Design Reuse

How Many ECOs are Preventable?

By | Design Reuse, Manufacturing, PLM | 2 Comments

Engineering change orders – ECOs, ECNs, ECRs – however you call them, are a key activity during design and volume ramp up stages, and usually continue throughout the product lifecycle. In many organizations, ECOs are the heartbeat of the product development process, indicating how well the organization defines and implements requirements, follows design guidelines, understands and implements manufacturability best practices, and meets quality standards. I have worked with manufacturing companies that even use the ongoing number of ECOs to measure design maturity, i.e. when it is ready to start transitioning to manufacturing. I disagree with this methodology, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

Fundamentally, ECOs reflect errors in requirements definition, design or manufacturing. They indicate waste. ECOs are disruptive and resource intensive, and mature organizations should make an effort to minimize the frequency and impact of ECOs.

Admittedly, with the time and resource pressures most manufacturing organizations face, some ECOs are perhaps inescapable, at least not in any business-practical way.  On the other hand, research shows that many ECOs are the result in poor adherence to well-known best practices, overzealous engineering, and nonconformance with downstream guidelines and resources, all issues that should be easy to circumvent.

ECOs are Prevantable

I recently reviewed an analysis of more than 2,000 ECOs created over the course of three months at an industrial equipment manufacturing company. The chart shows the breakdown of ECOs believed to be preventable using reasonable process improvement efforts and those that are “inherent” to the process. The data suggests that nearly 70% of the ECOs fall undECO Analysiser “preventable” categories.

This company has implemented some of the best practices described here and in my blog post on a related topic. The detailed financial analysis of potential savings goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but a conservative estimate suggests that this company is positioned to save approximately $15M annually. Process improvement and saving opportunities in your organization are going to be different, and you’d need to perform a similar analysis to estimate the potential savings that an improved process will yield, but I believe that 30-50% reduction in the number of ECOs is a practical target.

Join me to discuss the topic and the opportunities during an upcoming webinar.

What is the Difference Between Design for X (DFX) and Concurrent Engineering (CE)?

By | Design Reuse, Manufacturing, PLM | No Comments

After reading my blog on DFX, a client asked about the difference between DFX and concurrent engineering (CE). In principle, CE is a process structure that can enable and support DFX, but in itself, many CE practices tend to emphasize the process much more so than the outcomes.  There’s usually some discussion of the need to identify and resolve problems before they are locked into the design, but it seems that those charts that show the cost to fix an error relative the product’s development phase have been around for so long that we have become numb.

One important practice of CE involves the formation of cross-functional teams. This allows engineers and managers of different disciplines that have different goals and constraints to collaborate in order to optimize multidisciplinary decisions: design, engineering, supply chain, manufacturing and service.  Companies that excel in CE and leverage concurrent engineering to optimize design and manufacturing operations:

  • Maintain cross product centers of excellence (COC)
  • Use advanced software tools for simulation, including digital manufacturing
  • Maintain a “live” knowledge base of design rules and best practices systematically
  • Promote systems and data interoperability, including master data management and common taxonomies

On September 5 I will host a webinar in which I will discuss this topic and present several case studies. You can register to attend the webinar here: Reduce Costly Design Mistakes Through an Automated Approach to DFx.


Design For Excellence: How Manufacturers Reduce Costly Design Mistakes

By | Design Reuse, Manufacturing, PLM, Quality, Reliability, Strategy | 4 Comments

QualityIn the course of designing and manufacturing new products, engineers often make costly design mistakes. They do not design the correct functionality, choose components that do not meet reliability requirements, create designs that are difficult to manufacture and service, and, in effort to correct these mistakes, they often miss time and budget expectations.

Good PDP (product development process) practices dictate that design and manufacturability mistakes are to be captured during design reviews, prototyping and early manufacturing runs. Still, too many errors aren’t identified and corrected in time, before the product is shipped, as is frequently made evident by poor product quality, high rate of warranty claims and product recalls, and expensive repair services.

