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DFDMA – the new DFMA?

DFDMA – the new DFMA?

Susannah Clarke, Managing Partner and co-author of ‘Implementing ISO 9001:2015’, asks whether the principles of DFMA are enough if customer delight gets overlooked along the way?


I’m working on an interesting project in the Construction sector at the moment, looking at how and what this sector can learn from the automotive and aerospace industry and the standards they now achieve, particularly related to Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA).

One area of interest is Offsite Construction, where modules are designed and built offsite and then transported to the site, the theory being that this approach will drive standardisation, reduction in costs and reduce the time to build/construct. Of course achieving these goals depends much on the original design being robust and appropriate for offsite construction – it’s got to fit together seamlessly on arrival with the other components.

Kano Model-01

The importance of this was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I received a new desk for my home office. I had ordered it from a store with whom I feel a strong loyalty, many people do it’s that kind of place. Therefore I had certain expectations: it would be high quality; it would look good; it would meet my needs with drawers, good access and easy sitting position, space to spread my work out on; it would be assembled. This is not a flat pack store, so I was initially quite taken aback when the charming delivery men brought a very flat set of boxes into my house. I was not delighted!

However, undeterred, I set about with my toolbox, the instructions and a willing helper.
I’m going to spare you the photos of me, head in hands and maniacally waving my screwdriver.

Stephen Fry

I’m not even going to talk you through the 1 afternoon and 3 evenings that it took me to get the desk completely assembled, although if you want a laugh and a good idea of the challenges I faced, google ‘Stephen Fry+BBC+flat pack furniture’ to watch a video of him tackling flat pack furniture assembly (warning: there is some ‘choice’ language!).

I’m going to focus, instead, on what I learned:

  • Set clear expectations – if you are supplying something which is not assembled, the customer needs to know
  • Instructions are great when they’re pictures, but not when they are too small. I was given an A5 booklet and the pictures were half A5
  • Components need clear labelling so that the customer can identify them easily, particularly when some items are very similar. I was struggling to tell a side panel from a back panel.
  • All nuts/bolts/screws/fixings need to not only be itemised but linking them to a component part helps the customer. I regularly found myself asking, “Is this the right screw for the drawer or is it meant to connect the legs?”
  • Reduce the number of parts to make it simple for the customer. I had more desk pieces, drawer parts, handles, drawer runners, side panels, modesty panels, legs than I knew what to do with and enough fixings to open a local hardware store!

Whoever plans the components, needs to mistake proof it for the customer (assembler). I spent many hours trying to align the drawer runners with the pre-punched holes in the pedestal sides unable to work out which hole was meant to match with which, it was almost impossible.

Influences pie

I’m assuming that the manufacturer was able to use the DFM principles, each part individually looked fairly simple and therefore, one had a sense that it could be mass produced easily. But how did my desk compare to the principles of DFA?

True, the store had removed any costs it would have incurred in assembling themselves; false, it had not minimised the number of assembly operations, it had a vast number of steps, components and fixings.

I’m certain that whoever designed this desk was talented, the desk does look really nice and I’m pleased with the design; they are obviously technically capable, all the parts did go together in the end; but I don’t think this designer had an eye on their customer.

When I look at the key principles of DFMA, they include:

  • Minimise the number of parts Standardise parts and materials
  • Create modular assemblies Design for efficient jointing
  • Minimise reorientation of parts during assembly or machining
  • Simplify and reduce the number of manufacturing operations
  • Specify acceptable surface finishes for functionality cross-functional team working to optimise design for cost effective manufacturing
  • Avoid difficult components Use self-locating features
  • Avoid special tooling/test equipment
  • Provide accessibility
  • Minimise operations and process steps

All great principles, but are they enough?

Whether the customer is a global multinational looking for a new corporate headquarters, a local authority having a new bridge designed or just me, looking for a new desk, the voice of the customer is more valuable at the beginning of the design process than after the product has been delivered. Set my expectations: it’s going to be self-assembly, but delight me by making it easy!

About Susannah


Susannah Clarke is Managing Partner at Process Management International (PMI) and a specialist in the field of Executive and Performance Coaching.  Susannah has worked extensively in the learning and development sector, starting her career with NatWest Markets in the City before spending 17-years with GSK as a consultant.

In 2011 Susannah joined Oracle University as Partner Director for EMEA and in 2013 joined PMI as Managing Partner.   As co-author of ‘Implementing ISO9001:2015” she brings together more than 35 years’ experience leading, managing and consulting across different organisations.  Susannah has written several blogs and published many articles in leading process and Quality focused publications.

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DFDMA – the new DFMA?

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