Using Concurrent Engineering for Better Results

IMG_4002Broadly speaking, there are two general approaches to product engineering: the “silo” approach, and the “concurrent engineering” approach. At OCM Manufacturing, we advocate concurrent engineering; while it requires a greater level of communication and collaboration, the results are far superior – for both the customer and for the contract manufacturer.

This DFM Tip describes how concurrent engineering works and provides three best practices for implementing this approach in your environment.

Concurrent engineering is a team-based approach to product development in which all stakeholders are involved in the process from the outset. The goal is to design a product that meets as many of the stakeholder requirements as can be accommodated and which can be produced at the target cost and quality level, with minimal expense and delay.

The stakeholders involved should be sufficient to represent the following perspectives:

  • The customer/market (what is needed, at what price, and how will it be used?)
  • Supply chain (component availability, obsolescence, price, etc.)
  • Design engineering
  • Software design (test modes may be required in firmware)
  • Purchasing
  • Assembly
  • Quality assurance
  • Test and repair
  • Reliability
  • Environmental compliance (RoHS, WEEE, China RoHS)
  • After-market service

A single individual may represent more than one of these perspectives. If you are contracting out your manufacturing, then a member of the contract manufacturing organization (like OCM) should be on the team.

Concurrent engineering is unique from the more traditional “silo” approach, in which an engineering team is tasked to build a product based on a general idea or a specific list of product requirements, features, and tasks. The engineering team provides a finished design that is then passed to other stakeholder groups: test development, manufacturing, procurement, supply chain development, product marketing, etc.

Concurrent Engineering for Greater Manufacturability
We have found through experience that a concurrent engineering process yields higher quality products with fewer time-consuming iterations and lower manufacturing cost. Ultimately, this should be the goal of all product development, because a high-quality, reliable, and cost-effective product creates a win-win. You as the product developer sell more products, so we as the contract manufacturer build more of them.

While concurrent development is not new, the collaborative effort that is required can be off-putting for some organization. It requires a methodical approach to requirements gathering, stakeholder meetings, and design reviews. But, it is well worth the investment of time and process.

The silo approach frequently results in products that are functional and often technically brilliant. But, they may not be manufacturable at high levels of quality, they may not be what the market actually wants or needs, they may not be cost-effective to produce or to test, and so-on. This can be avoided by involving all of the stakeholder groups in the design process.

Tips for Managing Concurrent Engineering

We recommend the following best practices for effective concurrent engineering:

  1. Have a management mandate to undertake concurrent engineering. It should be a corporate mandate and a cultural reality within the organization.
  2. Designate a program leader to oversee the process for any given project. That leader should be responsible to establish the team and to obtain the time of all stakeholders to participate in requirements gathering and design reviews. It is not always easy to free up people from many groups to participate, so an individual with excellent people- and organizational skills is ideal.
  3. Hold regular, structured meetings with clear agendas and objectives. Ensure that clear responsibilities, tasks and timelines emerge from each meeting – the concurrent engineering team members each need to know what needs to be done, by whom, and by when.
  4. Hold members accountable. The team leader must have the authority to hold each team member accountable to his or her tasks and timelines, and needs support in this at the management level.

In addition to these best practices, OCM has created an online library of “Design For Manufacturing (DFM) Tips”. They are brief and clearly written to help anyone of any technical skill understand critical issues and best practices to ensure that product designs can be manufactured cost-effectively, efficiently, and with high quality.

At OCM Manufacturing, we can work with designers to ensure that their plans and prototypes are manufacturable and therefore marketable. Contact one of our Program Managers for details about how we can help.