Clients often turn to us for fast problem solving but, what are our problem solving strategies for overcoming design & engineering challenges?

The key to developing successful products and medical devices often begins with finding unmet needs or, identifying problems with existing devices before confirming there is a market and then developing the technology, product or device that meets the need or solves the problem.

Haughton Design’s cross sector and collaborative approach along with strong network of leading consultants means that you benefit from access to a wide range of fresh ideas and technical expertise. We offer standalone problem solving consulting services through to full product & medical device development.

Our framework for problem solving throughout the new product and medical device development process:

To kick start projects, we typically undertake an immersion phase to learn about the problem, sector and the product. Empathising with the user whether that be a patient, carer or health care professional is an important part of this phase to begin applying human factors engineering and human centred design. Activities such as user journey mapping, undertaking observations, user diaries, role-playing, interviews, focus groups, scenario setting and using immersive technologies such as PEL, VR, and simulation gloves / glasses amongst many other techniques can be extremely valuable at this stage.

We try not to restrict ourselves when ideating and look to various sectors, technologies and products for design inspiration. For example, we recently worked on a successful continence device project in which we took a great deal of inspiration from innovative camping and pet products to create the optimal design. On inspection of the office, you’ll find all sorts of questionable products from bra’s to toilets!

 

Moving into the concept phase, we start undertaking activities such as brainstorming sessions where ideas are captured in a number of forms such as word walls and broad-brush sketches. We welcome clients, stakeholders and external consultants to join here too. This way, we can draw upon everybody’s insights, experience, and expertise to develop as many initial ideas as possible.

Taking the time to reflect on past projects from the past 25+ years at HD can also be beneficial when facing challenges. Often, the problems we’re facing aren’t too dissimilar from those overcome in the past and there’s a lot that can be transferred / learned from different sectors and products.

In addition to brainstorming, there are a variety of problem solving and innovation techniques which can be applied throughout the design and development process. Some of these include; Crazy 8’s, asking HMW Questions, Six Sigma, 6 Thinking Hats and 5 Why’s. TRIZ is a theory of inventive problem solving that we often apply here at HD. It helps create an organised and systematic approach toward problem solving and is based on a theory that all problems have a solution, even for contradictory requirements such as; “The device must be long but small”, in this instance, TRIZ might suggest exploring telescopic designs. When facing problems with particular features or components, we also often utilise design sprints in a time and cost constrained way with a focused team of designers as an effective way of exploring new ideas and generating solutions.

Typically, ideas go through a process of concepting, developing prototypes, testing and evaluating. It is typical that creating prototypes identifies and highlights unexpected problems, this is why we produce simple prototypes as early in the process as possible. We opt to use various concept selection methods as a tool for comparing and evaluating ideas without bias. A tool that we frequently use is an idea judgement matrix which is a method of scoring concepts / ideas against each key specification point from the brief to identify the best solution(s). The format of the judgement matrix can be tweaked to suit the project and what stage you’re at. For example, you can compare full designs or, strip things back to feature level which we have done on a recent auto-injector project that has worked extremely well to build the optimal design.

Having a strong design capability and toolkit really helps when it comes to solving problem. For some designs its impossible to create quick, simple, prototypes so its then possible to create virtual prototypes in a CAD system. With care and the correct parameters, its possible to create 3D CAD models then use FEA and simulation software to iterate, test, optimise, re-test and verify designs. This can save lots of time and we’ve found it’s possible to create virtual prototypes which are almost identical in performance to final moulded components when the design has been verified.

We balance the use of quick, rough and ready models with more sophisticated 3D printed or CNC machined prototypes with the use of virtual models and simulations. Therefore, HD has prototyping facilities in house so that we’re able to do this efficiently as well as a strong network of prototyping & manufacturing partners who are also able to provide swift services as well as expert advice. Another thing we’d recommend here is to begin considering DFM and DFA for your final intended materials and manufacturing methods as these will also have their own design implications which are better to accommodate for from the offset otherwise, you may well create more problems further down the line.

Sometimes, the most valuable thing can be to take a step back from the problem, work on a different project or get out of the office. We often take a moment to remove ourselves from projects and take a mid-afternoon walk around the technology park our offices are based on. Sometimes a little fresh air to gain a different perspective and rejigging a mindset is all that’s needed to overcome a challenge. If that doesn’t work, a complete break and sleeping on it over night will often allow ideas and solutions to percolate through a morass of problems, it’s rare for a solution to form when stressed about being unable to solve a challenge!

Throughout the design process, we’re constantly solving problems from initial concept through to production and beyond – it is engrained into our service, thinking and approach. If you are encountering difficulties, need expertise, resource, or have a problem to solve then get in touch.

Danny Morris 26 November 2021

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Get in Touch with Danny Morris

Design Development Engineer

Danny graduated from Aston University with a BSc degree in Industrial Product Design. Prior to HD, Danny worked in engineering roles, designing products varying from plastic vehicle bodies to sheet metal fabrication, gaining valuable experience of manufacture in the production environment. Within HD, Danny is an advocate for developing skills and capabilities within the team to broaden HD’s services. Danny also assists with project management activities and is our Mental Health First Aider.

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