Getting Product Designers to Design Stuff that Manufacturers Can Clean

Picture a new product. It’s a thing of beauty – miniature ( about 10% the size of the current product), lightweight, uses new alloys, polymers, coatings. It combines 3D printed metal with convoluted surfaces and traditional assembly. Marketing has rolled out a stellar campaign, promising high reliability at low cost. The company is deluged with orders. As the manufacturing manager, you have to assemble the new product using the current cleaning process. Did the designer consider if the new product could be cleaned? Read on for ideas to get product designers enthused about critical cleaning.

What Makes Product Designers Tick?
Let me emphasize that not all product designers are alike – some take a very encompassing, holistic view of design and production. I’m referring to the classic, archetypal product designer. Designers imagine the product of the future. They then use CAD programs and 3D modeling to bring the product to life. Some of these programs include the concept of design for manufacturing. However, the concept of “design for cleanability” is more elusive; if cleanability is not part of the design software, critical cleaning is not likely to be adequately addressed. Because many product designers prefer to work in solitude, using a limited set of rules and programs, if an aspect of manufacturing, such as critical cleaning, is not part of the design program, it may not be considered significant. Ineffective cleaning can result in defects, line-stoppages, product failure, unhappy customers, maybe even legal issues.

Interacting with visionaries
While product designers strive to be both practical manufacturers and visionaries, it’s understandable to become enmeshed in one’s specialty. So, how do we coordinate cleaning, contamination control, and cleanliness verification with the design process?

When I’m exasperated, I assert that the fastest way to explain critical cleaning and assembly to product designers would be to duct tape them to a chair and force them to successfully assemble the product they planned to foist on Manufacturing. In reality, bondage is not the answer!

A kinder, positive approach is to persuade design engineers to participate in cross-functional teams that include the designer, the engineer, and the assemblers. Based on our experience, such teams can be very successful with certain provisos. For one thing, teams must be in place throughout the phases of design, prototype, testing, and production. Another proviso is related to the question of how many engineers it takes to change a light bulb – the light bulb has to want to change. In this case, the team has to want to change; they have to be willing to not only sit in the same room but also to hear each other, to interact, and to address concerns. Some design engineers welcome cross functional teams, we’ve seen at least a few of them lead such efforts. However, solving production problems in groups can be next to impossible for those who thrive on solitude, who consider group interaction as a temporary evil to be endured, or who cannot identify with the concrete aspects of production.

Some visionary designers may respond better to theoretical concepts, including some that we address in Clean Source and at the Product Quality Cleaning Workshops and Webinars. For example, at PQCW21, Darren Williams and Tanner Volek of Sam Houston State University used video representations of the polar, Hydrogen bonding, and dispersive aspects of cleaning solvents relative to particular soils, showing the solubility sphere. Ed Kanegsberg’s discussion of the boundary layer in the same program and in a recent Clean Source (1) may be more convincing that assertions that a flushing process doesn’t clean the new product very well. Many product designers find such discussions to be compelling, fun and understandable. 

Assertions by assemblers that “the new product can’t be cleaned” might be ignored or brushed off by some product designers (2). Designers might think that if the assemblers simply tried harder, all cleaning problems would be solved. A little chemistry and physics provides explanations that product designers can think about during the design process. Besides, we think the chemistry and physics of cleaning is fun, fascinating, and useful – so we will continue teaching! If your favorite designer might benefit from this newsletter, please pass it along and encourage them to subscribe. 


    1. “Stuck at the Edge: The Boundary Layer,” Clean Source, Nov. 2020. 
    2. “Meshing Design with Assembly,” Altium Design Blog, May 2019 
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