Velentium offers a selection of services that represents the entire lifecycle of a device. Our engineers, developers, SMEs, manufacturing technicians, and production managers who support those services work together continuously: they aren’t segregated by project stage.
Having production engineers working side-by-side with concept designers gives us an unusual vantage point on both the design and manufacturing processes. In this series, for which we are joined by Production Manager Devin Carroll and Technical Manager Soumendu Bhattacharya, we aim to share some of our insights.
In Scenario A, manufacturing considerations are formally evaluated during early design stages to ensure that the design will be factory-ready. To be clear, this doesn’t mean reordering the position of the “Release” / “Transfer to Manufacturing” phase in the development lifecycle. Some Release activities have to take place in that stage which cannot or should not be performed before development is complete. What it means is initiating certain other Release activities much sooner -- as early as Design phase, certainly, and perhaps even as early as the Concept phase.
So what are those activities? Or, to phrase that question more precisely, what questions can design engineers ask early on that will guide them to develop a design optimized for manufacturing?
First, it helps to understand the goal of asking these questions early in development. The goal is to minimize post-design changes and change evaluations. When production engineers from the factory start evaluating the design, they will request design changes that will reduce the device’s takt time or cost-per-unit, minimize the potential for errors introduced during assembly, make the device more testable (e.g., improve testing accuracy or reduce the overall testing required), and minimize rework percentages.
If you wait until the “Release” phase to get this input, each of these requests must be separately evaluated using cost-benefit analyses. In some cases the evaluation may be straightforward, such as a request to replace an internal cable with a different make of the same type. But other requests may trigger a more difficult decision, one that ends with a version of “if only”: “If only we had known x, but under these circumstances it’s best for us to carry on with y.” The sunk-cost fallacy is real, and must be excluded from Release-phase change evaluations through rigorous methodology, but sunk costs can also legitimately result in leaving an optimization option on the table.
The alternative approach is what we’re calling “Scenario A” in this blog series. It consists of involving production engineers in the early stages of development so that their perspective can inform the design right away, which saves resources in the long run and ensures the device will be ready for mass production.
A development team wishing to execute Plan A could take a hard approach or a soft approach. The soft approach is lower-key and lower-cost; it’s malleable, scaleable, but less rigorous. At its most minimal, executing the soft approach to Plan A could simply mean inviting a production engineer to review the proposed design at one or a few points before development work begins. His or her job is to look at what’s being proposed and ask, in essence, “Have you thought of this? Have you thought of that?” Simply put, an experienced production engineer will bring her background experience in Design Transfer to Manufacturing, with those lessons learned and optimization paths gleaned during her career, to bear on the present proposal. She’ll consider the design from a different vantage point than most designers and developers. Designers are trying to solve a particular set of problems defined by the user needs and use cases. Production engineers contemplate that solution from a different angle: how can the solution be assembled efficiently at the highest possible quality for the lowest possible cost at scale? Because it’s their job to solve that problem, they’re prone to seeing optimization opportunities that concept designers simply aren’t yet considering.
The hard approach to Plan A is formalized, methodical, and rigorous. It’s also more expensive and requires more time. Rather than -- or even in addition to -- a single engineer or pair of engineers from Production sitting in on and advising the design team, the hard approach calls for formal design reviews by representatives from the Production Team. This would take place when the design team considers that the design is complete or nearing completion, but before Implementation begins. The Production Team reviews the design and makes change requests, just as they would if the device were already at the Release stage. But this way, they provide the design team with the advantage of not yet having sunk many resources into development before evaluating those requests. Changes are comparatively easy and less expensive to make now, and designers have the freedom to be more flexible. Projects that have sufficiently high initial budgets at their outset will save on cost and time over the development lifecycle by taking the hard approach.
What kinds of considerations do production engineers evaluate designs against? In our next post, we’ll look at some of the manufacturing considerations a production engineer will introduce. This won’t be a comprehensive list -- more like a highlight reel -- but it will illustrate the kinds of things that the design & development team may not prioritize.