Unipart Dorman | Testing Times for New Products
Product testing has advanced a lot since Unipart Dorman first started to manufacture Road Danger Lamps back in 1966. Laying one on the ground and then driving the Managing Director’s car over it was an effective if crude way of proving durability, especially when the same test was carried out on a metal bodied paraffin lamp which ended up flattened.
The scientific credibility of such a test is not great though.
But why test at all?
These days it is mainly so that the CE mark can be applied with some confidence that the product will perform in accordance with set parameters, laid down in a standard which has been agreed. But there are also the legal ramifications of an untested product causing preventable death or injury. There are also commercial considerations to be taken for example the reputational damage and subsequent drop in sales across a company’s portfolio that could be incurred if a company put substandard goods onto the market – look at the dip in sales of some mobile phones when faults in battery technology were discovered.
Testing is not the catchall guarantee of quality one would expect though. As the diesel emissions scandal proved recently, it is still hugely important and that is why reputable manufacturers invest so heavily in the testing phase of New Product Delivery. Most products start life on a computer screen these days, well before any material is cut. This enables most of the testing for development to be done very quickly. Even the most basic CAD programmes will allow a skilled user to stress the new component in ways that a physical prototype couldn’t and then accurately model failure modes that may not occur for many years of use. The design can then be modified to remove them.
There does come a time though, when even the most computer savvy engineers need to hold a physical model in their hands and ‘get a feel’ for the new product. This is also a valuable stage in the customer experience, allowing them to buy into and subsequently sign off the concept. 3D printing is the latest in a long line of methods of producing mock ups and prototypes, stretching back all the way to skilled toolmakers spending weeks with balsa wood and modelling clay, for show and tell design and customer reviews.
Using Technologies to Improve Testing
Unipart Dorman has invested heavily in new digital technologies to speed this process up and one recent example is the use of Augmented Reality software to market test products in the United States.
This delivered extremely valuable feedback to the development engineers back in the UK in near realtime, including enabling a conference call to take place during the exhibition with the client to discuss the options available.
Many products have mandatory testing by a Notified Body (NoBo) as part of the product approval process. The use of digital techniques has significantly reduced the cost of these tests by replicating the testing in a pre-compliance process. NoBo services are in high demand and there is often a long waiting list, so this pre-testing can be crucial to getting the product ready for a full examination and address any failure points to ensure re-testing isn’t required which can be expensive not only in terms of time spent waiting for the next slot at the NoBo but also in terms of rework costs.
The new product will be in strict compliance with the standard governing it, but is it right to simply adopt the standard as a baseline and do the bare minimum required to meet the specification?
Standards and specifications can become outdated and become unfit for purpose very quickly. As anyone who has been involved with developing standards knows, revision can be a long tortuous process sometimes taking many years. It is therefore important manufacturers take responsibility for ensuring that the product not only complies with the standard, but is as safe as reasonably practicable.
So for example, the standard governing roadlamps has a very simple test detailed to examine how robust the lamp is in an impact. It involves dropping the lamp from 1.2 metres onto a concrete floor, swinging the lamp on a test rig to impact the ground and then swinging a 1Kg steel ball pendulum to hit the lamp. But that doesn’t really relate to what the lamp will do in a 70 Mph vehicle impact in a roadworks zone.
As part of this increased diligence Unipart Dorman commissioned a set of vehicle crash tests using various speeds, vehicle sizes and a number of high speed cameras to see what would happen to the bestselling ConeLITE. This enabled the company to have a very high degree of confidence in how the lamp behaves in a collision. Digital technology will provide many of the answers and delivers significant savings in new product development. However, sometimes a physical test to destruction is the only way to have true confidence (and it is great fun for the engineers involved too, although it is unlikely the MD will allow them to run stuff over in his car anymore!).