Methods & Materials: The Foundation of New Product Development


When I was a young engineer, my first position was in the printed circuit board industry. [And thank you to the Emello family for giving me my start! Back then, I didn’t appreciate the enduring value of having to do every job in the plant. IThat job gave me an “Industrial PhD” that continues to pay dividends.]

My title was “Methods Engineer” and I was responsible for reviewing the incoming PCB designs, calling the customers to clarify any ambiguous requirements, updating the drawings and artwork, determining the best fit materials and drafting a “Bill of Process” also called a “Traveler” that defined the processes as the job moved through the factory.

To write the BOP, I needed to understand the factory’s manufacturing capabilities, which processes and lot sizes were technically and economically feasible and how the chemicals and materials would respond in the process.

Not simple stuff for a twenty-two year old… I needed to come up to speed on digitizing PCB artwork, CNC programming in ASC II language (never saw that as a chemical engineering undergrad), shearing, drilling, milling and routing, photo lithography, additive and subtractive wet processing, electroplating copper, tin-lead solder and precious metals, silk screening epoxy inks, electrical testing, packaging and shipping.

It was a ton to learn on the fly, and I made many, many mistakes. I was able to survive and become productive thanks to several “Materials and Methods” classes I’d taken. While focused on chemical processing, the disciplines of sketching out the manufacturing process, writing a concise description of the materials, their properties, the equipment, procedures and output became the scaffolding for my new job. Those classes taught us how to study a product, define the manufacturing process, collect data and perform statistical analysis and plot a path forward.

Fast forward many decades, understanding Materials and Methods remains the foundation of our business. In practical fashion, “M&M” translates into the Three Moments of NPI Truth when evaluating a new product concept:

Is it technically feasible?
How much will it cost?
How long will it take?

We need to ask and respond to these questions before any manufacturing commitments can be made, any real money invested, and the delivery schedule published. That’s always the first step in the new product industrialization process. We wouldn’t be doing our job, and certainly wouldn’t be doing our clients any favors if we didn’t. If you can’t answer these questions early in the game, it’s back to the drawing board.

Jack Daniels

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