Most of the students who take my Executive MBA class are working for companies that have an ocean and several time zones between their R&D and manufacturing teams. They’ll spend their careers looking for ways to close the gap in their supply chain so their companies can move faster, work more efficiently, and be more competitive.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the old concept of throwing a design “over the wall” to manufacturing is not feasible in a world where most companies are moving at warp speed, and introducing new products at a furious pace to meet global demand. Design and manufacturing teams need to be joined at the hip to keep up. The key is to make it easy for upstream teams to address downstream requirements in the earliest phases of design. Design teams know that it’s the right thing to do, they just need good tools. Here are four that have had a major impact on supply chain optimization at Keysight.
- Design guidelines
Awhile back, we developed a process at Keysight that automates the wire-bonding of microcircuits. The process boosts production throughput—but only if boards are laid out correctly. If a bonding pad is off by even a couple of millimeters, then the automated arm can’t access the pad, and production is delayed while the design is reworked. That kind of scenario is why design guidelines are needed. Design guidelines provide detailed specifications so designers know their layouts are compatible with downstream processes. These are living documents: When an unforeseen event triggers a rework cycle, the guidelines are updated to eliminate the problem from future production runs. Design guidelines have the added advantage of getting designers and production engineers talking. Both sides have an equal voice in updating the guidelines, so if anyone sees an opportunity to improve efficiency or save steps, their input can be incorporated into the workflow. That kind of cross-discipline dialog expands institutional knowledge and ultimately reduces time, rework, and headaches on both ends.
- Preferred parts database
A preferred parts database (PPD) helps R&D teams quickly select parts that will work in their designs. The database should include known-good parts that are reliable, available, and can be purchased cost effectively. It saves design time by streamlining the decision-making process, and improves design quality by allowing R&D teams to focus on design refinements rather than part selection. Like the design guidelines, this also is a living document. The new product introduction (NPI) engineering team is responsible for keeping it up to date, and that can be a challenge. A preferred part can become a non-preferred part overnight if, for example, the supplier discontinues the part. Keeping the list current in real time saves design cycles later in the process.
- Common components
When I started working at Hewlett-Packard in the early ‘80s, we had hundreds of 100-ohm resistors in our inventory. Keysight has a handful. By using a common set of components across multiple product lines and platforms, we save time and money in much the same way that automotive manufacturers gain efficiencies by sharing parts across models. It can be a hard sell with R&D teams. Designers often have visibility into a range of parts for a given function, so they may know of a cheaper part than the one being recommended in the PPD or common component library. In some cases, the savings may look significant. My advice: Hold the line and trust your database. Introducing a new part into inventory means setting up, managing, and supporting a new part number. If it’s a one-off part, it will have low usage and no economies from buying in volume. And adding a part affects how other parts are used, so you may reduce volume purchasing power and increase your unit cost on other parts. If and when you do add components, make sure they have application across multiple product lines and thoroughly evaluate the business case and related costs.
- Rapid prototyping process
When you’re developing a new product, R&D will have ideas they want to try, and will turn to manufacturing to build prototypes for testing. If R&D and manufacturing are in different time zones, you might burn a couple of weeks on each prototype to learn that a design is not quite right or an idea is not feasible; co-located teams can often find out in hours or minutes. Colocation not only speeds new designs into volume production but also improves the quality of your products since you can evaluate more ideas in the limited time you have.
Integrating design and manufacturing has far-reaching cultural and operational implications. It requires a shift in thinking at the management level and a change in workflow for design and manufacturing teams. That may sound like a heavy lift, but as I tell my MBA students, the right tools make it easy. In any case, it’s a fact of life in our global economy. The business benefits of integrating design and manufacturing are undeniable, which is why nearly every company I talk to is heading in that direction.
PatHarper is Vice President at Keysight Technologies and an adjunct professor teaching global supply chain management in the Executive MBA program at Sonoma State University and Project Management in the Executive MBA program at the University of San Francisco.