think of similar ideas. So the next course of action was designing and implementing a design and manufacturing methodology that could be applied to both core areas of business.

The owners conceptualized a design methodology that would be extremely efficient in both marketing segments, and that would eliminate the tedious, time-consuming task of constructing an invention from the ground up with each and every project.

Indeed, the resulting methodology had to be scaleable as well as portable from platform to platform, and must serve as the basis by which every application would be built.

The new internal design process at IDS was not revolutionary, but it’s not common practice. IDS’ top-down approach starts with a design method — a paper design, if you will. After brainstorming, samples are produced last. The advantage is that engineers think about possible failure modes and begin developing test methods as the project is being designed. The majority of the time is spent working on the actual design and formulating how to test it.

Saving $500,000

The result is a fully operational prototype that’s developed in half the time with no bugs, no additional tests, and with less than a third of the staff required by large automotive suppliers to the Big Three. These modules are 100% compliant with the customer’s design specifications and work immediately — certain components of which can be "cut and pasted" into other projects.

This unconventional approach to design has saved IDS money in the development cycle: Ford estimates savings between $500,000 and $1 million. Material costs are lower, and quality and reliability are higher. Since perfecting this approach to design, revenues have more than doubled, and IDS credits it for nearly all of the company’s growth. With revenues growing this year to an expected $2 million, the company has now built the capital it needs to grow the business by purchasing its own manufacturing line next year.

Writer: Dawn Martin

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