Manufacturing has evolved exponentially since the early days of iron forges and the first assembly lines. The industrial revolution may have served as the high-water mark for manufacturing for a while, but modern technology continues to refine, define, and advance manufacturing far beyond what was once thought possible.
Innovators like AirBoss Defense Group’s Director of Engineering, Deepak Harathi, turn concepts into prototypes while operators like Vice President of Operations, Brian Renzi, turn prototypes into mass manufactured finished products. The manufacturing process—from concept to finished product—is thriving at AirBoss.
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New Product Concept and Design
Global manufacturing success doesn’t happen without a little trial and error. Engineers like Deepak work to perfect a product’s design long before a fine-tuned, high-quality product makes it to market. It’s during this design and concept phase that specifications are outlined, concepts are tested, and design flaws are surfaced.
“Predominantly, what I deal with is the design and development of the product and taking it to the manufacturing stage,” says Harathi, “Then, following up after manufacturing with respect to how the product could evolve with iterations moving forward.”
Specifically, Deepak works in the AirBoss Defense Group facility in Jessup, Maryland. It’s here that he and his team design life-saving equipment for both healthcare and practical applications. Designing and developing products like filters for respirators is a pretty straightforward process, but it’s one that demands attention to detail.
Harathi outlines his team’s development process in a few key steps:
Research gathering: Compiling both customer and in-house requirements for a product. This stage involves a thorough analysis of the requirements that the product needs to meet and is considered by Deepak to be the most crucial.
New products come to AirBoss Engineered Products both from customers looking for something unique and also as innovations or further iterations of legacy products the company already produces.
Concept generation: Brainstorming how to turn a concept into a practical, real-world product. This stage involves engineering experts putting their expertise to work, and the final result is a funneling down of ideas to find the most appropriate design concept for a particular product.
Deepak says, often, his team will narrow down a concept to a handful of ideas that they can then prototype and test for feasibility.
Selection of materials: Adhering to customer and/or government requirements while selecting appropriate materials for product development and production. Often, this stage is driven and informed by regulatory requirements, especially in the healthcare and defense industry.
“Many of the products that we make are driven by regulatory requirements,” Harathi offers. “What we need to keep in mind while we develop the concepts is the selection of materials to make sure we satisfy all of these requirements.”
Modeling and prototyping: Validating concept designs through CAD modeling and product prototyping. Modern technologies like 3D printing have changed the way companies like AirBoss prototype new product designs. Rather than waiting days or weeks for an outside manufacturer to produce a prototype, Deepak and his team are able to produce a 3D-printed prototype in-house in a fraction of the time.
It’s during this phase that Deepak and his team test application and failure potential by aligning their new concept prototype with complementary components to ensure the design works practically and effectively.
“If a legacy product is already certified, we can gain a lot of information from that product build,” says Harathi. “Unless there is a drastic requirement that we have to meet which we have not done previously, the legacy products and the information we have on hand is our guide to select materials and go about the design.”
A new AirBoss product is ready for production once the prototyped concept has been tested and meets all requirements. A final stamp of approval from the customer and/or Deepak’s team—along with a formal hand-off procedure checklist—means the product is ready for the manufacturing floor.
From Design to Product Manufacturing
During production, Deepak and his team are still involved in case any issues arise, but once a product has his department’s go-ahead its manufacture is set into motion. That’s when professional operators like Brian Renzi join the process.
“First, what we look to do is validate the test equipment,” shares Renzi of his process. “Whenever you’re going to produce something, you have to ensure your inspection tools are working so you can properly assess whether a part’s actually good or not.”
“Once you validate your measurement system, and you know you can assess good from bad, a lot of [manufacturing] involves creating standard work.”
Standardizing the process and building quality into that process is what Brian and his team on the manufacturing floor do best. He admits that a good bit of that work should be and is done on the frontend, during the concept and design phases, but double checking and confirming specifications is all part of the overall manufacturing process.
What comes next is what Renzi calls a capability analysis. It’s during this phase that he and his team produce a “sufficient number” of production runs to confirm that the manufacturing process can capably produce conforming units. Even the slightest deviation from specifications is cause for concern, so a capability analysis is crucial if AirBoss wants each unit produced to meet specification requirements.
“You evaluate how close you are to not conforming,” says Renzi. “Understanding what your distribution of results looks like, and whether you have the capable processes, needs to be captured.”
A new product is ready for mass production if deviations are minimized and the capability analysis is satisfactory. Just like during the design and concept phases, Brian points out that legacy equipment and processes can be adapted to accommodate new rubber products.
“Often, a good bit of the legacy equipment is able to be used,” he says. “It really all depends on the product. If the process is more automated, then you’ll likely have some new tooling. If the product is more manual assembly, then often times existing tooling will work.”
“We have a final quality inspection plan. We call it an FQP,” shares Renzi. “Based off any risk we see on the product, we’ll establish a sampling level for quality to review the product and measure the performance. That’s the final inspection before we’d ship product to a customer.”
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Some Things Change While Others Stay the Same
AirBoss’s manufacturing process is typical in the sense that a new product moves through concept, design, prototype, testing, and production phases. Where the company sets itself apart as a world-class producer of rubber products and compounds is the expertise involved along the way.
Enterprise-level operators like Renzi and engineers like Harathi bring a level of professionalism and passion to their processes. Pair that with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and new technologies like 3D printing, and AirBoss is primed to succeed in a saturated manufacturing marketplace.
The company continues to refine its processes while taking on new projects, improving tried-and-tested concepts, and designing never-before-seen compounds and products. It’s why, when companies around the world need the very best, customers come to AirBoss.