Manufacturing SME’s throughout Europe are increasingly using customer expectations as the key driver and starting point for all new developments and processes. This is good news.
Robust, high-quality product, manufacturing and service creation processes are increasingly the results of a cross-functional and cross-departmental design approaches. Significant challenges faced by companies nowadays are how to make optimal use of virtual models and simulation tools where possible, thereby optimising processes to create maximum value throughout the design, manufacturing, usage, servicing and disposal part of the company’s value chain. A clear end-to-end or ‘integrated’ engineering task in other words.
Late 20th and early 21st century, engineering within a manufacturing company had a very specific role. The engineer’s expertise was most of the times only used in parts of a project. As a consequence, that same engineer did not have a good enough understanding of the end-to-end context and process. As there was no direct contact with customers, feedback needed to be interpreted & filtered. Consequently, the engineer most often didn’t exactly know what customer problem needed to be solved. Moreover, engineers weren’t expected to know what happened outside their department, and many times there was no direct involvement with manufacturing.
Fortunately, this has changed nowadays. Many manufacturing SME’s have introduced and integrated an end-to-end engineering mindset. Their engineers participate in the early concept and ideation phase with customers and end users. Some companies have even set (individual) engineering targets related to customer adoption.
One of the ADMA SME’s recently even started to also involve their suppliers in the development of products & processes. A very clever move as the supplier of some key components had specific knowledge on how to best incorporate their components into the SME’s end product. Moreover, the supplier’s in-depth key component knowledge was also used to incorporate suggestions on (small) manufacturing process optimisations at the SME side.
Result: a more ‘lean & mean’ assembly line set-up with less intermediate stock and almost no ‘waste’ waiting time during assembly anymore.
Nowadays, companies increasingly encourage and facilitate collaboration between departments. In other words, the tendency of departments/functions in a factory acting as isolated silos have been reduced or sometimes even completely eliminated. A few years ago, a small metal component supplier decided to organise itself around 3 specific technology/market segments. For each segment, the sales person, the engineer, the planner as well as the after-sales manager decided to share one (large) desk at the office immediately improving knowledge sharing.
Last but not least, Continuous improvement principles have expanded upstream from manufacturing towards engineering. More and more engineering employees are receptive to new, better ways of working and is engaged in continuous improvement. Engineers sometimes even have (individual) targets related to production efficiency, uptime targets and product quality and user acceptance. This greatly helps installing a ‘first time right’ culture inside the company.