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At this point, Valley Manufacturing Company (VMC) is ready to immerse in Lean Management Systems (LMS) and this is the reduction of waste by eliminating constraints and improving the overall efficiency of its production processes. VMC must not stop now and it must go one level higher. This time they must add into their LMS strategies two related concepts called Concurrent Engineering and Rapid Prototyping. This company will be able to reap the rewards if it will continue to make bold decisions and make the correct adjustments. In order to survive, thrive, and succeed in a highly competitive business environment VMC must learn how to increase effective communication, decrease costly mistakes, and speed up the delivery time. All of these can be achieved by learning the intricacies of Concurrent Engineering and Rapid Prototyping.
Concurrent Engineering is also known as Simultaneous Engineering or Integrated Product Development (Stark, 1998). The traditional way of doing things – at least in the manufacturing aspect business – is to use some sort of an assembly line approach where the designers are the first to make the first move then they pass on what they have completed to the manufacturing engineers. Design first, then create a prototype then after approval the whole manufacturing machinery is in full gear, then the marketing people are given the task to sell or deliver the finished product to the customers. In other words, the traditional way of doing things is described as a serial development process wherein “…people from different departments work one after the other on successive phases of development” (Stark, 1998). The problem with this approach is that it will take one complete cycle before management or the customers will find out that the finished product is defective or that it was not designed according to specifications.
In the worst-case scenario, it will take a long time before they will discover that there was a miscommunication and that the customer’s needs were not taken into consideration. In many cases, the production cycle is bogged down right after the design phase because the manufacturing department has something negative to say about the design. They have discovered a flaw but given no chance to voice out their concerns and disagreement with regards to the proposed new design. It would be best to use concurrent engineering to eliminate waste and to speed up delivery time while producing high-quality products. According to practitioners of this type of business strategy, VMC can easily benefit from concurrent engineering due to the following reasons (eFunda, 2009):
- To Increase effective Communication – personnel who are involved in the production process are encouraged to join the planning stages even if they are not design and manufacturing engineers;
- To Decrease Development Time – due to useful information coming from various streams, management can see the big picture and make crucial decisions that can speed up the manufacturing process;
- To Decrease Costly Mistakes – if everyone is involved in the design, in a concurrent manner then they can see the mistakes in design from the point of view of marketing and end-users, there will be no need to go back to square one each and every time a mistake will be uncovered;
- To Extend Product Lifetime – design engineers may have a great idea with regards to a new product but those who are in the field and interfacing with customers may find a flaw in the design, by pointing out these problems in the early stages, they can assure of a quality product; and
- To Decrease Delivery Time – due to a mechanism that allows for rapid feedback the designers can create a better design and the manufacturers can immediately start without delays and the end result is the ability to deliver finished products faster than the competition.
VMC must realize that the old way of doing things will no longer suffice in a global environment where speed and efficiency are keys to success. In the new approach, a multidisciplinary team will be needed in the initial phase of product design. The main purpose is to improve communication by removing organizational boundaries that hindered progress in the past (Blachouse & Brookes, 1996). In concurrent engineering the members of the disciplinary team must be co-located, this must be a deliberate move for this is fundamental to the new approach (Blachouse & Brookes, 1996). This is in direct contrast to past practices wherein specific company functions were separated by defined boundaries (Blachouse & Brookes, 1996). Thus, there was a problem when it comes to interaction with those who may have a better idea or a solution to a particular problem. One of the major goals is to get the correct design at the start of the development process (eFunda, 2009). This will reduce the number of problems down the road.
A related concept is rapid prototyping. A prototype is simply defined as, “An approximation of a product (or system) or its components in some form for a definite purpose in its implementation” (Chua et al., 2004). But it is commonly understood as “…the first or original example of something that has been or will be copied or developed; it is a model or preliminary version (Chua et al., 2004). Both definitions will come in handy in understanding rapid prototyping.
