August 13, 2020
By Nathan

Enabling Faster Product Launches in Manufacturing





I was a bit skeptical when I heard about agile process in launching an almost completely mechanical, small farm tractor, with some heavy casting and large molds for their engine hoods. It just seemed like a crazy idea given the 100’s of suppliers and lead times we have to deal with, during the process and sometimes 1000’s of hours of testing to feel safe about the durability of the product, inside every single New Product Program.

Even then, over the years, we have seen the product launch cycles go from 5 years on the extreme, to 3 years to currently around 18 months. You would appreciate that it is quite a challenge to launch a major product upgrade in 18 months, involving 1000+ new parts, big and small. I am sure you would have interesting anecdotes from your friends and colleagues that would have participated in such programs. (And some companies have successfully separated the technology evolution and the product delivery to achieve such short timelines. This may be OK when the company is the trendsetter in their own areas. But this may not work where the technology and the product ideas are more widely distributed).

In this compression of the overall product delivery timelines, how many times could we possibly build the product and test before launching to the market?

Anyone would say, more builds the better.

Also, I had always felt the single most important process was how the issues from making these builds and testing them were documented and addressed leading to the maturity of the product, one solution at a time.

That’s what Agile also teaches, doesn’t it? Build faster and fail faster so in the process, the product matures faster.

That’s it! We have always wanted Agile but somehow, we couldn’t follow… the compression in time and the complexity of products meant we were happy if we got at least a couple of iterations of the product.

A Mature and Successful Product evolves over time; Successful companies manage this evolution effectively. It can’t be stressed enough that in the times of extreme disruptions, it’s all the more important to deliver the products in shorter times, build more, faster, test and fix as many issues as possible.

Even in very well managed organizations, where there are multiple, efficient tools, collaboration and information flow across the organization are mostly manual. These manual steps decide the speed of development and the Time-to-Market.

Our experience teaches us that:

  • It is not practical to manage 1000’s or even 100’s of parts when they rapidly change
  • There are inherent lead times in Design Reviews, Supplier Engagement, Negotiations & Approvals
  • Too many changes create too many communication threads & lead to chaos

So, the changes are accumulated and processed in batches. This allows only a few phases of build & testing before launch. From time-to-time we see amazing teams that work like a clock and deliver amazing products in the committed time. But in many cases, the continuous compression of the timing leads to either (a) the teams missing their launch dates because the product is not fully mature or (b) launch a product before ready to meet the committed launch date.

(On the other hand, Core Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies, Computational Methods, and Simulations have evolved strongly over the decades and have helped greatly to reduce the time and effort needed to deliver these products; like simulations that predict over-heating, structural deformations, crashes, flow of metal during casting, digtal factories…).

I believe, the real problem that is yet to be solved is that of the information & decision flow across these silos, even though the tools and technologies inside these silos themselves are quite strong.

It would seem that we would do well towards achieving Quicker Build & Test Cycles, Leading to Faster Launches by

  • Eliminating Manual Handling of Data,
  • Ensuring that multiple Business Processes Communicate with each other,
  • Automating Tracking of Product and Process Changes,
  • Enabling Collaboration at every level and across the Organization &
  • Converting Chaos & Complexity into Traceable Tasks.

The last decade of IT revolution has made it easier to achieve this and on a much quicker, lighter footwork compared to the heavy investments and developments required in the past. And spending all those millions to develop a solution for yourself meant several more in maintaining those and keeping them up to date.

A cloud-based solution and paying only for what you use, as is with anything these days, the solution could be available at a fraction of a cost, almost immediately and always up to date.

Zumen, a Software-As-A-Service platform is one of the very few available today that understands how products are developed and launched and what it takes to bring the core areas of Engineering, Purchasing, Manufacturing and Testing to build a product.

Under development for some time, Zumen covers a significant length and breadth of the enterprise process and integrates with some of the default PLM and ERP systems out-of-the-box. As a result, it enables Automatic Tracking for every step of the Product Development.

It comes with:

  • A Highly scalable and configurable approach to setting up large, complex teams.
  • Advanced Integration Framework to connect to PLM & ERP systems within minutes.

Zumen is now ready with their First Release (Direct Sourcing for New Product Development)  after several months of intense development. You may want to check it out; actually you get a lot more when you discuss with one of their team (nathan@zumen.com).

Leave a Reply