Creating a new product is a major undertaking. Long before the first sheet of metal is pressed the commitment is made to invest thousands of man hours and money into design and development.
John Shanahan looks at how Hayter go about bringing a new product to market
Hayter has an enviable reputation in both the consumer and professional mower market. One of the strongest UK brands, the company is also active in several overseas markets. Therefore, bringing a new mower to market has to meet both the requirements of their reputation and their customers.
People with many different disciplines are involved in the process. The most important to be represented are the customers. For Hayter, this is not just their dealers, but also local authorities, contract managers, operators and independent contractors.
Hayter has a long history of successful innovation and now, as part of The Toro Company, it uses the company's established and proven product development system.
This organises the development work into seven stages, called gates - Concept, Feasibility, Development, Mid-Development, Manufacturing Pilot, Project Close and Audit Report. There is no progression to the next stage until each one is completed.
Concept: At the first stage the concept is defined. In the case of the new compact triples, the concept included increased functionality, reduced width and weight and improved operator comfort. The definition is agreed and signed off by senior design, technical, sales and marketing people.
Feasibilty: The feasibility gate looks at the project in considerable detail to establish its viability. What is the size of the target market segment, what are the competing products, what investment is required, will the project meet the company's requirements for return on investment? No fewer than twelve specific fields, containing numerous questions, are examined and satisfactory answers are needed for the project to progress.
By the end of this stage there will be a Product Design Specification. This extensive document first identifies each model in the range and each kit, including those fitted as standard, such as the ROPS frame and the cost options, for instance a full weather ROPS cab kit.
Benchmarks are set for more than thirty basic attributes, such as machine control in a variety of conditions, vibration, traction etc. These benchmarks are established from those of the best performing mowers currently available, and the requirement for the new models is to meet, or exceed, the performance of the benchmark model.
The next section of the product design specification, the 'general specification', goes into more detail. The range of operating ambient temperatures, the angle of approach and exit on trailer ramps, the depth of water driven through with no impairment to performance are just a few of several dozen parameters to be specified.
The product design specification determines the features and performance of the new products from every conceivable point of view.
This is the first stage when the 'Voice of the Customer' comes in. A panel has been established, representing dealers, contract managers, and operators from the UK as well as hayter's export markets. Their views are sought on all the benchmarks, i.e. consensus is established on what will constitute a 'best of breed'. The outcomes are fed back to the project engineers for assent and incorporation.
Development: At Gate 3 the design work begins in a more direct approach, taking all the information learned through the 'Voice of the Customer' activities and, importantly, the Product Design Specification. The engineering aspect in any project is always involved as ideas and suggestions have to be considered and evaluated as part of the feasibility process. Establishing whether the market needs, and wants, a particular model can be achieved within the desired time frame and must be established prior to this gate.
Within their product development, Hayter adopted the 3D CAD package, Pro-Engineer, in 2003 and, since then, it has been the backbone of engineering developments. The new computer technology was developed to allow the vast majority of the components for any product being designed before any prototype production.
This method allowed the design to proceed at a smoother and faster rate than older, more conventional techniques. Once the CAD model is at a suitable stage, the first prototype is built.
Mid-Development: The fourth stage is mid-development. The 'Voice of the Customer' is heard again. Achievement against benchmark objectives is reviewed and the performance against the general specification is measured. The service specialists make their contribution. Design work is finalised and any tweaking to the product design specification is agreed and referred back to the engineers for assent and incorporation.
Tooling is ordered and the manufacturing unit starts to gear up for production. The 'Voice of the Customer' is heard yet again when the prototype is available to be driven to confirm that all expectations are met.
For the first time, Hayter has added a further trial before signing in to Gate 5; the mower is given an accelerated life test by MIRA, the leading automotive industry product engineering and testing organisation. The test procedure at MIRA starts with benchmarking a current Hayter triple mower to establish exactly how this product is operated by a customer, in real-life applications. The collected data is then interpreted into a unique test programme to which the product is then subjected. The test essentially accelerates two year's life into the space of 5-6 weeks. A wide variety of tests are applied including different types and approaches to kerb climbing, driving on cobbled roads etc. All contribute and test the product in a representative manner of real life.
Manufacturing Pilot and Project Close: Stages 5 and 6 include building the initial production units and a round up of the project as a check to ensure that all expectations, goals and objectives are met.
Audit Report: The final stage is the Audit Report, a review of the project twelve months on.