Planning Product Design: 5 Questions to Ask First

Written by: Tom McGuire

Read Time: 3 min.

Quite often during the CAD sales process an Engineering Manager at a potential customer would ask for proof that the software works as advertised outside the pristine conditions of a generic software demonstration.

This usually came in the form of a single-day event where a couple of Applications Engineers would show up in the customer’s conference room to model something representative of the customer’s product, and the associated deliverables, live and in front of them, complete with a late day change to their original design requirements.

Inevitably, the manager would come back into the room after 30 minutes to check on the progress on the outlined modeling assignment, only to find that no modeling had been accomplished or even started. In fact, the engineers seemed to be wasting precious time by talking and maybe scribbling on a white board.

The truth is that they had started their project. They were following one of my favorite rules… “Plan your work. Work your plan.” They knew from experience that to build resilient models on an impossible deadline, they had answer to some fundamental questions first.

Maybe you could benefit by asking the same questions before you start your next product design.


1. What are the design requirements?

As an example, consider the one product that keeps the world as productive as it is. The coffee maker.

In the case of our coffee maker, one obvious requirement is that it needs to be able to hold a certain amount of water. In addition to that important factor, there are size limitations so that it can fit on your kitchen counter and not take up too much room on a store shelf. A safety-related requirement could be that it should not be capable of tipping over when it is full of water.

All of this, and much more, needs to be accomplished while developing a product that is also visually appealing to the end customer.

2. How is the team constructed?

The team involved in your product development effort and the tools they use to accomplish their tasks can have a huge impact when developing a plan. Maybe you are a design team of one and send out paper drawings to a local machine shop for production. Or perhaps you are one of a hundred team members spread throughout the world using various CAD and CNC authoring tools and possess various levels of experience leveraging solid models.

The problem to be solved here is determining when they need the information to do their job and in what format should they receive that information to efficiently perform their job.

3. What deliverables need to be generated to support the product?

Different types of products require different types of deliverables to support those products and can dictate the approach that should be used.

For example, is a finite element model required? If so, perhaps there will be a need to simplify the model to ease the burden on the analysis tool. In the case of our coffee maker, maybe you plan to use a mold shop that can leverage your solid models to create the plastic injection mold geometry needed to produce the part, or you may need technical illustrations or animations to show how to assemble it on your production line or use the final product in your kitchen.

In either of these situations, planning ahead may allow you to get downstream stakeholders involved and started earlier in the process.


4. What could change?

It is impossible to predict every possible change that could occur once the development effort is underway. But you can usually take an educated guess and develop your models in a way that can accommodate the changes you have anticipated.

In the case of our coffee maker, perhaps the sales team thinks we should be able to brew 16 cups of coffee at a time instead of only 12. If you took this possible change into account throughout your development cycle, the change can be made with little or no consequences to the downstream deliverables that had been created.


5. How is product information managed?

Even a single person design team can get themselves turned around without a PDM system in place. File folders just do not understand the web of communication that happens in the background between a solid model and the deliverables that were generated from that model. Are you sure your manufacturing team has the latest version of the model? Were you working with the most recent versions when you added those updates?

Avoiding expensive mistakes is one reason most companies find PDM and PLM systems worth their (figurative) weight in gold.


For best results: Have a plan!

Fortunately, few of us have to build and modify an assembly from scratch in just a day. Still, most of us don't get as much time as we’d like or need. Give yourself a head start by asking the right questions from the very beginning.

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Tags: CAD

About the Author

Tom McGuire

Tom McGuire has been using PTC’s 3D modeling solutions since 1993 when he was a mechanical engineer for the US Navy. In 1995 he started a two-year stint at PTC’s Cleveland office as a Senior Applications Engineer, responsible for product demonstrations, benchmarks, and end-user support for a wide range of area customers. Since leaving PTC in 1997 Tom has been providing training, process design and implementation, and modeling services to the FA&D sector, as well as several commercial customers seeking to maximize the return on their PTC software investment. Tom has also shared his knowledge by presenting, on several occasions, at national and local users group conferences.

Tom is currently assisting BAE Systems with their initiatives to extend the reach of their Creo models into the areas of MBD, MBE, MBSE, and AR. Tom can be contacted at or by visiting