Product Planning - Processes Promoting Safety Comes First

October 29, 2014

Product planning and development has the potential for great risk, but also for mitigation of risk if the right mechanisms can be used in a timely fashion. Creating products that do not present safety risks or pose a hazard is not only should be the main goal of a manufactruring company but it of course can be a complicated process.  As I have stated in my other blogs-  companies need to be very risk management focused to avoid product liability litigation and legal exposure. If  safety related processes are implemented in a timely and correct manner to minimize product defects, such processes can limit and minimize legal risk, especially regarding class actions. 

1.1  Stages 

Product development and planning normally involves four distinct stages prior to mass production: 

  • Product planning
  • Development planning
  • Development (implementation)
  • Production readiness 

In each stage there is potential cause for risk, as each stage involves processes that can potentially expose a manufacturing company to great legal risk  by virtue of poor planning, documentation or poor implementation of critical development processes.  A breakdown in processes can lead to disaster. Such processes include : 

  • Product planning
    • Product planning & review
    • Design
    • User interface development
  • Development planning and standardization
    • Standardization of design
    • Development of machine parts
    • Development of electric parts
    • Software development
    • Tooling development
    • Engineering sample
    • Final parts development
  • Development implementation
    • User manual and training manual developed
    • Regulations reviewed and approval obtained
    • Reliability assurance test performed
    • Final user interface developed
    • Product preparation for mass production
  • Production readiness
    • Test reliability of mass production
    • Create manufacturing training material
    • Prepare JIGs and dyes 

In each stage of product design, development, and production, many departments must share and coordinate information, tasks, roles and responsibilities, and communication with each other. Failure to do so in an effective manner in accordance with proper procedures and processes leads to not only failure but potential legal liability. For instance, let’s look at the main stages of a product planning cycle in a new product development scenario. 

1.2  Product Planning 

A typical product planning life cycle would involve at least eight departments and look something like this: 

  • Product planning department
    • Conceptualize product development
    • Establish management plan for product
    • Share information between related departments
  • Marketing
    • Confirm long- and short-term marketing strategy of product
    • Suggest retail sales points
    • Project potential sales issues
    • Strategize marketing launch
    • Plan advertising for launch
  • R&D
    • Suggest development of technology and parts
    • Suggest new features
    • Review development plan in accordance with product’s features
  • Design department
    • Review strategy
    • Suggest materials, design, and colors of parts and products
    • Research and analyze design trends
  • Quality control
    • Provide appropriate standards and regulations
    • Review production liability laws
    • Supply quality checklist
    • Review field claims at product issue
  • Technology planning
    • Analyze long- and short-term trend and forecast of future technologies
  • Others
    • Collect information from end-user
    • Share service information
    • Review information from sellers, distributors, and dealers    

These days companies must pay close attention to the development process.  As part of a robust risk management program, product planning and development must also pay attention to product defects and resulting product liability claims.  A product planning and development process is the first process in the manufacturing cycle that if handled properly can ensure the products are manufactured in an environment which minimizes product design and manufacturing defects and produces high quality products.

I recommend any manufacturing company to implement a legal risk management audit covering the department and divisions I have mentioned above.  Such audit should pay close attention to the product planning and development processes currently in place.  Every company should ask itself whether the processes in place are first class, adequate or outdated.  Producing defective products resulting in injuries or that present safety issues or safety hazards will always lead to product liability lawsuits and class actions.  Extreme care and caution must be taken to minimize any chance of legal liability.  Remember, when planning and developing products- processes that promote safe designs  and safety comes first.

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