The first step was to identify a half-dozen changes that would put Simplicity ahead of its competition. When Simplicity Manufacturing, Inc., set out to design a better version of its 5200 Series lawn tractor, Simplicity’s strategy was simple: talk, listen, and cut.
“We started out with a seed project,” says John Brackin, vice president of engineering for the Port Washington, Wis.based company. “We spent much time talking with, and listening to, our dealers discuss ways they thought the tractor could be improved.”
During this time, Simplicity was also busy conducting mowing tests with competitors’ products.
After several months of investigating the strengths and weaknesses of its product and competitors’ products, Simplicity developed a “hit list” of changes it wanted to incorporate to achieve a new standard of quality.
* Height adjustment mechanism for selecting any cutting height from 1 in. to 3 1/2, in. to match cutting heights of walk behind mowers.
* Wider, deeper decks for better cutting and discharge.
* Mounting system that permits easy removal of the deck and changing of attachments without tools.
* Automatic transmission instead of mechanical clutching system in answer to changing demographics (more women and teenagers are using lawn tractors).
* Tighter turning radius to cut trimming time and eliminate the need for a walk-behind mower.
* Larger fuel tank (twice the size) positioned in rear of tractor to eliminate the spilling of gas on the hood.
* Ergonomic design to accomodate people ranging from the 5th percentile woman 5’2″, 100 lbs.) to the 95th percentile man 6’2″, 220 lbs.).
* Streamlined shape and form that make it stand out in dealer showrooms.
* Paint finish that shows well under fluorescent lights as well as natural light in dealer showrooms.
Team E – U – C – L – I – D
Everything about Simplicity’s redesign effort was given careful considerationeven the naming of the project.
“Something that will be burned in my mind forever was this product’s code name: EUCLID,” says Mic Schemelin, senior project engineer.
Schemelin says the name reflected what the project team set out to accomplish.
‘E’ was for easy-to-build; U’ for unique features; C’ for capital costs, because we wanted to control tooling costs; L’ for limits placed on product specification costs; I’ for in time for fall of 1989; and D’ for dealer input.”
At the onset of the project, June 1987, Schemelin says Simplicity engineers concentrated on analyzing the functions of component parts and assembly methods.
“We spent a considerable amount of time looking at manuals, taking the product apart, looking at how it was put together, determining parts that could be multifunctional, and deciding where fasteners could be eliminated.” Achieving the look
While Simplicity engineers investigated ways to design a better lawn tractor, Simplicity also involved Renquist/ Associates, a Racine, Wis.-based industrial design firm.
“We provided a framework with motor, tires and a steering wheel to Bruce Renquist,” says Schemelin. “This was used as a styling model.
“Then we had a series of meetings to discuss where Renquist/Associates was going with the look and how our engineers were going to achieve it.”
“This team involvement was marvelous,” says Bruce Renquist, president of the design firm. “It gave us the ability to generate superior product in a shorter time.
“Instead of a linear process in which specs are developed by marketing, then handed over to engineering to interpret, then turned over to manufacturing, we were getting that input throughout the process,” says Renquist.
“When we would make a design change, manufacturing was involved because they needed to evaluate the tooling implication.
“For example, when we were investigating whether or not to tool a new throttle lever, we went through the process of mocking up the old throttle and the new throttle. Ultimately, the decision was to tool up because of the apparent value of the new throttle design.”
Marketing was there offering its input, too, says Jim Myers, Simplicity’s vice president of international marketing and OEM sales.
“As our marketing arm, I would get together with the project team when it reached a checkpoint to help decide matters affecting styling and serviceability.
“When it came to deciding how to enclose the engine compartment, marketing’s concern was to make sure it was done in a way that a dealer wouldn’t spend a lot of time getting at it.”
This cooperative spirit is something Simplicity will strive to duplicate in future redesign efforts, says John Brackin, the firm’s vice president of engineering.
“The chemistry between members of the project team was so favorable, they were high on themselves as well as the product.
“As we launch other DFM efforts our chinning bar will keep moving up in terms of expectations.