Using IT to Align Engineering and Production

June 8, 2009
As manufacturers continue to deal with the demands of global production, achieving shorter times to market while maintaining quality remains a challenge. Consequently, more and more companies are aligning engineering systems such as product lifecycle mana

Companies that effectively align engineering and production not only are able to maximize production control, supply-network visibility and quality assurance, but they also can realize financial benefits as a result of streamlining manufacturing cycles.

In the world of production control, manufacturers work hard to solve problems such as reducing manufacturing costs associated with the optimization of resources and minimizing non-value-added labor time while still meeting regulatory and customer requirements. A unified PLM and MOM solution to address these issues eliminates "tribal knowledge" and formalizes IT systems-control methods through the use of simulation and advanced production-quality warning systems.

In an example of the benefits of engineering and production alignment, EADS Composites Atlantic Ltd. (CAL), a Lunenberg, Nova Scotia-based composites manufacturer and designer, has reduced scrap rates from 13% to zero on specific composite components through the use of advanced analytics. The end result is an ability to better control and direct the manufacturing process, with the added benefit of being able to identify the root cause of the defects. This type of supply-network visibility is key for companies aiming to enable effective global production.

Increased visibility minimizes non-value-added labor time such as looking for paperwork, parts and people. This is accomplished through the use of a single, unified IT system to store all relevant product information connected to 3-D engineering data. In one specific-use case, an aircraft OEM that has adopted a "design-anywhere, build-anywhere" philosophy generates more than 1 million transactions each day from its 12,000 users worldwide across its 150-plus supply-partner community. This level of visibility to partner deviations allows real-time response anywhere in the world, at any time.

Ball Aerospace was under pressure from its customers to reduce the cost of manufacturing its unique space-based systems without compromising transparency into the progress of its manufacturing shop floor. According to Ball Aerospace Project Manager Brian Bate, Ball required a system that tightly coupled nonconformance management with manufacturing execution. After an in-depth selection process, the company chose Intercim to create flexible data-driven workflows and ensure complete traceability and real-time visibility for rapid investigation and status.

"We've taken a 32-step process and condensed it to four stages," Bate says. "Quality engineers that once spent eight to 10 hours each week generating customer reports can now push a button and get that data. Redundant tasks and the inefficiencies of a paper-based process are virtually eliminated. Cycle time for resolving hardware-related nonconformances was reduced two to three times and product close-out cycle time has gone from one to five days to literally hours."

Ball also gained the ability to quickly provide accurate information to customers.

"Our customers have a better view of Ball and their own programs," Bate says. "They see our efficiencies and appreciate the improved response time and accuracy. We're also recording more data than we did on paper."

The transition from paper to electronic quality management enjoyed an estimated 95% user acceptability. However, users aren't the only ones excited by the technology.

"I get one to two phone calls every week from all parts of the organization asking, 'When are you going to come and implement this system on my program?'" Bate explains. "We never enjoyed customers coming to audit our nonconformance system; now we actually look forward to it. They're impressed with how mature the system is, and they feel we have the right level of functionality and complexity in the system."

In summary, effectively using IT to align engineering systems with production systems results in greater manufacturing efficiency -- lower costs, faster time to market and higher quality.

John Todd is president and CEO of Intercim LLC, an Eagan-Minn.-based provider of MOM software for the aerospace and defense, automotive, pharmaceutical and semiconductor industries.

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