Engineering design and product development in a company context
Engineering design and product development are sources of competitive advantage for companies faced with increasing competitive pressures in home and overseas markets. A fundamental requirement for this is the ability to identify market opportunities and to effectively and efficiently translate these into successful products. Product development is a complex and difficult task which involves both intra- and inter-firm processes, and requires many pressures and considerations to be considered. There is a considerable literature on the subject which provides guidance to companies. However, this makes generalisations concerning the nature of the competitive environment and it tends to be general in scope and prescriptive in nature. As a result, companies find that a considerable onus is placed on them to interpret the literature's recommendations. This research concentrates on the processes of product development and, in particular, the role of the engineering design function and its relationship with other aspects of the manufacturing operation. It contributes to our understanding of the influence of the company context on the processes of engineering design and product development. The relevant literature has been examined and a model of best practice factors has been derived. A research methodology based on empirical study and a contextual framework for comparative analysis has been developed that provides a way of distinguishing between generic and company specific features of engineering design and product development and identifying which elements of best practice are appropriate and achievable for the companies studied. Empirical investigations and analysis have been based on twelve in-depth case studies and interview survey data for a further seventeen establishments from the mechanical and electrical engineering sectors of UK manufacturing industry. The empirical results suggested that the literature's recommendations on best practice have a number of shortcomings. Some aspects of best practice were found not to be generally applicable. It was also revealed to focus narrowly on certain types of project and, because it deals with general requirements, it often does not indicate how best practice should be implemented. The investigation identified that, although a considerable amount of good practice was been implemented by companies, several important strategic and managerial activities were associated with less good practices. The research also suggested that, as a result of the complex and diverse nature of companies and their projects, good practice for any one company is dependent on its unique attributes. Against this background it has been concluded that a framework that enables the engineering design and product development processes to be interpreted in the context of a particular company is preferable to prescribing generalised models, which may result in attempts to implement inappropriate approaches.