Design-to-Cost vs. Target Costing: A Look at Product Cost Management


Product cost management is an important process for every product development team, but the method you use could have widely different effects on your results.

Most engineering design and product development teams understand that the success of their product — and the happiness of their stakeholders — relies greatly on an effective cost management process. It’s so important that many teams use cost management software and even hire cost engineers.

Product cost management helps teams estimate and monitor product development costs from the original planning phase all the way to production. Managing all of these product costs helps organizations stay on budget, make design decisions, determine pricing structure, and estimate market share.

There are many considerations that go into product cost management, but there are a few key methods for approaching the process as a whole.

What is the traditional product cost approach?

Traditionally, after a new product goes through initial development stages, organizations get cost estimates from manufacturers. If at this stage the projected materials and manufacturing costs are too high, organizations will either try to build these costs into the price or send the product back to development. If it’s the latter, engineers will be tasked with changing aspects of the design (removing unnecessary parts, reducing the complexity of features, finding alternative materials, etc.) to make the product cheaper to produce. Once the product design attributes meet the desired cost, it will be sent on to production.

The main alternatives to traditional product costing are target costingdesign-to-cost, and design-to-value methods.

→ Discover how to estimate manufacturing costs for your product designs in our SOLIDWORKS Costing E-Guide!

What are the target costing and design-to-cost methods?

Target costing and design-to-cost are cost management methods focused on establishing cost requirements from the get-go. These requirements will serve as a baseline for making decisions in the product development process. This cost-focused approach enables product development teams to save time and reduce costs in the design phase by avoiding rework down the road. Target costing and design-to-cost require a level of foresight and skill to understand how a product can be manufactured at low cost while maintaining quality.

→ Check out SolidProfessor’s online engineering courses on Design for Manufacturing to start understanding how to optimize your designs for downstream processes!

How is design-to-cost different from target costing?

Target costing and design-to-cost are so similar that they are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are a few key differences to be aware of, especially if you’re an engineer.

  1. Target costing can refer to a more all-encompassing approach (e.g. including administrative and marketing activities), but design-to-cost focuses specifically on the design phase of product development.
  2. Target costing is typically used with a specified target cost number in mind. Instead of trying to reach a defined cost target, design-to-cost is a method for “considering cost as a design parameter in your product development activities.” In other words, design-to-cost is about treating product costs as an important design element and not an afterthought.
→ Using the Design-to-Cost method is a key opportunity for design engineers to make an impact. Discover how in our free ebook.

What is design-to-value?

In contrast with design-to-cost is the design-to-value method. While design-to-cost creates value for product development teams and manufacturers, the design-to-value methodology seeks to create the most value for customers. This means designing products to have the highest quality and functionality with little regard to product costs. Design-to-value is also focused on during the design phase of the process, like design-to-cost.

To sum it up, the goal of design-to-cost is to compete on price, while design-to-value products compete on quality.

Which product cost management method is best?

The right product cost management method to use depends on your organization’s needs. Traditional product costing can easily become inefficient, so at the very least, it’s worth evaluating if design-to-cost or design-to-value could be more beneficial.

If your customers are willing to pay a higher price, then taking a design-to-value approach could result in higher returns for your business. However, as in many scenarios, it’s easier to add than to take away. It can be a challenge to strip away features if the costs end up prohibitively high.

For many organizations, design-to-cost can provide a significant savings advantage. As mentioned previously, traditional product costing leaves cost decisions until the production stage of product development. At that point, only about 10-15% of total costs can be manipulated for wiggle room. Meaning, over 80% of product costs are committed during the design and development phases. This presents a huge opportunity for engineering design teams to make an impact on time and cost savings by optimizing their designs.

Claire Juozitis
About the Author

SolidProfessor commercial content writer and unironic classic rock record collector