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What does front-end mean in plastic product design?

I’ve been involved in some rather catastrophic design projects during my working history, and more often than not I have had myself to blame. The most memorable cases have sprung from a desperate attempt to develop something completely new within a scheduled and budgeted NPD project. Indeed, solving fundamental questions on new materials, tooling principles or mechanisms as part of the implementation commonly leads to panic, confusion and an outcome that everyone finds disappointing, not least the customer.

Why and when is front-end needed?

Many new products are simply modifications of existing products. The projects in which they are created usually run smoothly without major issues. This is because materials, tooling and mechanics are based on something that has already proven to work – an existing concept.

An existing concept would, in other words, be an ideal starting point for every NPD project. For that to be possible, any fundamental issues should be solved beforehand and only details and their execution left to the scheduled implementation phase. That is the purpose of front-end design to me.

The outcome of front-end

The front-end phase should thus first identify the customer’s needs and then present a solution in a rough but functional prototype. It should also include the principle on the basis of which the item should be produced. This information should be enough to evaluate the need of separate technological development, as well as to estimate the risk, unit cost and total investment. If there seems to be no serious risks ahead, the concept is ready for implementation when the time is right. For each completed new product there should multiple front-end projects, the majority of which should be terminated as early as possible.

Sometimes the front-end phase is seen as an open-minded innovation arena that generates wild business and product ideas. While this is beneficial in itself, the outcome is usually far from executable – perhaps it should therefore rather be called front-front-end. Regardless of the terminology, the front-end should be there to solve the fundamental issues before the implementation phase.

Having an additional phase on R&D process may sound like time and resource consuming extra work. In the long run, however, it saves both, as the work has to be done anyway.




Nikki Barber
Hi Markus, I've been reading your web page as 1) I have an issue with a broken plastic component and 2) about 20 years ago I did a Masters in Chemical Engineering and enjoyed the Material Science aspect. I misfiled my brand new landrover Discovery. The active mis fuel device did not work or kick in at any point and I put a full tank of petrol into the diesel car. The car is very damaged and landrover, so far, refuse liability. They have examined the active misfuel protection device and found the plastic clips instrumental to function are broken . ( They scanned it to establish this). The car is 2.5 months old and has been re fuelled by us less than 10 times. Also it has been re fuelled by the dealer we bought it new from. Landrover say we may have broken the clips on the device and therefore we would have broken the device and all our fault, not a warranty issue. In your experience, of plastic behaviour, is there a way to tell from the broken clips if they broke by impact, or through being already weak , or can we tell if the plastic broke some time ago ? Any clues? Thanks Nikki
Hello Nikki, To my experience it is very difficult to tell the malfunction by looking at the cracked surface. Are there any undamaged clips left? You could ask the manufacturer if they fill the specification. They must have some testing procedure for those. Markus

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