My work with several manufacturing companies shows that many design mistakes are completely avoidable, and as many could have been discovered and rectified before they resulted in manufacturing problems and product failures, forced massive recalls, and tarnished the brand’s image. For example, a high tech manufacturer redesigned a plastic enclosure to improve airflow. However, the design change led to reduction in the thickness of one of the enclosure’s walls, which, in turn, produced high rate of defective enclosures during manufacturing, and subpar quality of fielded units.

The important point in this story is that the theory and practice of plastic molding is well understood, and mistakes such as inadequate wall thickness or neglecting to include support ribs should happen only infrequently, or, at least, be detected and rectified early in product development, before volume manufacturing, reducing the cost of scrap and retooling, and improving overall productivity of engineers that should focus on innovation and design rather than on managing engineering changes to correct avoidable design errors.

There are many reasons why designers make such obvious errors. In an environment where demand for faster time to market under reduced budgets and lean resources dictates rapid cadence of innovation, such error are easy to miss. And we should assume that these pressures will not ease any time soon; quite the opposite. As design complexity and the use of new material and processes continue to increase in order to stay competitive, so will the strain to accelerate innovation and time to market. Moreover, the aging of the experienced workforce is resulting in gradual attrition in practical design and manufacturing knowledge that is not easily replaceable by the low supply of well-educated yet inexperienced design and manufacturing engineers.

There are, of course, many manufacturing companies that are taking active steps to reduce the occurrences of avoidable costly mistakes. Working with these companies, I have identified the 5 key areas successful companies excel in:

  • Frontload Decisions. This is an old advice that is still as relevant as it has ever been. All product lifecycle related considerations, including manufacturability (as we discussed earlier), supply chain, service and product end of life should be evaluated and optimized early in the design. PDP practices are typically implemented as a linear forward-feeding process, which can delay critical decisions concerning downstream activities, such as manufacturability and maintainability. Good product lifecycle management practices brings all requirements and constraints, which often can be in conflict – for instance, the airflow vs. manufacturability example I presented earlier – and reach an optimal solution. I often refer to this as DFX: Design for Multidisciplinary Constraints, or, if you prefer: Design for Excellence.
  • Standardize Designs and Processes; Maximize Reuse. One of the bigger challenges I encounter in many companies is the insatiable urge to innovate, to come up with new designs, to do things differently. These are all important traits. At the same time, smart companies are careful not to innovate for innovation sake. When practical, these companies make sure to standardize design elements and manufacturing processes so that they can avoid repeating mistakes of the past, and when errors do occur, they can be identified and corrected swiftly.
  • Implement Best Practices. This is an easy advice to follow, yet not many do. Engineering, Manufacturing, Quality, and practically everyone in your product team has perspective and experience that might be worth incorporating in design guidelines throughout the product lifecycle.
  • Unify Methods and Tools. The complexity and multidisciplinary nature of product design today demands the use of several design and analysis tools to help product engineers assess the design from multiple perspectives simultaneously: functionality, cost, reliability, manufacturability, serviceability and several others. These should be synthesized into a single decision-making framework to create a complete, accurate and up to date context for higher-fidelity design decisions. By implementing a formal DFX workbench and applying complex multidisciplinary design rules objectively and consistently, companies are able to make better design trade-off decisions, identify opportunities for design reuse, apply best practices, and improve engineering productivity.
  • Maximize Communication and Collaboration. The multidisciplinary nature of product design and the increasingly elongated and often fragmented design and supply chains strain product companies. Effective collaboration in product design, manufacturing and quality management are critical. Here, again, a unified framework for encapsulating best practices, both formal and informal, can help to create an effective and agile design
    and manufacturing environment.