There is indeed the need to create a prototype, an example of what must be copied or developed in the shortest time possible. But it does not require a genius to understand that even without the use of LMS and concurrent engineering strategies, design engineers can rapidly produce a prototype to initiate the manufacturing process. Yet, it has been made clear that the goal is not simply to make a prototype but also to make one that will reduce the number of mistakes downstream in the workflow (Chua et al., 2004). It is also important to point out that prototyping is not only about creating the first model of the product but it is also the system that is needed to build the said merchandise.
VMC will have to tear down the boundaries that separated design engineers from the other contributors in the production process. It is time to create a multidisciplinary team that works in the same building. If this is not possible then at least the members of the multidisciplinary team can easily communicate with each other and can work in parallel to one another – always giving feedbacks and supporting each other even in the preliminary stage of the design process. At first glance, VMC has an easier task before them as compared to OEMs. Their clients, the OEMs have a more difficult task ahead of them because they usually build from scratch. This means that in order to build a popular car they may have to make a new design. For instance, an automotive maker may be forced to experiment with a compact car design. In the case of VMC, they only have to contend with assembly and so they can have a more narrow focus.
This does not mean that VMC will have an easy job ahead. Its major challenge is to change their mindset especially when it comes to the division of labor and specialized work given to specific departments. If VMC will have to transition to concurrent engineering and use rapid prototyping then the CEO must make the necessary adjustments as well as the necessary investments. It is already a well-known fact that VMC is struggling with floor space. If VMC would like their multidisciplinary team to work under one roof then this is an issue that they must consider carefully. There may be a need to redesign their building. The factory floor needs expansion as well as the offices where the multidisciplinary team must work. It must be reiterated that members of the team must be able to communicate effortlessly with one another. In an ideal setting if the marketing head realizes a flaw in the product he or she must be able to go to the head of the design department to share her opinion and ideas. This requires proximity or as mentioned earlier VMC can install an upgraded communication system that allows for rapid communication and feedback.
Since VMC is not in the business of manufacturing small items that can be directly marketed to ordinary users, their business relationship with OEMs requires them not to tinker with product design but to improve their subassembly equipment. Therefore, the application of concurrent engineering and rapid prototyping must be directed at redesigning their equipment. If VMC is not yet fully automated then this can be the first major issue that they must tackle with the recently assembled multidisciplinary team. If they are already fully automated then the next thing they have to discuss is how to improve the design of the assembly area and assembly equipment to create better products.
Their clients already gave them specific instructions on what is the desired outcome of the automotive parts that they needed. Therefore there is no need for VMC to involve their customers in their concurrent engineering strategy. They already have a clear idea of what must be the end result of their efforts. This makes their job a little easier. Now, VMC must include the engineering and manufacturing staff as well as representatives from the finance and human resource department.
Using principles of concurrent engineering and rapid prototyping, the multidisciplinary team will develop the prototype of the workflow. They will discuss in detail and they will be open for feedbacks and other forms of reaction from members of the team. For instance, the engineering department will unveil the new design, the manufacturing staff will look into the design and make a comment if this is easy to use or if it can fit in the allotted space in the factory floor area. The finance department will look at the design and make an analysis of the procurement aspect of the design process. The finance department will provide feedback regarding the availability of funds. If it is not feasible to redesign the assembly area based on the specification of the engineering department then they can scale down their model.
The human resource department on the other hand will find out if they have the right people that can operate the new machine with the add-on features as suggested by the engineering department. If there is a need to retrain staff then it would be the work of the human resource department to facilitate this process. So from the very beginning, the CEO and the business leaders of VMC will know if there is a problem with their goal of improving their production process. There is no need for the engineering department to build something that VMC cannot afford. There is no need to build something that cannot be sustained by the current resources of VMC. This is just an example of what concurrent engineering can do to VMC.
- Backhouse, C. & N. Brookes. (1996). Concurrent Engineering. Vermont: Gower Publishing.
- Chua, C. K. et al. (2004). Rapid Prototyping: Principles and Applications. 2nd ed. New Jersey: World Scientific Publishing.
- eFunda. (2009). Rapid Prototyping: An Overview. Web.
- Stark, J. (1998). A Few Words About Concurrent Engineering. Web.