Aphrodite Brinsmead, Director of Product Marketing
A healthy partnership between product designers and manufacturers is critical for bringing products to market successfully. Timely market entry necessitates streamlined collaboration to maintain operational efficiency and meet deadlines.
However, challenges with distributed teams, evolving supply chains, and heightened competition often hinder that relationship. Additionally, each team relies on disparate software to manage their data and processes, complicating the relationship.
This blog explores the practical aspects of strengthening the ties between design engineers and manufacturers. We cover which software to choose, how to set up repeatable processes and why you need a regular cadence of communications that doesn’t hinder productivity.
Engineers and manufacturers face challenges with siloed data and rework loops
Both hardware designers and contract manufacturers face pressure to get to market quickly. In the past, Time to Market (TTM) was typically driven by product development and manufacturing lead times. However, the rise of digital technologies has led to new challenges.
On the one hand, digital technologies help to streamline product development and manufacturing processes. But they can also make it easier for competitors to quickly bring new products to market.
As a result, hardware engineering companies are facing increasing pressure to shorten TTM. To succeed, companies must invest in digital technologies and adopt new ways of working. They will need to be agile and responsive to market changes. More streamlined collaboration across distributed teams is necessary to facilitate faster, more efficient reaction times.
Manual data input is time-consuming and risks inaccuracies
Inaccurate data can significantly impact operational efficiency and product quality. One of the primary issues is the time-consuming nature of data entry. When manual data entry is the norm, and there is a lack of cohesion between different data sources, it opens the door to the risk of errors. This lack of standardization and repeatability can lead to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in crucial manufacturing data.
Lost information inhibits product quality and market success
Another challenge stemming from inaccurate data is the omission of critical information. Vital details may be overlooked or excluded from manufacturing records, potentially causing disruptions in the production process and compromising product quality.
Rework loops are a common consequence of inaccurate data. When changes are required to improve product manufacturability or rectify errors, it often triggers circular communication between engineering and manufacturing teams. This creates a perpetual process of changes and verifications for each product variant. For example, Product A undergoes multiple rework loops during development. Then Product B, a variant of A, undergoes a similar number of loops. This pattern continues for Products C, D, etc., resulting in inefficiencies. The unplanned loops aren’t repeatable or scalable across products. Consequently, they add time and cost to the production process that can quickly multiply for each new product iteration.
Siloed systems and disjointed processes only add to the issues
Manufacturing teams typically rely on specialized software, such as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), to perform their tasks. However, obtaining necessary information from engineering can be cumbersome, involving file transfers and sharing of spreadsheets. Plus, engineering data is not adequate for manufacturing. Manufacturers require different information and as a result, designs get augmented for manufacturing purposes. Small changes to the design lead to disparities between the Digital and Physical products. Critical changes made to the product to make it manufacturable, don’t get captured back into the digital design record.
Moreover, MES systems require additional manufacturing information and machine settings that are not included in the engineering Bill of Materials (BOM). This discrepancy exacerbates the challenge of maintaining data accuracy and consistency throughout the manufacturing process.
Disjointed processes compound these challenges. It becomes difficult to determine who holds the authority to make changes, and the responsibility for filling gaps between systems often falls on individuals. This human intervention can introduce risks, such as changes not being fully considered, leading to parts being affected by alterations that were not adequately planned for.
How to improve collaboration between design engineers and manufacturers
Design for Manufacturability
The further downstream issues are caught, the more expensive they are to fix. Ideally, quality issues are discovered in the digital environment upstream before a product goes to production. Design for Manufacturability (DFM) is a process that enables some of these issues to be resolved early on.
DFM helps product designers create products that provide the best cost-efficiencies and yield during manufacturing by improving quality. By considering the manufacturing process early in the design phase, product designers can avoid costly mistakes and ensure that their products are produced on time and within budget. It can save time and money as well as improve quality. Product designers can avoid costly rework and delays by identifying and addressing potential manufacturing problems early in the design process.
