In today’s age, it’s easy to search and get reviews for pretty much any product or service. If you’re looking for a hotel, you probably read the reviews of the hotel before you book. If you’re looking to buy a new product, you do the same before adding it to your cart.
In 1957 "Sputnik" not only launched itself into space but also, simultaneously, a space race. Several years later, American President John F Kennedy announced a seemingly impossible mission: landing Americans on the moon and bringing them back safely.
This combination of goal setting, vision, and leadership propelled America to the forefront of innumerable technologies and industries. Seizing on potentially dire conditions as a result of the Soviets’ surprise leap into space ahead of America, JFK tapped into that in a proactive and unparalleled manner.
With last week’s 47th anniversary of American astronaut Neil Armstrong's first step onto the lunar surface, it's worth considering what moonshots can really be all about, and how you can have one also.
While there may not be a singular definition of a "moonshot," it's safe to say that it consists at least of a stretch goal (that really redefines "stretch"); addressing multiple problems at once; requiring different thinking; an unwillingness to fail. So what is your moonshot?
In the journey to revenue and profit there are a couple of ways to look at the development of a new product or technology. Projected profit margins sometimes never seem to be big enough. In the early stages of designing a product, the anticipated earnings from such an endeavor can be quickly wiped away if the manufacturing and production impact is not fully understood. Whether it is a brand-new product or an evolution that results in some manufacturing or production changes, it's important to consider the downstream impact of design changes and product decisions.
Considering only the product design cost, which often pales in comparison to the CAPEX (capital expenses) and the long term cost of ownership, a lot of emphasis gets placed on the cost of pieces and parts. While critical to understand, it can often be misleading without properly vetting against the downstream expenses.
Site preparation, production equipment, tooling, and the material handling necessary for the transport of goods during production can all be flexed in order to satisfy the business objectives for the new product or a process change. When insufficiently considered, or underestimated, these expenses can quickly erase any profit margin that's projected, as they can quickly get out of control.
Similarly, the cost of ownership, including labor for production, the degree of automation included in the production and assembly of product, maintenance and reliability features, etc. can also add up and nibble away at that projected profit margin. On top of the capital expenses, these are sometimes overlooked and can often be significant. So what is the low-hanging fruit to best and fully calculate these factors?
Early engagement is the key. Don’t lock out or over-constrain the options available to production. As the product development or process change discussions are beginning, include the manufacturing and production teams. This will shed light on the means to more efficiently handle and manufacture the product, as well as provide early opportunities for considering as many alternatives as possible, casting a wide net to grab the best ideas early on.
Design for Assembly, Design for Test, and Design for Manufacturability (altogether “DfX”) are proven methodologies for doing this. Consultants can contribute to that early thinking, being agnostic in our approach, our toolsets, and bring a wide variety of experiences to the development process.
Project Management and Schedule Management -- understanding the impact of timing is also critical, again providing an opportunity for specialists to bring to bear options that will enhance the decision-making, and lead to the best profit margins possible. Understanding the sequence and dependencies of decision-making, equipment availability, and time frames for such activities as prove out, commissioning, and validation will help provide a complete perspective on the project’s life cycle. Technology risks in product design and manufacturing technology are often studied and qualified; but one of the greatest threats and risks to profitable business is not understanding the timing, dependencies, and schedule implications of proper scheduling.
The world is full of cool and innovative products. The battle to differentiate them and gain advantages in the market should be remembered as coming not only from the design features, but also the manufacturing and production processes that make them possible, differentiated, and affordable.
“Forewarned is forearmed.” “Planning is everything, plans are nothing.” Whatever your mantra, be sure that your focus includes the means for manufacturing as well as your products’ design intent. Consult your production people and invite integrators and consultants to bring in their professional experience, knowledge, and expertise. That makes for a winning combination of product and process.
In recent past articles, we have enjoyed blogging about some of the aspects of how to successfully undertake and deliver capital projects. We have noted that a sound methodology to accomplish this can be found in a process we dubbed “Phases and Gates,” where the project work that streams from the customer’s initial project request for an installed and commissioned solution is divided up into manageable steps with predetermined decision points. Our content has talked about the need for Requirements, the benefits of Conceptual Design, and the case for Preliminary Engineering.
Sometimes, the right thing to do is say "no" and walk away.
I work for a service company. Most of us do. We design, fabricate, install and maintain manufacturing systems. Our customers are manufacturing firms. But being an engineering services supplier for manufacturing firms is no different than being a service supplier in any industry. For many years we have followed an adage, “we hire people for what they know and then fire them for who they are.” A good service supplier needs to provide good service, and that includes employees who are well trained, competent and skilled in whatever industry they serve.
There is tremendous uncertainty in business today and constant pressure to grow, expand, and excel. Together with competitive pressures, complex economic operating conditions, and many other variables, we find ourselves often dealing with less than all the information we would like to have at our disposal. Failing to act is paralysis, and leads potentially to avoidable failure. Yet decisive action is constantly required. Resources have to be deployed. Chances have to be taken. With all of the uncertainty and ambiguity, how do we successfully move forward without incurring undue risk?