The Impact of Covid19 on Product Development

Kevin Otto, Oscar Nepoli, Albert Albers

October 12, 2020

 

The Covid19 disease has disrupted lives and social activities globally, and product development is no exception. Through discussions with selected industry partners, the Industrial Relations Committee of the Design Society has probed how Covid19 has impacted product development. 

 

As with the rest of society, product development practice has been changed by restrictions including working at home, no travel to suppliers or customers, uncertain demand, and the accelerated immersive adoption of new ways of working including video conferencing systems, virtual private networks and collaboration software tools. 

 

Perhaps less obvious has been the necessary reactions to these hurdles. For example, with less travel has come much longer material ordering and shipping times. This has made movement of prototypes more difficult and generated the need for more creative means to interact with customers and suppliers. You cannot fly to a customer site and you cannot easily ship demonstration systems. It has become hard to test and validate design concepts. In facing this, engineers are using video conference discussions combined with collaboration boards to share sketches and representations of concepts and needs. They are also using video as a means of demonstrating working units. There has been no reduction in prototyping, but a clear shift in tools and methods. 

 

With more isolated product development, individual design centers are taking on broader capabilities. For example, delays in shipping units to third party testing facilities has created expanded on-site testing.  The same is true for on-site fabrication. Some companies expressed that they are even changing their designs to source more locally as a results of border restrictions. Overall design centers have needed to become more stand-alone capable. 

 

Overwhelmingly the highest remaining concern has been the social aspects of product development work. Product development is a team activity, it is not a set of separate jobs done in isolation. Maintaining comradery, bringing new hires into the team, and maintaining happiness and pride-in-work were the most common themes expressed as the biggest concern due to Covid19. 

 

The Industry Relations Committee is a group of academic and industrial leaders of the Design Society formed to strengthen the relationship between industry and the Design Society. The Industrial Relations Committee works to identify strategic needs and priorities in product development in industry, including new design opportunities or constraints as they might result from societal challenges. 

 

As a part of this work, the committee held a video discussion with 10 development engineering leaders to discuss their insights on their research and development work. The leaders were from the United States, Germany, Canada and Finland. The companies they represented included Konecranes Oyj., Neles Corp., Patriot One Technologies, Precision Resource Canada Ltd., Siemens Advanta, StarFish Medical, thyssenkrupp A.G., and TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG among others. 

 

The views expressed here are of the authors and do not represent the views of companies mentioned nor the Design Society. 

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