In the latest installment of the “Connector Basics” series from APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants, Bill Garver takes a detailed look at the creative phase of new connector development.
In a previous article, we suggested that to ensure a successful product development and launch, manufacturers need to optimize the talents of their employees to be sure that critical needs are addressed. We discussed the phases of the new product process, each requiring specific and different skill sets:
Let’s look at the creative/innovative phase of development in more detail.
Before the onset of the new product development, management should assign a project manager who has accountability for each phase. This individual must recognize the skills needed to successfully complete the tasks and must assign the most effective personnel to each phase. The project manager, working in concert with the marketing team, develops the technical design objectives, time lines, multi-year quantity, and price level sales forecasts. The design objectives must be clearly defined and an assessment must be made of the organization’s capabilities to fully understand, manufacture, and promote the new product. Different team “players” may be required as the project progresses through each development phase. After these tasks are completed, the creative/innovative phase begins. This is the phase where the innovation occurs.
Abstract Reasoning and Spatial Perception
The project manager now selects the individuals to participate in this phase. The participants need to be the organization’s “idea” people, and it is acceptable to include associates that are not from within the current staff who have the ability to think “outside of the box.” Many times, the best innovative ideas come from individuals with an abundance of abstract reasoning and spatial perception. These are talents that are innate in certain individuals. Abstract reasoning is the ability to envision things that have not been experienced in the past and the ability to analyze information and use it to solve problems. Spatial perception means that the individual has the unique ability to form a pictorial image of the product being conceived in his/her mind and to sense size, shape, movement, and orientation of objects. It is rarely learned and, quite often, the more formal education a person has the more the constraints in their thinking, and the more boundaries there are that cannot be crossed mentally.
It has been said that “dumb” engineers make the best innovators because “they do not know that it cannot be done.” A team of approximately six to eight people usually works best. It is helpful to have at least one person on the team who can convert the concepts to 3D models to clearly illustrate the ideas. These models are helpful for those people that are lacking in spatial perception and can be used and further developed later to produce rapid prototyping models.
Goals and Idea Development
Once the team is selected and assembled, the design objectives are reviewed to ensure a complete understanding of the goals, performance parameters, and constraints. Once the team is fully aware of these objectives, they disperse to develop ideas and concepts individually. Creativity is initially a one-person process. It works best when individuals work alone to create a number of concepts, then periodically meet with others to critique and combine the concept ideas. Typically, three or four days are sufficient for the first round of idea generation prior to getting the team back together to review the concepts. Rough sketches are acceptable at this time as long as the ideas can be successfully conveyed to other members. Blackboards (whiteboards) and flip charts should be available for the team to sketch their new concepts.
One effective tool is to “brainstorm” the ideas. During brainstorming sessions, the members should not criticize any of the concepts that are presented so as to not limit idea generation and creativity. After the team members review all of the concepts, more ideas are often conceived and combined. It is a common occurrence that more than one viable concept is selected to be taken into the next round of brainstorming.
The members disperse again to work alone to create new ideas and/or further refine and combine some of the original concepts. The process of working alone and then getting back together as a team to brainstorm the ideas continues until the project manager and team members are satisfied that the concept or concepts meet the design goals and objectives. It may be helpful to develop 3D models and produce rapid prototype models to demonstrate the functionality of the concept. It is acceptable to select several viable concepts for further development in the next phase.
The next phase is the engineering/scientific phase, which will be discussed in a future article.
Bill Garver has 47 years experience in the connector industry, primarily in the management and direction of new product development and operational division management. He held the titles of division manager and director of development engineering at AMP. He developed new products throughout the full product life cycle, concept through introduction, for numerous industries, including consumer, commercial, computer, industrial, communications, and medical. Bill has vast experience with products for high-density, low-cost, insulation displacement, surface-mount, high-temperature, and environmentally sealed applications. Please contact him with questions or feedback on this article.