Here are some ways that product designers can tackle DFM:
- Get input from manufacturers early in the design process. Manufacturers can provide valuable insights into the feasibility of a design and identify potential problems.
- Build prototypes. Prototypes can be used to test the design for manufacturability and identify potential problems that may not be apparent in CAD simulations.
- Work closely with manufacturers throughout the process. Communication between product designers and manufacturers is essential for successful DFM and capturing issues before they escalate.
The manufacturer also has a role in DFM; they can provide information about their equipment and capabilities in the early stages of the relationship. By reviewing product information together with product designers, they can identify and address potential problems.
Integrate applications to synchronize data
We mentioned the increasing competition and being able to keep up with customer demand. To do so, hardware teams must be agile and flexible. Mechanical, electrical, and software design teams and manufacturers must be intuitive and collaborative to make quick decisions and ensure quality at each stage.
One of the significant factors here is that siloed teams need to be able to share data and gather feedback quickly. As a result, different software applications must be connected, easy to use, and incorporate automation to speed up processes.
For example, a PLM platform incorporates design engineers’ BOM and revision history. It tracks changes to the original CAD design and then updates the assembly record.
Integrating PLM with an Manufacturing system, like First Resonance or Tulip, enables the engineering BOM to be transferred directly to manufacturing when the product is ready for production. Learn more about the Duro – Tulip integration.
Create a culture of transparent communication
Set up regular project meetings to uncover design choices that are not easily manufacturable. During these meetings, the team should discuss the design and identify potential manufacturing problems. All stakeholders should be involved, including the product designers, manufacturers, and suppliers.
It is also essential to agree on timelines and to keep the suppliers and manufacturers informed of the design decisions. This will allow external stakeholders to provide early feedback, which can help avoid costly mistakes. The team should also be open to feedback from the suppliers. The suppliers have a wealth of experience and knowledge, and they can often provide valuable insights into the manufacturability of a design.
Assign clear roles and responsibilities
It is imperative to establish a precise hierarchy of responsibility and decision-making authority. This clarity is vital across many scenarios and should be meticulously documented and made accessible to all team members.
Without a well-defined role assignment, engineering and manufacturing teams may independently make changes that inadvertently affect the other. They risk complications with material selection, surface finish, draft angles, or hardware module specifications. Moreover, someone may unintentionally alter tolerances, further exacerbating the challenge of maintaining product consistency and quality.
Use automation to create efficiencies
Like factory floor automation, data automation within the software itself can make things more efficient. Consider how data is managed and how that impacts procurement and manufacturing. Manually sending out a BOM or emailing different suppliers to get quotes will take time.
To act quickly, you need streamlined ways to share information. Automation won’t replace the job of an engineer, designer or manufacturer. Instead, it will help them focus on higher-value tasks, such as adding context and reasoning behind the product design. Additionally, integrating automation into assembly and testing processes can reduce the reliance on offshore labor. Designing products to incorporate automation facilitates greater flexibility to leverage local talent and mitigate on supply chain fluctuations.
Inaccurate data in manufacturing can result in time-consuming data entry, errors due to manual processes or data omissions, and rework loops. Strengthening communication between design engineers and manufacturers is critical for bringing innovative products to market quickly and successfully.
Product designers and manufacturers should leverage tools and strategies, including:
- Design for Manufacturability (DFM) to help identify and address potential manufacturing issues before they become costly problems. Getting input from manufacturers and building prototypes can help.
- Integrating software applications like PLM and MES. Automating and synchronizing data sharing between engineering and manufacturing teams avoids inaccuracies that hamper productivity.
- Clearly defining roles and responsibilities to prevent complications from independent changes. It would help if you established and regularly communicated a decision-making process to maintain efficiency.
Learn how Duro facilitates accurate data and collaboration
Duro provides an easily accessible central product lifecycle management platform that allows you to share updates with team members via Slack or Jira easily. Additionally, you can efficiently update design and BOM information with external suppliers and manufacturers for review at any stage in the product development process. Request a demo to learn more.