Obviously, different companies take different approaches and use different tools to accomplish these objectives, but it appears that independent of the tools, companies implementing a structured approach to DFX realize similar benefits:

  • Reduce the time and cost required to achieve quality targets
  • Reduce the number of design and prototyping iterations
  • Achieve faster time to market
  • Reduce occurrences and impact of manufacturing line downtime
  • Reduce manual effort handling quality spills

One such manufacturing company that I studied conducted a detailed benefits analysis of its DFX implementation and reported the following results:

  • 20% reduction in cycle time
  • 50% reduction in station space
  • 92% reduction in line downtime
  • 52% reduction in scrap

On September 5 I will host a webinar in which I will discuss this topic and present several case studies. You can register to attend the webinar here: Reduce Costly Design Mistakes Through an Automated Approach to DFx.


On Design Reuse

By | Aerospace, Automotive, Design Reuse, PLM | No Comments

For years I have been preaching for higher level of design reuse in the automotive industry — an industry that inexplicably insists that every bolt, bracket and belt has to be unique to each model. And from time to time, a part used in one model year does not fit other model years.pReusing parts is not only helping reduce manufacturing and dealer inventory, but can also accelerate product design, improve quality and reduce manufacturing cost.

The automotive industry is slowly coming to the realization that it needs to do a much better job in focusing on meaningful and differentiating innovation and reuse existing design whenever possible. Two OEMs that I often single out as leading the pack in designing multiple models based on a single platform that allows high level of reuse are Ford and Volkswagen. But recently I found out first hand that VW does not always follow what it preaches.

My brand new Passat had a minor pressure leak in the fuel system that was probably caused by a faulty fuel filler cap. The dealer’s service department had a Passat cap in inventory, but, as it turned out, Volkswagen engineeres decided to use different fuel caps in cars equipped with 2L engine and in models using larger engines; it did not fit my car with a 3.6L V6 engine.

I am really curious to understand why VW engineers were not able to use the same fuel filler cap on all 2012 Passats (actually, why not the same cap in all VW and Audi models?)

The solution was to commandeer a cap from one of the new cars in inventory.  The new cap seems to have solved the problem. Thanks for asking.


Is Dassault Systèmes’ Target Zero Defect a Realistic Goal?

By | Aerospace, Automotive, Design Reuse, Manufacturing, PLM, Quality, Reliability | No Comments

Dassault Systèmes announced the launch of “Target Zero Defect,” an industry solution for the automotive industry the company argues will “enable zero defects across the entire product development process”, although it offers no details as of how this “industry solution” actually works.  While a noble ambition, it is an impractical goal.
It’s not that the auto industry is incapable of building much higher quality products. The problem stems from the fact that 70% or so of a car value is delivered by multitude of large and small suppliers, and the automotive supply chain is complex and fragmented. Couple these with the pressure to get new cars to market faster and at low cost, and you realize that “zero defects” is an unattainable goal.
Said differently, “zero defects” does not necessarily represent a sound business strategy. Improving product quality is critical to maintain brand leadership and contain warranty and repair costs, but, at the same time, overdoing it will lead to longer time to market and escalating engineering and manufacturing costs.
Lofty aspirations aside, Dassault does get it right when highlighting the critical need to provide digital continuity and collaborative environment from concept through final assembly and into aftermarket service. This digital thread is the foundation that automakers should use to improve two major weaknesses in today’s product development practice.

Design Reuse. The automotive industry is an overzealous innovator. While innovation for product differentiation, cost reduction or safety enhancement is important, there are dozens of parts and systems that can be carried over from one design to the next, resulting in considerable saving. (See a related blog entry.)

Process Agility. Instead of the absolute “zero defect” campaign, automakers should improve their ability to detect and react quickly to design problems. They need to apply more effective simulation and test strategies to control reliability problems, use analytics to detect issues sooner and more precisely, enable context for root cause analysis, and contain the volume of impact vehicle.

In many ways, Dassault is highlighting a critical industry need, one that can be improved by implementing an effective PLM strategy that spans multiple engineering disciplines and product lifecycle phases. The challenge Dassault will face that this approach requires automakers to make some fundamental changes in the way the manage product development, which they are unlikely to be too enthusiastic about.