Smaller. Lighter. Cheaper. Stronger. Faster.
Manufacturing design teams live and die based on their ability to build better products at a quicker pace.
What's wild is that right now, the pace of innovation is accelerating at unprecedented, breakneck speed. That's tricky business for an industry laser-focused on efficiency.
The National Academies Press says that two of the major trends for manufacturing leaders to watch through 2020 are a "competitive climate, enhanced by communication and knowledge sharing," as well as "the development of innovative process technologies (that) will change both the scope and scale of manufacturing."
From medical device companies to energy manufacturers and from automobile makers to aerospace and defense sectors, finding additional ways to drive down costs and improve time to market while consistently delivering high-quality products will be necessary. And this requires new ways of thinking, like revamping processes to condense workflows. Or, finding new tools and methods that shake up the standard approach to design.
One fundamental change to consider: Increasing collaboration among teams to design in parallel. It's a two-fold effort that requires:
Creating design processes that truly support cooperative work and using technology built to facilitate efforts in tandem.
Today's design process moves one slow inch at a time
First, let's look at today's design process.
Traditionally, manufacturing design happens in a linear fashion. Someone comes up with a great new idea and sketches out the concept. Then, an initial design is created that may go through several iterations before proper fit, form and function is achieved. Next, the design is optimized further through design validation with simulation analysis and prototype testing.
From there, the design is released to manufacturing to begin programming CNC machines, making molds, and planning production automation. Packaging and labeling decisions are made while owner's manuals are created; this often requires a studio, disassembly, and hiring models and photographers, which presents its own challenges if training materials are developed while engineering changes are still happening. All the while, finance experts keep tabs on spend and projections, applying pressure to the design experts to find ways to reduce cost.
Throughout this effort, design changes and revisions continue with the intent to perfect the product and reduce the costs of manufacturing before it goes into mass production. Along the way, support teams constantly have to adjust and edit their work to stay current with the latest model.
The disjointed workflow means that product teams sometimes use incorrect or outdated parts, that information isn't always accessible and causes rework, and that one team is waiting on another to complete their work before they can get rolling.
Work gets done one slow step at a time. Important information is kept in silos, and there are a host of dependencies that lengthen the overall design lifecycle. Adding to that, designers, engineers and other employees often work singularly.
It's like everyone is riding their own bicycle. Slowly. In separate races.
Organizations with distributed design teams feel the impact of this kludgy workflow exponentially. And all of that inefficiency drives up costs and elongates timelines.
Ride in tandem to speed and align efforts
So, how can manufacturing design benefit from new tools and processes that heighten collaboration? It's like riding a bike — tandem one, to be more specific.
Bicycles built for more multiple riders are faster, more stable, and simplify rider communication. They're also designed to take advantage of the variable strengths of each rider while creating less physiological stress. And tandem enthusiasts swear that riding in teams is more fun than going it alone.
Apply those capabilities to manufacturing design, and you can easily see the efficiencies when design processes work in tandem and efforts across teams are strategically aligned. Driving the product development process gets a lot easier.
Today's emerging CAD, CAM and CAE technology supports the collaborative workflow needed to make a significant impact on the design lifecycle, improving operational efficiencies and reducing costs, too.
With continuing advancements in these tools, work can become a shared process among teams. Secure vault servers provide repositories of CAD, CAM and CAE files that can be accessed quickly and efficiently across offices anywhere in the world, so multiple teams can share work with assemblies, parts and drawings to complete their tasks in tandem. As one engineer works on proving out the design, another team can take files and conduct stress analysis.
Together, the teams can review differences between versions of parts, drawings and drawing parts, and swiftly address design optimizations and improvements, including configurable design variables.
Product Data and Lifecycle Management (PDM/PLM) tools manage a dynamic set of engineering files that maintain a history of design changes and helps ensure teams are always working from the most recent data and creating the most recent part. When someone checks in project files, these files are immediately accessible to those with permissions to view them; the right people see the right files at the right time.
PDM and cloud-based solutions help keep track of revision history and engineering change orders in a database for various project certification requirements. This data can provide access to accurate and up-to-date parts lists, making life on the purchasing agent easier. Leveraging this technology allows for a compressed timeline that gives teams access to the information they need to step in sooner.
With this heightened ability to work faster and more collaboratively, weeks — perhaps even months — can be shaved from the design phase.
And that translates to a trifecta of improvements that every manufacturing organization needs to stay ahead of its competitors: cost savings, operational efficiencies and accelerated time to market.
Drive operational efficiency — and competitive advantage
Navigating this shift requires both commitment and investment.
As PwC says in "2017 Industrial Manufacturing Trends," "to take advantage of digitization, industrial manufacturers need new operating models, aggressive hiring, smart partnerships, and targeted investments."
Evolving the design process may mean that you need to revamp how teams are organized to bring employees with different skillsets closer together. And it may also mean advancing manufacturing design technology that's built around collaborative user experience and workflow, including solutions that are cloud-based to deliver the right information to teams instantaneously to keep them productive. You'll also need to make sure you get the most from your workers and your technology through education and training, to help them take full advantage of the new processes and technology.
The truth is, a bicycle can't stand on its own. Neither can your teams. Think in tandem to make lasting change.
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