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Simultaneous engineering.

Simultaneous engineering. As productivity-enhancing as that concept can be, the debate about it continues, and its quest to find a home among the lexicon of corporate management techniques continues unfulfilled. Partly, that's because Simultaneous Engineering (SE) is a misnomer. In the truest sense of the word, what it describes has more to do with people and communications than with engineering.

"SE is not a technology issue. It is a people and communication issue," David P St Charles, Valisy Corp, told a CASA/ SME Autofact Conference. His paper was part of a collection of articles and technical papers published by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers recently. It's entitled "Simultaneous EngineeringIntegrating Manufacturing and Design." He points out that SE has emerged because, after improving specific functions such as design with CAD and inspection with coordinate measuring machines, the problems now center on how we think of those engineering functions in the context of a total process.

C Wesley Allen, an SE consultant responsible for compiling and editing the SME publication, concurs. In his contribution to the book that was initially presented to an SME conference, Dr Allen contends that "SE is not something physical, like a calculator; nor is it a set process, like making coffee in the morning; nor is it a solution for this month's profit, like delaying an expenditure; (nor) ... the magic elixir that many have sought in the past-and still do.

"Simultaneous engineering," Dr Allen emphasizes, "is, however, an approach that has lasting effects and the potential to cut costs by 50%." Here's the definition he subscribes to: "It is designing product and designing the process to manufacture that product at the same time." He further explains that it is a way of putting the engineering operation together again "that attacks engineering problems but does not limit the focus to the detailed assignment and measurement of individual tasks."

Heart of the problem

Perhaps the biggest problem in implementing SE "is that the engineers in design, manufacturing, and quality assurance do not speak the same language," Mr St Charles feels. Helping overcome that problem are CAD/CAM computer software developers.

Neil Price marketing director of Schlumberger, Ann Arbor, MI, claims "computers are now providing the opportunity to automate some of the communications links necessary to make SE work. It's not so much a couple of people working together as much as the kinds of communications that have to occur. Most of the obstacles are organizational.

Our job has been oriented toward tasks-automating this job for the engineer or that job for the draftsman or the NC programmer. We keep improving on those, but the serious downstream gains need to be made in the entire process. We are starting to see electronic tools that are going to facilitate some of the communications across department lines," Mr Price claims.

Some of those tools are at work at Lufkin Industries, Lufkin, TX, helping its transformation from a company producing oil field pumping equipment to a gear manufacturer. To compete, however, it had to dramatically reduce delivery times and turned to a Schlumberger Bravo3 CAD system. Engineering output jumped 40% or more, reports Louis Lloyd, Lufkin's CAD/CAM project manager.

Darrell Luce, systems manager, explains the company established an electronic database that permits engineering to turn a salesman's order specs into drawings within minutes. The manufacturing department has developed its own set of routines to automate the production of NC programs to drive its machine tools by keying in as few as 12 variables off a drawing. This system permits manufacturing to generate as many as 60 lathe programs, 35 drill press programs, and 6 machining center programs weekly.

The next step: engineering providing those initial variables to manufacturing electronically. "Our people in engineering recognize that the real payoff of this system is downstream in manufacturing," says Bill Temple, manager of NC systems.

As Mr Luce explains, the electronic communications are rooted in personal communications and understanding of the problems between engineering and manufacturing. For starters, engineers must work in manufacturing to become accustomed to the problems on the factory floor. There also is a threeman CAD/CAM Development Team whose primary job is to make both sides happy. When special jobs come in, the manufacturing and engineering people that are directly involved meet to discuss the project.

"Our goal is to have a manufacturing person right here in the design group," Mr Luce claims.

Even further along in SE activity is Comau Productivity Systems Inc, Troy, MI, which designs and builds assembly systems for the automotive industry. As John Piljan, senior vice president of engineering points out, design accounts for 80% of the cost of a part. "Once the design is completed, you're stuck," Mr Piljan tells T&P. "There is only so much cost that manufacturing can wring out of a product's cost so it's important that manufacturing, and anyone else involved, have an opportunity for input before the design is completed."

He adds that once product validation testing is complete, it is virtually impossible to get the design changed. "In that case, from a vendor's standpoint we are left holding the bag. The attitude is, here is what you have, you have to make it work," Mr Piljan says.

"In our business we need concurrent engineering where you get involved early on, when the program is first approved. That's happening more often today than it did in the early 1980s" he feels. Mr Piljan explains that on one major automotive assembly line Comau is currently involved with, about a year of consultation took place even before the actual order was placed.

He admits there is a down side to that as far as the vendor is concerned. The supplier may share his best ideas and then not even get the job.

