For more than a decade, students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been learning about product teardown. However, it’s only been in the last five years that they’ve been doing actual teardowns.  

All component parts displayed after a product teardown. Photo courtesy 2.009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We talk about needing to learn about your competitive products to understand best practice and how things are done because your goal is to be better than the competition,” says David Wallace, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT since 1995 and teacher of the class. “And now we actually go though the teardown process in the classroom.”

In this practice exercise, teams have 45 minutes to take apart a product, and, using a large pegboard, create a display that allowed an observer to easily understand the product, see what parts are in the product, and obtain information about the product and its parts. This exercise helps students organize and mobilize their teams quickly to effectively organize information.

For their product, students are asked to indicate its name, target customer, retail cost, estimated production volume, manufacture location, estimated labor cost and cost of the most expensive part. For each part, students have to provide the material, method of manufacture, estimated manufacturing cost and number of times it was used in the product. Students are supplied with mounting materials, product and part labels, guidelines for identifying plastics and estimating cost, and a digital camera and printer to use as they see fit.

“The class is a group of 15 people, and it’s broken down so different people do different tasks,” says Wallace. “You really can figure out a huge amount of product information in an hour.”

The more successful teardown displays disassemble the product into its most basic components, effectively make use of the entire pegboard space, have an organized and coherent layout and intuitive label placement, group related parts together, and feature logical use of photos to show sub-assemblies and the interaction of different parts.

To view a compressed time video of the 2009 class exercise, click on the Link below called MIT Teardown Class. [Note that the format is a .mov file, which is large and may load slowly.]