Designing for Serviceability, and More


Ken Haven

February 27, 2018

Last time we talked about the importance of designing for manufacturability, and that the ability to successfully build a prototype is not enough to declare victory – today we’ll take that concept one step further to talk about the idea of designing for serviceability.

Years ago, one of the big 3 automakers in the US produced a car with a class leading powerful engine – there was only one problem: when it came time to replace the spark plugs, it was impossible to do so without removing the engine from the engine compartment! How could this have happened? Very simply, design for serviceability was not a consideration (also known as “we didn’t think about that…”).

When designing a product, you’ll first want to determine what, if any, the service/repair business model is – the model chosen will likely be a function of complexity, cost of the product, and other factors. Will the product be serviceable or will it be a throw away? Is service only performed if the customer returns the product to the factory/company/depot, or will field service be available? The service/repair model for a printing press for newspapers is very different from that of a smartphone.

If you determine the product is serviceable and field service is available, then you’ll likely want the design to be “service friendly” – replacement of major parts/systems that may break should be easy to access and replace. This has potential implications on location of components, structure of the internals, thermal, connectors, etc.. Modularity of the components/subsystems is also a consideration – do you want to replace/inventory specific components or modules if they fail? Another consideration is who will/can perform the service – is the design of the product such that only trained/skilled personnel can effectively service the product, or can it be serviced “by anyone” with the right tools? The internet, and the availability of online documentation, YouTube “how to” videos, and DIY repair websites continues to alter the way product repair is done. Note that the replacement parts business can be very lucrative – the cost to build a car by buying all the parts far exceeds the cost of the manufactured car itself!

Designing for serviceability can also open the door to the idea of upgradeability, potentially prolonging the useful life of the product. For products where the technology is rapidly advancing or where customers upgrade their products on a regular basis, or where the design of the product makes it less than feasible to upgrade, this is not an issue. On the other hand products such as some high end home audio products allow you to upgrade certain portions of the product very easily. Customers who make a significant investment in a product and expect it to last for some time could see upgradeability as a key advantage one product has over another.

Designing for serviceability can also be important to the assembly process of a product, making it easier to repair a product that may fail tests after it has been assembled – we’ve heard stories of products that took several hours to replace a failed component once the product was assembled and tested. This becomes an expensive proposition for the manufacturer, and doesn’t bode well for replacing those components in the field either.

Bottom line – any product development effort should determine the level of serviceability model that best fits the product business model, and be sure that the product development effort is aligned with that model.

About the author

Ken Haven has been CEO of Acorn Product Development since the company’s founding in 1993. Ken has more than 25 years of product development experience including technical leadership roles with NeXT Computer, Attain, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard. He holds MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.