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Company's total quality program speeds up product development.

A laboratory instrument manufacturer based in Colorado is using a battery of techniques to put quality programs in place and speed up development of new products.

By tying quality efforts to faster product development, the company has cut the time it takes to design new products to a few months, instead of a year or more.

Charles Myers, quality assurance manager at Denver Instrument, Arvada, Colo., and his engineering counterpart, Geoff Garner, work toward these goals by implementing ISO standards and faster development tools, such as rapid prototyping techniques and computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Good Start Denver Instrument obtained ISO 9003 registration in 1993, which allowed them to quickly meet their immediate competitive marketing needs. ISO 9003 registration only involves an audit of the final inspection process, but "it gave everyone a good introduction to ISO auditing procedures," says Myers.

They are now working on upgrading to the more involved 9001 registration. "9001 brings us the discipline of having appropriate documentation and training for all areas of the firm," says Myers.

Having this documentation in place will improve their product design capabilities because "we'll spend less time sorting out stupid things from true technical problems," says Garner.

The ISO requirements for controlling the configuration of a product, for example, can prevent designers from testing products that don't have the most current revisions. "This saves time when someone makes a software revision and doesn't tell the hardware designer, or when someone changes a board location and doesn't tell the mechanical engineer," he says.

While the ISO standard requires the documentation for controlling the configuration to be detailed, the documentation for the design process does not need to be as detailed. It should be written to give designers flexibility to use new design tools, says Garner.

By using CAD and rapid prototyping tools, Denver Instrument increased its number of new product introductions from only one in 1992 to 10 in 1994, and "even more in 1995," all without a major increase in development staff.

Quick turnaround In some cases, a component design generated on a computer screen can be turned into a workable model in less than five days. Models are used to check fit, function, and dimensional stack-up. They also can be used for short-term durability tests and to develop final tooling.

For some of these products, the time from the initial design concept to a pilot production has been cut to less than five months.

To give product designers the flexibility to use new design tools as they become available, even with the 9001 documentation requirements, you only put truly important issues in your design manual and leave out all the restrictive elements, says Garner. "I put in the basics and let my people figure out the path to get there," he says.

In many areas, the documentation put in place to speed up new product development may even satisfy some of the requirements for 9001 registration.

When starting development on a new product concept, for example, a requirements document is written by Denver Instrument designers which is used as a check during the development cycle. "We just have to write down a little more about how we do this for the ISO requirements," says Garner.

In many ways, the ISO standards force companies to develop procedures which, for competitive reasons, they should have developed on their own anyway, says Garner. With better documentation, you have fewer problems, work faster, and produce higher quality products.
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Title Annotation:Denver Instrument
Author:Studt, Tim
Publication:R & D
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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