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In this service profile, Nancy Wilson, Senior Technical Lead, Gas Appliances, CSA Group provides answers to frequently asked questions about the Design Evaluation process for gas-fired products and the contribution it can make to successful product development and commercialization.
Q: What is Design Evaluation?
Nancy Wilson (NW): This is a confidential, third-party evaluation process that supports efficient and effective product design and development by manufacturers and other brand owners. Performed at the initial prototype stage, the service helps identify design flaws or other issues that could prevent the product from meeting applicable safety standards. The service also includes specialized evaluations to confirm that the product will perform properly and meet expectations of downstream customers, including distributors, retailers and consumers.
A comprehensive Design Evaluation consists of:
Product Safety Evaluation – While a Design Evaluation isn’t part of the formal safety testing and certification process, which is later performed independently by a qualified testing laboratory, this preliminary evaluation can provide advance verification that your product will meet the applicable safety requirements during formal testing and certification, sparing you potentially costly rework and retesting.
Product Performance Evaluation – Specialized performance testing is included to confirm that competitive and brand benchmarks, as well as customer expectations are met. Identifying and addressing product performance issues at the early prototype stage can mean considerable savings, sparing you launch delays, product returns, retooling expenses and brand reputation damage.
Q: Could you describe the Design Evaluation process?
NW: it begins with a thorough review of the applicable ANSI or other safety requirements, codes, protocols, plus any specific benchmarks, to understand how they affect the product. An initial evaluation is conducted to assess how the product is assembled and how it operates. Included is safety and performance testing to determine how well the product meets industry, market and proprietary requirements. An assessment of product design schematics, markings, manuals and other documentation for accuracy and completeness can also be included.
Once the initial evaluation is completed, a gap analysis is prepared, documenting and safety or performance shortfalls. A formal report presents the evaluation results allowing manufacturers to make corrections, and revised prototypes are again evaluated.
Q: Why is third-party Design Evaluation particularly valuable to internal design teams?
NW: Faced with complex design challenges, including adopting new technologies to enhance functionality and incorporating multiple new design features, the efficacy of your overall design can be compromised. Fresh insight from external, independent experts helps validate the initial product design and allow you to confidently proceed with the next stage of commercialization. This fresh insight is particularly valuable when designing an innovative new product or adding groundbreaking new technology during redesign.
Q: Can you share some real-world examples of problems Design Evaluation can prevent?
NW: We’ve regularly encountered cases where brand owners could not only save significant time and money, but have serious safety hazards avoided.
In one case, a fire pit product was designed to be used with a specific type of burner media. The manufacturer offered alternative media, creating an unforeseen safety issue. The alternative media reduced venting so that gas was dangerously retained in the burner area, especially under low wind conditions. This hazard could have been avoided if Design Evaluation had been performed.
Another case involved a propane-fired smoker where substitution for an alternative control component during production caused the flame to blow out at low heat settings. Pooling of unburned fuel at the bottom of the enclosed the vessel caused an explosion when the unit was relit. The component change became necessary when supply of the original part was discontinued. The replacement had a smaller opening in the valve that didn’t perform properly in the product design. Design Evaluation considers potential supply issues and availability of suitable alternative parts, which would have avoided this hazard situation.
Two cases involving barbecue grills that didn’t cook properly show how Design Evaluation can also identify performance concerns. The first saw a basic design flaw that led to a large number of product returns. Subsequent testing found a vent opening that was too large, resulting in high heat loss and undercooking. This costly issue would have been avoided using Design Evaluation, which would have detected and corrected this design issue prior to production.
Design Evaluation of an early grill prototype spared a second manufacturer a similar problem. During a meat cooking test, we discovered an inefficient flame tamer design impeded cooking performance. A minor design change was recommended and the problem solved before final design and subsequent product returns.
Q: Do designers tend to struggle with some basic issues more than others?
NW: Proper conversion of products from propane to natural gas is often a technical issue. Designers may not recognize the physical difference in these fuels and the impact on safe and effective design. Natural gas is lighter than propane and can be harder to keep lit. Fuel conversion kits need to anticipate and address this difference to ensure safety and performance. Different fittings, hose configurations and other components may be required. It’s also critical to ensure that airflow isn’t excessive so flames aren’t easily extinguished.
Product schematics, markings, and manuals can also be overlooked when designers are preparing for formal product safety testing and certification. Keeping documentation up to date throughout the development process can also avoid delays.
Q: What types of organizations should use the Design Evaluation service?
NW: Design Evaluation is intended to support the product development process of any brand owner responsible for product design or overseeing product design. Manufacturers, suppliers, retailers with private label products and others will benefit from this service.
Q: When in the design process should Design Evaluation take place?
NW: It should be performed before you enter the pre-production phase of product development. It is intended to identify any gaps in your product design prior to finalizing prototypes and initiating the formal safety testing and certification process. This is also the best time to identify potential construction or performance issues so they can be corrected before safety evaluation.
Design Evaluation is part of a broad portfolio of product evaluation services offered by CSA Group to help product manufacturers, retailers, importers and other brand owners streamline their product development cycles to get products to market more efficiently. Learn more at www.csagroup.org.