Product Development Terms and What They Mean

In product development, like most industries, it has its own acronyms. Some are well known like CAD or 3D, but some are not quite as common to everyday lexicon.

Here is a list of some you may here along the way when you talk to professionals in this field. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list nor to fully explain the terms.

If more information is needed, please feel free to ask your product development team or consult the Google.  

General Process Terms

PD – Product Development, the process of designing a product for production

PM – Project Management, general tasks needed to keep the project moving forward, usually a team leader is responsible for this set of tasks.

NDA – Non Disclosure Agreement, is a legal contract between at least two parties that outlines confidential material or information that the parties wish to share with one another but wish to restrict access to or by third parties.

Industrial Design Terms

ID (Industrial Design) – the creative act of determining a product’s form and features that results in a manufacturable product.

Concepts or Concept Design – sketches or basic models to communicate the idea. Often more than one design will be presented or evaluated.

Requirements or Product Requirements – list or document outlining what attributes the product will need to satisfy the user or problem it is trying to solve.

Specs or Specifications – a document that describes all technical details of a product or part.  

Focus Groups – a group of people assembled to give their opinions about the product. 

Renderings – high quality images of a product that usually does not exist yet, meant to show form and aesthetics.

Thumbnail Sketches – preliminary product sketches that show basic form or details of a product to communicate ideas.

Iterations – design changes to explore ideas or refine the design.

Engineering Terms

ME (Mechanical Engineering) – this is a broad term in general, but for product development it means CAD development of parts and assemblies. It can include stress analysis, flow analysis, DFA, DFM, drawings, tolerance analysis, etc.

Mechanisms – parts of a product that are mechanical and often have moving parts. This might include levers, gears, sliding features, etc.

EE (Electrical Engineering) – this is the design of the electrical components, PCBs, software programming, interface programming, and so on. Any product that has batteries or a power source will require some level of electrical engineering.

PCB (Printed Circuit Board) – used to hold components in an electrical assembly.

In-House – commonly used in terms of a process being done in-house. This means having the capabilities to do the function within the company without having to outsource it.

Database – CAD files of parts and assemblies that show how parts fit together, what parts are needed and (sometimes) how they move in relation to each other.

3D Data – see Database.

Detail Design – features such as draft and radii are important to proper plastic design. These and many details like them need to be complete to finalize the part or assembly design in CAD.

JPG – common graphic format for images. A .jpg is a comparatively small file size that can be viewed by most computer or mobile devices.

CAD (Computer Aided Design) – creating parts and assemblies of a product in 3D to show size, shape, volume, relationships, etc.

IGS (International Graphic Standard) – a common 3D file format that most vendors can read to create manufacturable parts.

STEP – a common 3D file format that most vendors can read to create manufacturable parts.

PDF (Portable Document Format) – a common document format that most devices can easily read. This is a commonly used for sharing product drawings.

DFA (Design for Assembly) – designing parts that are easily assembled to keep cost as low as possible.

DFM (Design for Manufacturing) – designing parts that are easy to manufacturing to keep the cost as low as possible.

Prototype Terms

SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus) – a prototyping process where by a laser is used to cure a liquid in layers to build up a part from a CAD model.

SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) – a prototyping process where by a laser is used to cure a powder material in layers to build up a part from a CAD model. This can be used while engineering plastic, metal, rubber, etc.  

FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) – an additive prototyping process whereby a thin line of material is extruded in layers to build up a part from a CAD model.

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) – a process where a computer controlled milling machine will cut material from a CAD database. Additional programming is required, but the CAD model is necessary for any complex shapes.

Hard Model – this can me made from wood or any solid material to show outside shape with minimal function. It may be painted to look realistic, or unpainted to show size and shape only.

Functional Prototype – this prototype is meant to show how a product or part of a product might work in production. This may be done to test ergonomics, field testing and/or to get feedback from users.

Breadboard – this is term for a rough prototype. Something one might make in their garage from common components. Meant to show function of a product without regard to aesthetics.

Production Terms

Off the shelf – pieces of a model or product that can be purchased without needing any custom modifications.

Injection Molding – a manufacturing process where plastic is injected into a tool to create a predesigned shape.  

Draft – when designing parts for injection molding, side walls and internal features need to be angled slightly to make the parts easier to get out of the mold. Parts with vertical walls will stick to the mold and not allow the parts to be ejected. The texture on the vertical surfaces will effect how much draft is necessary to eject the parts easily.

Undercut – a feature in a plastic part (like a hook or snap) that will require extra tooling to create.  

Lifters and Slides – extra parts of a plastic injection mold tool that are needed to create undercut features.  

Regulatory Testing – testing needed to be done on production or near production parts to certify the product and allow it to be manufactured and sold. This can be required for electrical products, UL testing. Medical products may need a wide variety of testing such as FDA certification.  

Drop Testing – many products are drop tested to see if they can withstand impact without failure. This may be a 48” drop for many hand held products, or a drop from a much greater height for industrial or military grade products.  


Daniel TagtowDaniel Tagtow – Partner

Dan has been with Innovate for more than 15 years and in Product Development for 25+.

He is passionate about product design with a background in both Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering. Dan enjoys pushing SolidWorks’ and its surfacing tools to their limit to give his clients the very best possible product.

Have a question or comment for him? Dan is pretty easy to find over on LinkedIn.

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