Addressing Product Complexity With Collaboration, Integration and Configuration Lifecycle Management

As customer demands for more customization and choice increase, the complexity of products and associated product design, manufacturing and sales processes also increases. Product lifecycles are also getting shorter, requiring a constant flow of new products with high-value features and capabilities. This challenges product design and engineering processes to become leaner, faster and more inclusive.

Addressing and managing complexity is a key success factor and can be achieved through greater collaboration, integration of key IT systems and Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM).

Different Types of Manufacturing Factories but Same Challenges

Manufacturing companies can be very different and yet the challenges that increased customer demands, and complexity this introduces, are being felt by all manufacturing companies.

Small-lot manufacturers are facing complexity in managing variety across projects. With a tendency for small-lot projects to be customized to specific customer needs, re-use can be difficult, requiring management of product specifications and options for specific customers. Remaining efficient becomes a challenge, as well as meeting tighter customer delivery deadlines in the face of global competition.

For mass-customization production, there is the challenge of managing a large number of options across a wide variety of products while ensuring cost-effectiveness and quality. Re-use can be achieved using modular manufacturing and generic components, such as automotive re-use of chassis and engines between different car models.

For high-volume production, the manufacturing line is designed for one specific product in order to facilitate high levels of automation and thereby low cost. However, with shorter lifecycles, the issue becomes adapting to new product versions and anticipating challenges ahead of time [1].

A common challenge for all these manufacturers is managing product options, variants and versions throughout the lifecycle of each product from conception to maintenance and ultimate replacement.

Managing this product complexity is the key to success.

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Different Product Delivery Processes but Same Collaboration Required

How products are designed and brought to market can also be very different from one manufacturer to the next. For the sake of simplicity, we can consider three different models:

  • Model 1 – Customers specify requirements, which are first delivered as a prototype and, upon approval, used as a basis for delivering according to detailed customer specifications
  • Model 2 – Marketing specifies requirements based on customer and market trend input, which is used to create detailed product specifications for products that can be sold to multiple customers with specific product variants and potential customization
  • Model 3 – Engineering specifies the product with multiple product variants and customization options that are released to production and then to sales

Model 1 faces the complexity challenge of managing customized products for each customer where the hope is that generic components can be re-used. This is typical of small-lot manufacturing.

Models 2 and 3 face the complexity challenge of accommodating and managing all potential product variants and customizations and ensuring that no configuration option has been forgotten.

Only profitable options survive and non-profitable options are discontinued. This is typical of mass-customized and high-volume production.

Models 1 and 2 are “outside-in” driven where input on product ideas and improvements are received from customers and/or the market. Collaboration between all functions is essential in ensuring that the right product options are being designed and delivered.

Model 3 is “inside-out” driven and should require close collaboration to ensure all the right options are being considered. However, there are still many manufacturers using a sequential engineering approach with “over-the-wall” hand-offs to manufacturing, marketing and sales. This approach will increasingly be challenged as product lifecycles decrease and customer demands and associated product complexity increase.

To address shorter product lifecycles and increased complexity, more agile approaches to engineering are required, typified by Concurrent Engineering (CE) and similar approaches.

Concurrent Engineering, or Simultaneous Engineering, is an integrated product development approach where all the lifecycle aspects of a product are considered simultaneously rather than sequentially. Iterative prototyping and modeling considering the entire lifecycle of the product uncovers potential challenges early and enables re-design that is faster and lower cost than discovering issues once the design and product have been released.

One of the key tenets of CE is the need for cross-functional collaboration as early in the design process as possible. Only by including input from experts in all functional areas can all the product lifecycle challenges can be uncovered.

Whatever the product delivery process model, the shorter lifecycle and complexity challenges being faced by manufacturers require agile approaches like concurrent engineering and greater collaboration.

Greater Collaboration Requires Greater Integration and Data Sharing

The key to enabling greater collaboration is providing the cross-functional team with access to the data they need to collaborate. As the project progresses, it also means greater integration between the IT systems used in each departmental function, such as PLM, ERP/MES and CRM systems. The ability to share data that is reliable and up-to-date provides a single-source-of-truth and solid basis for collaboration.

Product complexity is actually a new dimension that needs to be considered separately. The growth in product complexity associated with the number of product configuration options, variants and versions requires a dedicated end-to-end solution.

That solution is Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM).

Configuration Lifecycle Management Enables Collaboration

CLM solutions manage the complexity of product configuration options. CLM is based on a product configuration model where every conceivable product configuration option combination has been pre-calculated and validated. The information is based on data retrieved from IT systems like PLM, ERP/MES and CRM and includes both product technical options as well as manufacturing, marketing and sales options.

During the CE product design process, the CLM solution can be used as a repository for product configuration options, which can run into the millions. Once established, it is possible to validate particular configuration options during design, manufacturing, defining marketing campaigns and offerings and, most importantly, when providing quotations to prospective customers. Using a CE approach, it is possible to create and validate options iteratively and thereby test scenarios that could occur.

For manufacturing, marketing and sales, it enables them to begin work immediately on their planning without having to wait for final product approval. Any changes to product configurations are immediately re-calculated, validated and reflected in the CRM solution so that each department is notified and kept up-to-date without delay.

CLM Addresses Product Configuration Complexity

With CLM, a dedicated solution for managing product complexity is available that enables greater collaboration and thereby an enabler for addressing all associated complexity challenges.

It provides manufacturers with a powerful capability that does not interfere with existing IT systems, product delivery processes or business models, but can support all of these models and approaches. CLM can therefore be a powerful basis for increasing efficiency and quality as well as a platform for transformation that can enable manufacturers to address complexity challenges both today and in the future.

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