Many successes

There is no shortage of testimonials to SE's success ratio. As one consultant told T&P, "I don't know of any company that tried simultaneous engineering and regretted it."

With competitive pressures mounting to bring products to market more quickly, SE appears to be a route to a solution. As Dr Allen points out in the SME book, Honeywell developed a new thermostat in 12 months that pre-SE would have taken four years. One US company battling a Japanese competitor that developed products twice as fast and at half the cost, realigned its engineering operation and slashed product development time from 5 years to 2 years.

"Other companies are satisfied with their past modes of operation and are not willing to face the trauma of change. Such companies are becoming an endangered species," Dr Allen writes.

The process of simultaneous engineering is called by different names. One of them, Concurrent Engineering, implies the same type of benefit-shortened development cycles because manufacturing is developing a process while the design team is developing the product.

Another benefit of SE, however, is more aptly described by the term "Design for Manufacturability." That implies the product can ultimately be produced better, faster, and less expensively. HewlettPackard, Dr Allen claims, merged the design and manufacturing functions in developing a new plotter. Benefits included reduced parts count, increased reliability, lower manufacturing costs, as well as lower development costs.

Other successes: Black & Decker reduced parts count on one product from 30 to 10 and assembly time by a factor of 2.5, all while improving product quality. In another instance, a team at the company found it had 448 different standard washers. It worked across functional and product lines to trim the number to 7, saving not only engineering time, but purchasing and inventory costs. Dr Allen points out that the "mouse" for the Apple computer was redesigned through a combined engineering effort resulting in a material cost savings of 45% and an increase in manufacturing yield from 40% to 99.9%.

Converts are hesitant

Even with such successes, the adoption of SE-or concurrent engineering, or design for manufacturability, or whatever else it has been dubbed-has been slow in winning converts. "When you look at organizational structure, it is difficult to change. It is more than just selling technology into a business. You are talking about the way a company does business. You are asking people to do business differently and that is the challenge," Schlumberger's Mr Price admits.

For starters, he adds, it might mean that the manufacturing engineer (ME) might end up with a terminal on his desk that will give him computer notification of what is going on in the engineering department. For example, when the designer is finished with a particular part and his supervisor is reviewing it, with the push of a switch, that design can be sent, electronically, to the manufacturing engineer so he can review it at the same time." impact on the ME

Unfortunately, it isn't that simple, reminds Detlef K Koska, a principal with A T Kearney Inc, Chicago-based management consultant and a member of the T&P Editorial Advisory Board. "In order to make SE really work, the manufacturing engineer has to educate himself or herself in the design process. Stress analysis and other disciplines that concern themselves with design are all subjects that the typical manufacturing engineer is short on." He admits that CAD helps tremendously in overcoming the barriers but only in those companies where the ME is provided with the proper workstation. "In most companies CAD is considered strictly a design or a development tool and there it stops," Mr Koska claims. "Companies hesitate to invest in stations for the ME."

The consultant goes on to point out that only in the US is the mechanical engineer, as a rule, not adequately educated to immerse himself in the design function. At the same time, he adds, the designer is ignorant of manufacturing factors and tends to overlook the importance of manufacturing. "They feel that once they have completed the design they are finished with the project. It's an attitudinal problem. Design engineers are very uncomfortable with manufacturing. They consider it dirty and don't want to get too involved with it. "In this area, both the Japanese and the Europeans are far ahead of the US. In Germany, for instance, there is hardly a distinction made between the design and the manufacturing functions. It is expected that the design engineer understands how things are made and what kind of equipment is available on the factory floor. The design function in Germany is much more pragmatic than in this country. People who go to college also have to gain hands-on experience. They have to demonstrate their understanding of manufacturing as part of their total educational experience," Koska concludes.

Mr Koska, nevertheless, believes that US industry has made a lot of progress. "There are companies that have overcome the gulf that exists between designer and ME. Both sit at the same workstation, and the result is the process and even some tooling are completed even before the part design has been approved."

Another problem, he points out, in making SE effective is the physical separation of the two functions; where a design center is across the river and the manufacturing facilities are scattered about town. "Those physical separations are more severe than you might think in spite of all the telephones, CAD stations, and fax machines we have to enhance communications," Mr Koska has found.

It's obvious why simultaneous engineering hasn't caught on more forcefully. It's more than hanging a few signs around and "tearing down department walls" which is the standard characterization. It's learning to confide in each other once we are all sitting in the same "wall-less" room. And it's more than design engineers and manufacturing engineers-it's quality assurance people and purchasing agents and production and logistics and shipping and receiving. And it's a question of centralization vs decentralization.

It's a culture change. And that means a change not only in the way we do business, but the way we "think" business.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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