Designing for Future Success

Creating the framework for new product development
Geoffrey Card
March 13, 2016
FEATURE ARTICLE | Design & Performance

Seldom can you stand still—you either move forward or stagnate and lose market share. A sound policy to generate sales growth is to strengthen your product line with innovative products. Developing new products enables manufacturers to appeal to a wider geographic arena as well as enter into additional markets.

Interpreting Market Signals

In developing a new product line, it’s prudent to study and interpret market signals. Some of the trends may not be clear and will require some inspired interpretation.

For example, the U.K. residential market in the early 1980s was complaining of window frames that required replacement within a few years due to excessive wet rot and glazing that continually produced high levels of condensation. The inspired (and correct) product response to this was to design and develop a generic style British window system extruded from U-PVC plastic (rigid vinyl) and to equip it to accept up to 1 inch of insulated glazing.

The conservative U.K. window industry was very resistant and suspicious. At that time, they were principally building wood and aluminum framed units but, slowly, a few of the more enlightened manufacturers were convinced to adopt the new technology. By the late 80s, vinyl dominated the market share, which it still does today.

Similarly, in the United States, vinyl framed windows and doors entered some regional markets in the late 70s and early 80s. These, too, were met with a degree of skepticism. Some market resistance was justified by a degree of poor design and aesthetics. But, by the late 80s and early 90s, European engineering influence and material standards resulted in a vastly improved product. Again, vinyl rapidly secured a controlling share of both the replacement and new construction window and door markets.

To do so, it is essential to arrive at a clear design brief that defines objectives for the new product. There are three key rules that will help in this mission:

  1. Discover the need.
    Consider what customers are looking for. Where do they want to improve in their business, specifically, in terms of sales growth, ease of manufacture or product performance?
  2. Identify key features, functions and benefits.
    These include aesthetic design features such as finishes and hardware selection, but also include performance features determined by the selection of materials. Other factors here include security and thermal performance, and structural and weather-resistance performance (compliance with regional standards).
  3. Identify the price point.
    Too many companies are on a race to the bottom with the lowest price. But the poor quality and very thin margins that come with the lowest price often require a huge volume of sales for an acceptable profit. Focus on value for the price.

Once all options are considered and there is a clear objective and design brief, it’s time to take a look at execution.

Execution

Only a limited number of companies have the resources or technical capability to design and fully develop a new product from scratch. Component suppliers usually have qualified in-house design capabilities, but there are also many specialist suppliers, such as hardware manufacturers, for example, that can assist with product design.

Many specialist suppliers have earned success by identifying customers’ product improvement needs and designing innovative components to those needs. For this reason, it may be wise and economically efficient to work closely with these suppliers for your new product or even to update an existing product.

Regardless of whether you choose to spend the resources to develop in-house or work with a supplier partner, it’s important to allow sufficient time to build the necessary production tools. The product development plan should budget time for extrusion dies and the fabrication of the first pre-production units for final development, testing and certification.

On that note, remember that most new products will require NFRC thermal testing and certification plus AAMA testing to establish structural strength and weather resistance. Hurricane impact testing will also be required if your products are to be marketed in specific geographic regions. You will need to consult the various specialist test houses that are located around the country for testing advice and for programming and testing fees.

The most valuable tip for your new products: work with a reputable systems or component supplier who will ensure that the new products are fully tested. Good luck—this is the future of your business.

Geoffrey Card has worked for 50 years in both the U.K. and U.S. window industries as a technical marketer and product designer. He now assists GPI Millworks, a division of Global Products International Group, as a consultant in design and development of advanced components for the millwork industry.