ROBUST DESIGN: BETTER PRODUCT QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE

Robust Design: Better Product Quality and Performance


Introduction

Robust design, also known as the Taguchi Method, offers a systematic framework to tackle challenges like variations in manufacturing and enhance product quality (it’s a sophisticated method of Design for Quality). By integrating robust design principles into the product development process, engineers can design products that are less sensitive to variations, ensuring consistent performance and reliability under real-world conditions. This proactive approach empowers businesses to reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

In this blog post, we will give you an overview of robust design. We will look at its principles, stages, and practical applications. We will also discuss how this methodology can help engineers effectively address variations in manufacturing, optimize product designs, and achieve robustness in performance.

 

 

Variations In Manufacturing Stand In The Way Of Product Quality

Product quality is critical to your business’ success. Customers expect products that meet their needs and exceed their quality standards. However, ensuring consistent product quality can be challenging due to variations in manufacturing processes.

Variations in manufacturing can be caused by many factors. These include raw material variations, equipment differences, operator skills, and environmental conditions. Even small deviations can result in significant consequences, such as increased failure rates, customer dissatisfaction, and costly recalls or warranty claims.

The challenges of variations in manufacturing are further amplified by the increasing complexity of products and the globalization of supply chains. Modern products often involve intricate designs, integration of multiple components, and reliance on suppliers from different geographical locations. Each component and manufacturing step introduces additional sources of variability, making it even more difficult to consistently produce high-quality products.

What are the Robust Design Key Principles and Objectives?

Robust design (or the Taguchi Method) involves three stages:

  1. System Design
  2. Parameter Design
  3. Tolerance Design

In the System Design stage, the product design is optimized for overall performance, while in the Parameter Design stage, the optimal levels of design parameters are identified. In the Tolerance Design stage, the tolerances are specified to ensure that the design is robust to variations in manufacturing.

1. System Design

The System Design stage is the first stage of robust design, and it involves identifying the overall objectives and requirements of the product or process being designed. The purpose of this stage is to optimize the system for overall performance, reliability, and maintainability.

To achieve this, the following steps are typically taken:

  • Identify the customer’s requirements
  • Develop the functional specification
  • Analyze the system
  • Determine the design approach
  • Develop the concept design
  • Evaluate the concept design
  • Refine the concept design
  • Finalize the system design

2. Parameter Design

The primary objective of the parameter design stage is to minimize the effects of variations in the manufacturing process on product performance. By identifying and optimizing the key design parameters, engineers aim to achieve robust designs that are less sensitive to manufacturing variations. The goal is to ensure that the product consistently meets or exceeds customer requirements, even when subjected to normal process variations. By controlling the design parameters and reducing their sensitivity to variations, companies can enhance product reliability, reduce costs associated with quality issues, and improve customer satisfaction.

These steps will usually be followed at this stage:

  • Identify the controllable factors
  • Determine the parameter levels
  • Design the experiment
  • Conduct the experiment
  • Analyze the results
  • Verify the results
  • Optimize the system

3. Tolerance Design

The tolerance design stage’s main goal is to specify appropriate tolerances for key design parameters. The goal is to ensure that the product remains robust and performs consistently even in the presence of variations during the manufacturing process. By understanding the relationship between variations and their impact on product performance, engineers can determine optimal tolerances that strike a balance between cost and robustness. The objective is to minimize the effects of manufacturing variations on product quality and reliability, ultimately leading to reduced costs associated with rework, warranty claims, and customer dissatisfaction. Tolerance design enables companies to achieve a high level of consistency and customer satisfaction while optimizing production processes and cost efficiency.

During this stage these steps are taken:

  • Identify the noise factors
  • Select the noise factors to test
  • Determine the noise factor levels
  • Conduct the experiments
  • Analyze the results
  • Verify the results

Out of the 3 stages, stages 2 and 3 are closely related to the manufacturing process. Developing a “robust” product design involves working on the processes.

 

Benefits Of Robust Design

Robust design is a comprehensive framework for optimizing designs and manufacturing processes to achieve business success. Its primary objectives are to minimize variation, reduce costs, accelerate time-to-market, and gain a competitive advantage and each has its own benefits for the manufacturer.

  • Minimizing variation is essential for achieving consistent product quality and performance. This leads to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as cost savings from reduced defects, rework, and warranty claims.
  • Reducing costs is another key objective of the Taguchi Method. This is achieved by streamlining the product development cycle and reducing the number of iterations required to achieve the desired quality. This helps reduce costs associated with quality issues, rework, and warranty claims. By addressing variations upfront and optimizing the design, companies can avoid expensive recalls, repairs, and customer dissatisfaction, leading to significant cost savings.
  • Accelerating time-to-market is also important for businesses that want to capitalize on market opportunities. The Taguchi Method can help to shorten the product development cycle by identifying and eliminating critical design flaws early in the process and reducing the number of iterations required. This accelerates the time-to-market, allowing companies to capitalize on market opportunities and gain a competitive edge.
  • Gaining a competitive advantage is the ultimate goal of any business. RD or the Taguchi Method can help businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors by consistently delivering high-quality products with reliable performance at a lower cost, companies differentiate themselves, increase market share, and build a positive brand image.

In summary, the Taguchi Method is a powerful tool that can help businesses to achieve success in a competitive marketplace. By minimizing variation, reducing costs, accelerating time-to-market, and gaining a competitive advantage, the Taguchi Method can help businesses to improve their bottom line and deliver value to their customers.

