Thriving in today's engineering world

Engineers can follow these steps to develop a product.

01/24/2011


No matter which role I focused on—be it a drafter, designer, manufacturing engineer, or quality engineer—the goal was the same: Create a profit by inventing something new or build it economically. The best method to obtain a return on investment (ROI) is improving a product or designing a useful novel product. For the engineer to thrive, some details, processes, policies, and culture must be in place.

For example, new product development must be a cross-functional company goal, not an engineering task. There must be a defined communication process in place in which everyone participates, not just a mismatch of communication events that you hope will come together. Let the marketing and sales department speak for the customer, and let the engineers find solutions to customer needs. The company must provide suitable tools (software, hardware, and systems) that complement the core competencies within the organization. The last aspect is to tie all this together with a well thought-out product development plan—a detailed cross-functional communication plan that is simple, obtainable, and flexible for future opportunities.

When an opportunity presents itself, the company must be ready to act. If the company culture and philosophy is “create a product as a team” and not just to complete an engineering task, success is more likely. However, in my experience I have seen poor communication. I have seen lack of vision, and lack of good communication with only a tactical plan.

I have participated in engineering events where we were expected to serve as the sales, marketing, purchasing, manufacturing, and other teams. We did it all and then “threw it over the wall,” with no communication until the end of the project. The company was disconnected from the engineering product development process.

I also have worked in organizations in which the team could not make any decision without upper management's approval—micro management at its best (or worst). In this type of environment, nothing is accomplished on time or within budget. Clear and concise information must be presented, and decisions need to be made quickly.

Upper management establishes and communicates a vision and a strategic product plan for the company to thrive. The plan defines the market. The market segments make sense. The planning activity is not a one-hour task once a year; it is something that evolves over time. The plan is addressed annually and revised to reflect changes. Most importantly, the plan is communicated cross-functionally.

To effectively bring to market a new design is not just an engineering job—it must be a company goal. If it is not a company goal, then you will get just what the engineers want you to have. The better the plan is, the sooner profits come from sales. The company acts as a team united, not divided. Communication is the key here.

With the plan in place, and the culture ready to adapt, the next issue to resolve is teamwork. For a project team to be effective, team members must be empowered. What does “empowerment” really mean? The ability to make decisions within some guidelines. If team members are allowed to do that, they can truly feel empowered.

With an empowered team and a long-term vision, the next step in improving the product development task is to communicate the process that describes the goal of product development, the tasks needed to achieve it, and the roles of the participants in the development process. There are many processes to choose from, including Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) and Plan Do Study Act (PDSA). No matter what you use or establish, the objective is to control cost, manage the budget, and meet the customer needs. If your process covers those three items, and you consistently and frequently communicate project status, you will stay headed down the right track.

Thriving today depends on a lot on the industry and your products. There are many ways to achieve new product launch success, as we’ve discussed. Most importantly, product development is not just an engineering task. It is a company objective, requiring a laser-like focus, clear communications, and cross-functional teams empowered to create.


Janitz is manager of engineering at Muncie Power Products.


Implementation tips:

  1. Let the engineers engineer; therefore, manage the project from outside the engineering department.
    • Manage the project phase-by-phase
    • Be creative and flexible
  2. Improve and/or provide the necessary tools to achieve stated goals. Some examples are:
    • 3-D modeling
    • 3-D scanning
    • 3-D printing
  3. Institutionalize a long-term product plan showing dependencies and advanced engineering.
    • Create and communicate a high-level strategic team
    • Devise a customer picture
    • Construct and present a product plan

 



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Bring focus to PLC programming: 5 things to avoid in putting your system together; Managing the DCS upgrade; PLM upgrade: a step-by-step approach
Balancing the bagging triangle; PID tuning improves process efficiency; Standardizing control room HMIs
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.