Advanced Design Techniques Within the Food Chain

Advanced Design Techniques Within the Food Chain

In the UK, most locally grown food is now bought, prepared and supplied to supermarkets by large organizations called pack houses which compete
aggressively with each other, typically on the criteria of price, flexibility and service offering. Pack-houses have now adopted the tactic of the supermarkets and are turning to the second-tier supply base to improve service and cost. The companies that, in turn, supply pack-houses with their complex, dedicated manufacturing equipment must respond to this pressure in three major ways:

Innovation: creating evermore innovative solutions and systems.
Service: providing an increasingly complete offering in terms of design, manufacture, installation, maintenance and project management. Cost efficiency: ensuring that the transition from design to manufacture is smooth and trouble-free, producing products the customer wants at the lowest possible manufacturing cost.

If they succeed in these three aspects, even in their non-standard design environment, they will be able to delight their customers while maximizing profit. This article explores how one company, Herbert Engineering, managed to succeed by implementing an organization-wide program of design-for-'x' where ‘x’ stands for all the criteria, internal and external, in which the company needs to excel, engendering a shift in culture across the company.

From field to fork

Herbert Engineering is the UK’s market leader in vegetable production equipment. Based in the east of England, the company specializes in designing and installing innovative bespoke equipment to transform root vegetables into the pre-packaged, preprepared foods we see in our supermarkets today.

The company had been facing increasing costs, especially for high value-adding bespoke products with computer control, laser vision technology, complex articulated components, and integration with other equipment and systems in the pack-houses. However, competition was forcing these projects to be priced as though they were off-the-shelf items. What Herbert Engineering needed was a way to tackle hat age-old dilemma – how to make products that maximize value to the customer but minimize cost to the operation.

Internal & Customer requirments

Addressing the challenge

Creating offerings and bringing them to market is an issue that involves the entire organization – Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing, Design, Sourcing, Engineering, Human Resources and Finance. Requirements from one part of the company have an impact on other parts. For example, the decision to add functionality to the product specification may necessitate new technologies, new skills, new materials, and new suppliers. The decision to standardize components may necessitate new sales tactics, new brochures, new tooling, and new skills.

Recognizing this, Herbert Engineering designed an improvement program that would bring the entire organization together, ensuring that no decision was taken without due consideration of the effect on the various stakeholders. The company used a methodology designed by Cambridge University, which aims to instil better design practices into manufacturing companies.

he program’s main features include audits to evaluate problems within companies’ current products and processes, and a method for embedding design-for-‘x’ into the innovation process.

The main steps for this type of program are:
Value-stream analysis to specify offerings in terms of product-market groups (PMGs).
Identification of PMGs with greatest strategic importance (growth, share, revenue and profit).
Market analysis to understand purchase criteria per product-market group.
Core competence analysis to understand internal strengths and constraints
Product analysis to define mismatch between deliverables and market needs
Process analysis to define root causes of mismatches
Identification of the critical factors in design and manufacturing that enhance customer value and company profit.
Improving design processes so that they deliver enhanced value and profit.
Pilot implementation within initial PMG(s).
Rollout and review.

Innovation process transformation

What is ‘x’?

‘x’ can be whatever you want it to be. From the onset of the improvement program, it was clear that Herbert Engineering’s product range met customer requirements extremely well. The main problem was that it did not match their internal requirements.

Products were difficult to manufacture and assemble, used too many unique components, consumed too much resource to install on customer sites, and caused difficulties when fulfilling maintenance contracts.

Throughout the course of the program, Herbert Engineering prioritized the most critical factors and worked on the following areas: design for manufacture,
design for installation, and design for maintenance.


The design-for-'x' program led to a complete change in the way products are designed at Herbert Engineering. The company now has a robust innovation process in which the relevant team members become involved in the process at the right time, and all the necessary documentation exists to ensure decisions are made early enough. Relevant information is gathered and risks are assessed based on data rather than speculation. One particularly useful output was a set of design rules to guide the team, ensuring the products are manufacturable, installable and maintainable. In terms of manufacturability, preferred manufacturing processes have been defined (for example, laser cutting rather than machining; pressing rather than box sections; welding rather than bolting; tapped holes rather than bolts; selflocating components where possible; tolerances to be as wide as possible). For components, preferred materials are specified (for example, pin sizes, fasteners, motors, standard steel thicknesses; functions are combined into single parts). For tools, standard tool and socket head sizes are recommended and adjustment capability is eliminated where not needed.

Similar rules were set in place for installability and maintainability, specifying areas such as weight distribution, module size, lifting points, availability of drawings, installation schedules, visual inspection points, single-handed safety guards, minimized dirt traps, location indicators for adjustment, easy-clean materials, colour coding for replaceable parts, and so on.

The program was a vital element in creating an environment in which Herbert Engineering could improve its innovation process and deliver outstanding products, while at the same time increasing its own profit margins. The firm realized this "mission impossible" by creating a more coherent operation that delivered increased value to clients at a cost that belied its product merits.

Culture of design-for-'x'

By applying advanced techniques, Herbert Engineering was able to establish a culture of design-for-'x' so that the reduction in whole-life product cost more than offset diminishing returns caused by price erosion. Moreover, it achieved this without impacting the functionality or usability of the product. Indeed, a number of product enhancements were identified during the process which put Herbert Engineering into an even better competitive position. The details for each company and sector might differ, but the principle is the same: rethinking the innovation process for the greater good of the company and the customer, too.

By Pete Caldwell - Partner, Tefen UK


Let's work together!

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