Design thinking in Manufacturing


Extrapolating into a Digital Future with Design Thinking

May 20, 2019

In the wake of Business 4.0TM, digital transformation is taking the industry by storm by bringing in multiple benefits. It is not easy for manufacturing organizations to switch to this change overnight as they face the constant challenge of reducing costs while ensuring growth and safety. The first question that they ask is— what is in it for us and how do we start? On digging deeper with this blog post, you will find an answer on how important is design thinking in manufacturing.

Challenging the traditional ways

Small or big, most organizations tend to come up with ideas serving their own functional need rather than their customers’. This approach may sometimes fail horribly for the customers when they are treated as passive recipients. Traditional approach is based on assumptions about the need of user while design thinking goes extra mile to interact or live the life of the customer.

The change of approach that can separate winners from ­losers

To think of customers as active collaborators and your service as a show makes it a joint performance by putting your customers at center-stage. You win over other competitors when you realize your untapped potential and define customer service differently.

Design thinking helps to creatively recognize business-changing ideas that are both emotionally meaningful and functional to the customer. Realizing the importance of enriched customer experience through design thinking, more organizations are now involving designers in the problem-solving process.

The five important stages of design thinking are:

1. Empathetic understanding – The key is to understand the hidden needs of end users. Different reactions about the same product from different customers will help start exploring the possible options before considering a final few.

WipWare, a leading supplier of photoanalysis equipment and technology used interactive mechanisms and hosted a series of think tanks to gather feedback from end users for its software running on old technology to update it with latest technology.

2. Framing the problem – Observations from the point above help define the problem statement to be worked upon. We must carefully choose the problem statement of which we are sure to come up with solutions for.

Tata Steel, one of the largest steel manufacturers, was exploring ways to reduce shop-floor injuries that hurt overall productivity and cost valuable time. By using design thinking, which put the Tata Steel workers at the center of the process, they decided to make a smartwatch to track heartbeats, temperature, movement and ambient gases.

3. Brainstorming –This is a challenging phase where we need to consider the pros and cons of the possible solutions. As ideation is the heart of this whole process, it is important to choose the most appropriate ideation technique. Brainwriting, SCAMPER, trigger sessions, and Worst Possible Idea are only a few from a whole bunch of ideation techniques to choose from.

4. Testing on prototypes – We need to create a model of the product/service and work with it to see how well it fills the gap with minimal risk. The tests might reveal new insights, which could help redefine the problem.

K4 Integration, an industrial instrumentation company providing solutions to track people, material, and equipment in mining operations is focused on creating working prototypes to drive product evolution. It produced a mock-up of its electronic tag-in board and tested it at various stages of the design by inviting end users to interact with it to learn how better the product could be implemented in live situations.

5. Implementing – After having successful results, it is time to roll out the change in the pilot phase and observe its impact for some time until it is ready to be fully operational.

Hard-Line is recognized as one of the world’s leading remote control suppliers. It started with research programs involving both technical and operative teams to get ideas on improvement. On one occasion, it received feedback from a few users that they needed to hear the machine while in operation. To satisfy the customer, the company integrated a microphone to include sound from the drift.

Benefits of design thinking in manufacturing are numerous, but most importantly, it can help address some safety risks which may seem impossible to solve or even reduce in these asset-intensive industries. Tata Steel proved it by solving a safety issue after 35 years of its existence. The employees were at life risk standing in the drop zone while placing the backup rolls. A simple solution to attach magnetic arrows to the roll solved the issue with less spend.

While advancing toward newer trends, the potential contribution from design thinking cannot be ignored. It gives an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the manufacturing business, making it stronger and more connected to workers and communities. To enable this, we need to make design thinking a part of our collective thinking. For there is no doubt that this is a skill that will increasingly matter in the long run for individuals as well as for the overall growth of human society.

Preeti Chandak is a Quality Assurance Manager with the E&R unit at TCS. She has more than 7 years of experience in implementation of test process control and improvement for different customers from various units such as Telecom, Banking and Manufacturing. Preeti holds a Bachelor's degree from Biju Patnaik University of Technology.