Recently, I wrote about several ways that a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) can improve New Product Introduction (NPI). In that article, I explained how an MES can play a critical role in improving and streamlining the new product introduction process. In this article I will dive into the subject in more detail, using a specific example to help explain the powerful combination of an MES and New Product Introduction, and why this alignment is so critical when manufacturing complex, highly engineered products.
Digital transformation has given manufacturers a competitive edge. IDC recently published research focused on what they define as the “Engineering-Oriented Manufacturing Value Chain” that comprises complex discrete manufacturers. In the findings, they shared that “Digital” manufacturers achieved 23 percent higher revenue and 21 percent higher profitability performance index than their “Non-Digital” peers (source: IDC).
Digital technologies provide greater visibility and control over operations by integrating what has traditionally been siloed systems and operations.
To see the impact of converting to or upgrading your digital operations, let’s look at how two different manufacturing operations—one with MES and one without—would handle the same problem often associated with NPI.
A Use Case
Here’s the challenge. An engineering team is designing a product upgrade. As production starts, a material issue escapes inspection that is not detected in the finished product. What’s more, the nature of the material flaw causes subtle, hard-to-detect problems in the production process, which leads to further issues. The finished product makes it out of your company’s doors and into your customer’s hands.
How do you discover the problem, and what do you do to manage it?
Scenario 1: Paper-based System
With a paper-based system, you don’t hear about the problem until your new product has been in the field for a few months, at which point you start receiving a steady stream of service calls.
Time to break out the clipboard and investigate. Without much data to go on, you might not know that this service issue is being caused by a supplier quality defect. For all you know, it could be a design flaw, “user error,” a production problem, or something else. Your service team spends a lot of time searching and attempting to fix problems without knowing the root cause. Until you find that sneaky defective material, it will continue to weigh down your new product introduction success.
After all the searching, someone finally finds the material that’s causing problems. Now, you need to trace everywhere that it’s been used. Time to break out the spreadsheets folders full of paper records, detailing where all the millions of different parts have gone. Your team will likely spend hours and days combing through records, making sure they find every instance of the defective part.
Finally, once the root cause is identified and corrected, you need to deploy new test procedures, work instructions, and product updates. Since engineering changes need to be deployed manually to multiple plants, and months have already passed, your corrected and reengineered process won’t take effect until the next version of the product later that year.
In this example, the manufacturer managed to solve the problem, but it took a great deal of time and resources. Let’s see what happens in a digitally transformed enterprise.
Scenario 2: Digitally Transformed Operations
Now we’ll assume you have an integrated digital suite that includes Manufacturing Execution (MES), Supplier Quality Management (SQM), and Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) systems to manage all of your operations.
Right away, there’s good news—with all the digital tools available, it’s possible that a material escape never even makes it into your finished product. Your SQM system can perform far more robust sampling and inspection plans that could be done manually with a paper-based process. Using this data, you can easily trace the problem to a specific supplier and material lot(s). The problem has been eliminated before it ever took hold, and your new product goes out the door without defects.
But sometimes problems get through even the best defenses. What happens if your digital systems don’t detect the problem, and the defective material gets installed in a finished product?
Here is where the value of a Digital Thread comes into play. With all the product’s components available in a single audit trail, performing a root-cause analysis can be done with greater efficiency and speed. The value of accelerating the time required to understand future issues cannot be overstated – especially when identifying issues outside the course of normal operations, such as during a New Product Introduction.
Once you have accurately identified the problem, you can solve it faster. And, when the problem is corrected, your MES makes it easy to deploy new standards and procedures to your various plants, production lines, inspection teams, and suppliers.
This isn’t an extreme example. In some form or another, it’s a common occurrence. Manufacturers are often slowed down by issues stemming from compliance, supplier quality, or siloed systems.
With increasing regulation, competition, and supply chain volatility, it’s more important than ever to give your enterprise the competitive advantages of MES and New Product Introduction. It’s fair to say that digital transformation can make the difference between new product failure and new product success. And that’s a difference worth taking seriously.