Thursday, June 18, 2009

Some Random Observations of Product Development

While I certainly enjoy a good discussion and review of technology, especially the technology of 3D CAD, I equally enjoy a good discussing and review of the process of product development. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have had the opportunity to visit many companies over the years specifically to review their product development process (PDP) and to consider what and how improvements can be made. Over the last 12 months I have had the privilege of doing process assessments with about 15 different companies. I know this is a small drop in a very large bucket, but it's been interesting.

The companies range from small 2 or 3 facility companies to huge global companies. Industries represented include high tech, machinery, medical, bio-sciences, military, oil & gas, and transportation. Product lifecycles range from 6 months to 50 plus years. Annual product volumes range from one to millions. Throughout these companies there is a vast array of different tools and technologies used to support the process.

Here are some of my random observations:

  • A PLM system does not necessarily reduce the need for individual discipline
  • Duplication of effort is much too common in product development
  • 2D drawings are by far the preferred method of conveying definition and design intent
  • Habits, culture and the path of least resistance often take precedence over process
  • Much data is created in the PDP that adds no value beyond the individual
  • Engineers doing more data entry and project management
  • Individual productivity does not equate to team productivity
  • Tools and technologies are often chosen based on personal preference over process
  • Still a lot of shared drives out there
  • IT often has significant influence, but equally often has little PDP knowledge
  • Throw-it-over-the-wall is still all too common
  • Much regulatory compliance is still paper based, (so they think)
  • ISO Certification is a book on the shelf
  • Regardless of value change may not happen
  • Regardless of value change may happen
  • Knowing how to use a wrench doesn't make you a good mechanic
  • Not knowing how to use a wrench is a problem
  • "PLM? I just need to get my job done"

Some of those appear to be more negative. Here are some that are more positive.

  • People genuinely want to do what’s right. Engineers are top-notch people
  • Engineers are also very creative, (this isn’t always good)
  • The vision for product development is relatively consistent and progressive
  • Innovation happens and tools don't get the credit
  • There is a huge culture gap between the senior and the youth, (good as long as youth knows where help comes from, and senior is open minded)
  • Having a full toolbox is a good thing when problems need solved
  • Collaboration with outside suppliers and venders is improving
  • 3D is making its way into all aspects of product development
  • From drawing boards in open spaces and real-time collaboration - to - CAD in scatterd cubicles and... Twitter??

I started adding examples for each but it got a bit crazy so I will just leave it at this for now. You're welcome to add some of your own random observations.



Ganeshram Iyer said...

Nice Random thoughts. But for this statement:
* 2D drawings are by far the preferred method of conveying definition and design intent

how does your post on MBD tally with that contention?

Would the hold up mean that the hold up are modelers or the tools?

Paul Hamilton said...

Good question Ganeshram.

MBD is certainly in our future, sometime out there, but today drawings are dominate.

There are early adopters that are pushing MBD and making it work to some extent. As far as "the hold up" I think it does involve technology to some degree - not only in applying the definition, but more so in utilizing the definition downstream especially in quality control. There is technology that can make MBD work in QC and I hope to post about it soon.

I think the more significant hold up though is simply in the newness of it all. Many people don't even know what it is, let alone how to do it. For many there is a large gap (process, culture) between where they are at today and the need for the technology.

Whether MBD works or not will not be up to the modelers.


Mike said...

Good post. I espcially like the change happening/not happening reguardless of value and the point about the culture gap.

The point about change is something I just finished living through while we updated our drafting standards. You could see a pretty substantial divide between the old/new guard on many subjects. For better or worse you see the old guard being in place where they are for the better part of the last 20-30 with the same company. That's a good thing for having their "tribal knowledge" on how the product/process works. At the same time that's a bad thing because when you're doing the same thing for so long a person can easily put on blinders and not see improvments to be had simply because "thats not the way things are done around here".

The culture gap as I see it really overlaps with that point where you have staff in one of two senarios (at least here). You have those people that have been here forever and are within 10 years of retiring and you have people on the exact opposite end of the spectrum in their late 20's or early 30's and have already been around the block once or twice. The problem with that is that both groups think the other doesn't know what they are talking about and are either wanting to change for the sake of change or are too stuck in their ways.