 

The Robust Design Approach Steps

To harness the power of robust design or the Taguchi Method if you prefer, a series of steps must be followed:

1. Define Quality Characteristics and Identify Noise Factors

The first step is to define the critical quality characteristics that determine the performance and functionality of the product. These characteristics are the key metrics against which the success of the design will be measured. Simultaneously, it is important to identify the noise factors, which are the sources of variations that can affect the quality characteristics. Noise factors can arise from various sources such as material properties, manufacturing equipment, environmental conditions, and human factors.

2. Design Orthogonal Arrays

Orthogonal arrays play a crucial role in the efficient planning and execution of experiments in the Taguchi Method. These arrays enable engineers to select a representative subset of all possible combinations of noise factors and their levels. By carefully designing these arrays, the number of experiments required to analyze the impact of noise factors can be significantly reduced, saving time and resources.

3. Select Optimal Levels for Noise Factors

Once the experiments are conducted based on the designed orthogonal arrays, statistical methods such as analysis of variance (ANOVA) are employed to analyze the results. ANOVA helps determine the significance of each noise factor and identifies the optimal levels for these factors that lead to robust designs. By identifying the most influential noise factors and their optimal levels, engineers can make informed decisions during the design optimization process.

4. Specify Tolerances for Robustness

Tolerance design is a critical aspect of the RD/Taguchi Method that ensures the robustness of the design against variations. By specifying appropriate tolerances for key design parameters, companies can minimize the effects of variations and deviations in the manufacturing process. Loss function analysis, a technique used in tolerance design, helps quantify the impact of variations on performance and determine optimal tolerances that strike a balance between cost and robustness.

5. Conduct Experiments and Collect Data

RD places great emphasis on conducting well-planned experiments to collect relevant data. These experiments are designed to capture the effects of noise factors on the quality characteristics identified in the first step. By carefully controlling the levels of noise factors during the experiments, engineers can ensure that the data collected accurately reflects the influence of these factors on the quality characteristics.

6. Analyze Results and Optimize Design

The data collected from the experiments are then analyzed using statistical techniques. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) is a commonly used method to assess the impact of noise factors on the quality characteristics. By identifying the most significant noise factors, engineers can prioritize their efforts in optimizing the design parameters to achieve robustness and improve product quality. This analysis guides the decision-making process for design optimization, leading to informed changes in the design parameters to enhance the product’s performance and reliability.

 

Who Is Robust Design Suitable For? (Example)

Robust design is suitable for a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, automotive, electronics, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, and more. It is particularly beneficial for companies that prioritize product quality, reliability, cost reduction, and time-to-market.

One real-life example of its successful application is in the automotive industry. A renowned car manufacturer implemented robust design during the design of a new engine. By using orthogonal arrays and conducting a series of experiments, they were able to identify the optimal combination of design parameters and noise factors that would result in a robust and high-performing engine. Taguchi-style designs of experiments also led to a number of other breakthroughs. For instance, the first successful application of water-based paint on cars (in a GM plant).

During the parameter design stage, various factors such as fuel injection timing, compression ratio, and air-fuel mixture were considered. The Taguchi Method allowed the engineers to determine the optimal levels of these factors that would minimize variations in performance and improve fuel efficiency.

In the tolerance design stage, tolerances for critical engine components, such as piston rings and valve clearances, were specified. The objective was to ensure that the engine would maintain consistent performance and durability even with manufacturing variations.

By implementing robust design in this way, the car manufacturer achieved significant improvements in engine performance, fuel efficiency, and reliability. The optimized design parameters and specified tolerances resulted in a smoother-running engine with reduced emissions and increased longevity. This not only enhanced customer satisfaction but also reduced warranty costs and improved the company’s reputation in the automotive market.

This example highlights robust design’s ability to optimize designs, improve product quality, and deliver tangible benefits to manufacturers and customers alike.

 

Conclusion

In an increasingly competitive business landscape, achieving robust and high-quality products is of utmost importance. Robust design provides a systematic and structured approach to addressing variations and controlling noise factors, resulting in enhanced product quality, reliability, cost reduction, and faster time-to-market.

To end, let’s summarize its expected goals and benefits:

Enhanced product quality is achieved by identifying and minimizing the sources of variation in a product’s design and manufacturing process. This results in products that are more consistent and reliable, which leads to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Reduced costs are achieved by reducing the number of defects and recalls, as well as by streamlining the product development process. This can lead to significant cost savings for businesses, which can be reinvested in other areas of the business or passed on to customers in the form of lower prices.

Faster time-to-market is achieved by identifying and eliminating critical design flaws early in the product development process. This can help businesses to get their products to market faster, which can give them a competitive advantage.

A competitive edge is achieved by delivering high-quality products at a lower cost than competitors. This can lead to increased market share and a stronger brand reputation.

In summary, robust design is a powerful tool that can help businesses achieve success in a competitive marketplace. By addressing variations and controlling noise factors, it can help businesses to enhance product quality, reduce costs, and accelerate time-to-market which can lead to a competitive edge, customer delight, and industry leadership.

If you are interested in learning more about robust design / Taguchi Method, watch out for our series on this subject where we will go into each of the elements in more detail. You might also like to read these blog posts about product design.

 

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