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Introducing engineering
Introducing engineering

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2.1 Taking an engineering design to production

Go to buy any functional product, and you will almost certainly be presented with a range of different designs. Some of the differences will just be in styling, whereas there may also be real differences in function or quality, which you may see reflected in the price. Different design concepts lead to competing products with particular sets of advantages and disadvantages.

Before a company launches a new product they need to be sure that the product will appeal to customers and can be produced at the right cost. In this section we will look at how companies make sure they have a product they can produce. Moving from concept to production depends critically on the industrial and social context. An idea for a new product, or a modification to an existing design, requires both human effort and financial input if it is to come to fruition.

Part of the design process is the development of prototypes. A prototype is a 'test' version of the product, and may have different functions depending on when it is constructed during the design cycle. If the product is simply having a change to its styling, the prototype will be important in establishing the 'look' that will be attractive to consumers. If a new piece of technology is being used to improve a product, the job of the prototype may be more technical: to ensure that the product's performance is up to scratch. Prototype development may be one of the most costly and time-consuming stages of finalising the design; it may involve extensive market research, or prolonged consumer testing.

If the design life cycle is shortened to hasten the arrival of the new product in the marketplace, the risk of failure goes up. More designs for a product arriving faster on the shelves is good for consumers, who will revel in the choice, but not good for employers or employees who are staking money and jobs on success!

The design story of the Brompton folding bicycle is a reasonably accessible example that allows you to see how a product is created and brought to market through prototype and production. However, remember that most designs fall by the wayside, either never reaching full production or being replaced by new or improved products quite quickly. Its long-term success makes it an unusual design example.

The Brompton bicycle has incrementally changed to meet the needs of market and production/manufacturing constraints. The Brompton company has now established a successful niche product with a strong brand. You might like to consult the website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to see for yourself the presentation of this particular brand for what is essentially a functional product that does a particular and quite well-defined function. In fact it does much more than that – it may be a point of conversation or a personal item expressing an owner's personality, signifying lifestyle choices. On their website you can see how these other attributes of the functional bicycle have been taken up and used to inspire new brand products, such as clothing. I also suggest that you look at the section of the website that looks at the factory which gives you a real appreciation for the bicycle and the various engineering processes that contribute to its design and manufacture.