Leo B. Baldwin: Designing for One to One-Million: How Production Quantities Influence Design

A plenary talk from SPIE Optics + Photonics 2017.

24 August 2017

In this plenary session, Leo Baldwin, an inventor and engineer at Amazon, includes practical tips for how to achieve designs for just a few units, or for many, and illustrates his talk with photographs from a career of consumer inventions.

"One of the most significant factors in product design is the production quantity. Along with unit price, it determines what is possible and what is prudent in allocating resources to the engineering, to the tooling, and to the material costs," says Baldwin.

From the extreme of producing one or two units to the other extreme of producing over a million units, Baldwin discusses these trade-offs in the context of optical and photonic systems. These trade-offs are illustrated using examples of products produced for the capital equipment and consumer electronics markets covering the gamut of production quantities with particular attention given to optical components.
Baldwin had four general tips for designers:

  • Weigh your decision on using a semicustom versus a custom design.
  • Keep in mind that nonexclusive licensing may work; just don't put the item in your catalogue.
  • Consider making two versions of the unit, proprietary and licensed.
  • Most important, involve purchasing and legal departments - "and do that ASAP."

Leo Baldwin studied physics at Waterloo and modern optics at Rochester. He has spent his 37-year career designing products. Early products included missile guidance systems, reactor cores and submarines. Leo soon gravitated to photonics, designing high speed cameras, scopes, and a helicopter landing system.

Moving from government systems to commercial systems, and moving from Canada to the US, Leo began designing inspection and guidance systems, first for containers and then for electronic and semiconductor capital equipment. This lead to designing laser micro-machining systems and designing nanostructures. Leo moved to consumer electronics, designing a custom pixel, a custom sensor, and custom lenses for cell phones and tablets.

Leo is currently designing the vision-based infrastructure for a new kind of smart store where you Just Walk Out - no check-out lines! Leo's original design work has resulted in 58 US patents.

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