Revved-up innovation: PLM platform speeds development of aftermarket auto power boosters
For Edge Products, getting new designs to market quickly is a basic business requirement. Since its inception, this Salt Lake City-based company has been on the cutting edge when it comes to developing electronic modules that boost the performance of an average car or truck. The company is particularly known for its ability to boost the performance of diesel engines, and has further differentia...
For Edge Products , getting new designs to market quickly is a basic business requirement. Since its inception, this Salt Lake City-based company has been on the cutting edge when it comes to developing electronic modules that boost the performance of an average car or truck.
The company is particularly known for its ability to boost the performance of diesel engines, and has further differentiated itself from the competition by creating dashboard-mounted modules that give the driver real-time readouts of the vehicle's performance parameters.
But just like the people who use its products, Edge's competitors move fast. Edge keeps its own engine running smoothly by adhering to a set of well-proven product development principles supported by a flexible product life-cycle management (PLM) software platform. Gerrit Kruitbosch, VP of engineering, says this disciplined approach to product development is essential given some of the challenges inherent to the company's business model.
"There is a unique aspect to our product engineering in that we get no cooperation from the vehicle manufacturers," Kruitbosch explains. "So much of our effort is actually in reverse engineering."
Picking apart another company's product to determine how it works is challenging enough, but it's even more difficult for Edge Products because it typically has to be done several times each year for multiple vehicles.
"Most people who are not in the industry don't realize the vehicle manufacturers continually modify their onboard computers," Kruitbosch says. "Even if you pick a single model year for a vehicle—like the 2008 Ford F-150—there can hundreds of variations of that model on the road. And every time the manufacturer makes a change to that model, we have to respond with more reverse engineering and more changes to our product."
The updates are handled through an engineering change order (ECO) process that Kruitbosch concedes was unruly before Edge adopted the Empower PLM platform from Omnify Software .
Processing ECOs requires detailed record keeping, a task that many companies assign to an entire document control process. Edge, which has a total of 100 employees, doesn't have that luxury, which is one reason Kruitbosch find the Omnify software platform invaluable.
Omnify gives Edge a central repository in which to store all of its product-related data, along with a workflow system that enforces rules for developing new products. One of those rules relates to the selection of components used in a product.
"One of the things I've tried to do since I got here [four years ago] is standardize the components we use in our product," Kruitbosch says. "We didn't have a parts database before, so an engineer designing a new circuit board had no way of knowing that we were using components that would work for him in a similar product."
In addition to adopting the Omnify system, with its parts database, Kruitbosch reorganized Edge's engineering department in a way that fosters more collaboration on product designs.
With the Omnify system, Edge engineers can enter a part number and run a "where used" query to determine if that part is performing a similar task in another product. That feature also is useful when contract manufacturers ask to use substitute parts in an Edge product. In addition, the ability to track products even after they are released allowed Edge to uncover the use of unauthorized substitute parts by contract manufacturers—all of which has improved Edge's product quality.
"Since we adopted the Omnify system, our return rates and return costs have gone down considerably," Kruitbosch says. "Some good old-fashion failure analysis has contributed to that, but Omnify certainly has helped."
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.