Product Engineering vs Product Development: What is the Difference?

The terms “engineering” and “development” often get lumped together. However, while these concepts are closely related, there’s actually a key difference between product engineering vs. product development. Product development is an umbrella term that covers every step of the product creation process from start to completion (including the engineering stage). Meanwhile, product engineering is more specific. Most engineers consider the practical aspects of designs and prototypes, like cost, functionality, structure, mechanics, ergonomics, and safety.

Why is this nuanced distinction important to understand? Knowing precisely what product engineers do opens the door to collaboration between engineers and the businesses that hire them. You can work together with engineers to develop a product that is innovative and user-friendly. With this goal in mind, here’s everything you need to know about the relationship between product engineering vs. product development.

Product engineering vs product development

The Difference Between Product Engineering vs Product Development 

Product engineers and product developers have the same end goal: to create a final product that addresses a need. However, the way they approach this goal can differ slightly. For example, product developers or project managers may consider the business side of the product design process. This includes performing marketing research and finding gaps in the market long before the first design iteration is even made.

By comparison, product engineers usually get involved after this marketing research has been performed. Their clients typically have an idea in mind already and at least have a general sense of what their customers want in a product. It’s the engineer’s job to determine the best course of action to design, prototype, test, and manufacture that product, so it reaches customers and does what’s expected of it.

However, product developers care about all of these details too. So, the real difference between product engineering vs. product development is that development is an all-encompassing process, while engineering is an aspect of that process. To design an effective product, you need team members who can consider marketability and other big picture factors as well as engineers who understand the practical considerations involved. Product engineering and product development work in tandem to create marketable products that are as functional and cost-effective as they are engaging to customers.

Product development 3D modelProduct Engineering is Vital to the Development Process 

Without product engineering, the entire product development process comes to a screeching halt. It’s one thing to have an idea for a new product and a promising marketing strategy—you also need a well-crafted product to back it up.

The best product engineers play a greater role in the overarching development process than you might imagine. They don’t just copy over a design into CAD software and 3D print a working prototype from it. Many engineers are actually involved very early in the product development process and work collaboratively to help clients come up with the most effective design for manufacturing. They oversee all of the practical details from the idea to final manufacturing and shipping. They even have a say over the budget and timeline, as they know the cost of different types of materials and approximately how long it will take to complete each step in the development cycle.

To understand the difference between complex product engineering vs. product development as a whole, take a look at just a few of the most notable tasks engineers perform themselves.

✅ Design Conception 

Deciding precisely what the functions of the product should be based on marketability data, end-user surveys, and client feedback. Usually, engineers come up with multiple design options to support simultaneous rapid prototype iterations. They then analyze the functionality of each design and choose one final design to prototype, test, and manufacture.

✅ Materials Analysis

Engineers use their experience and knowledge of prototyping materials to identify the best ones for the design. This may be based on functional needs like making the prototype water-resistant. Or, it could be based on aesthetics like color or texture. It can even be based on cost and availability. Most engineers consider all of these factors to find materials that are functional, attractive, and cost-effective.

✅ Safety

Before developing a prototype, engineers will consider safety factors like material toxicity, durability, choking hazards, safety mechanisms for moving parts, and environmental impact. They repeat this analysis throughout the product development process.

✅ Testing

Engineers perform quality control tests on prototypes, including fatigue tests, structural analysis, heat transfer, and more. They’ll return to the design process if any of these tests fail.

✅ User-Friendliness 

Engineers will analyze ergonomics and other user needs. This is typically done on working prototypes that have already passed all safety and structural tests. Engineers will then go back and repeat all of these tests if they make any changes to the design based on user feedback.

✅ Cost and Timeline 

After a working prototype is ready to be manufactured on a larger scale, engineers will analyze the cost of manufacturing as well as the development timeline. They will have already considered this during the design stage, but as one final step, they will also identify ways to streamline the manufacturing process to reduce costs and time to market. This may include using CNC machines, 3D printers, rapid tooling, or durable molds that can be used multiple times to produce components quickly.

With this in mind, there isn’t a solid distinction between product engineering vs. product development. They are in fact two sides of the same coin that support one another from design to manufacturing. This is why you need both a collaborative team of engineers and forward-thinking project managers on your side.

Product development and product engineeringHow to Engineer and Develop Products Effectively 

The most effective way to create a new product is to work with engineers who are also skilled product developers capable of considering the bigger picture. Some contract manufacturers focus solely on the engineering side of the manufacturing equation. They’ll manufacture a design without collaborating with clients on the design itself or considering whether the design fits in with the client’s overarching marketing strategy. The problem with this method is that there may be a flaw in the design that the client and manufacturer have overlooked and that will negatively affect sales once the product hits the market.

You can expect more from your contract manufacturer. You don’t have to decide between product engineering vs. product development when the manufacturer has extensive experience with both processes. Their team of engineers should feel just as comfortable speaking with you about the logistics, like structural integrity and tolerance calculations, as they are discussing the marketability of your design and whether that design is driven by customers’ needs. Good engineering combines empirical know-how and complex design philosophy. The right contract manufacturer and team of engineers will help you develop products that meet a wide range of expectations, both from a practical standpoint and a customer-driven one.

Pacific Research Laboratories offers comprehensive product engineering and product development services to a wide range of industries. We have an experienced team of engineers who will work closely with you to solidify your vision, create multiple design iterations, make working prototypes, and thoroughly test every design before the manufacturing stage begins. To begin designing your next product, visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.