Three steps to reduce material cost for top-line growth

By taking a holistic, collaborative and pragmatic approach to VA/VE, manufacturers can decrease their material costs and simultaneously increase customer value.


By taking a holistic, collaborative and pragmatic approach to VA/VE, manufacturers can decrease their material costs and simultaneously increase customer value. Courtesy: Samuel Zeller, Unsplash"Our machines have more components than a Jumbo Jet," the CEO of a printing machine company once said. This statement highlights a key manufacturing issue: the focus on labor cost reduction and cheaper component sourcing throughout the economic downturn inadvertently has increased the manufacturing complexity of certain products. It appears that this dynamic will not change in the short term.

Traditional cost-saving initiatives have concentrated on improving labor productivity and sourcing product components where they were cheaper. The latter is important because it usually represents more than 50% of the cost structure of a manufacturing company. However, manufacturers have not addressed the actual design of their products. Manufacturers have a huge opportunity to address the functionality of their products and reduce material costs up to 15% through product redesign.

Value analysis/value engineering (VA/VE) is a method used to avoid cost (when applied during the design phase) or to reduce cost (when applied after serial production). Applying VA/VE to a product's redesign enhances customer value by assuring the same product functionality at a lower cost.

Experience shows, however, that for manufacturers who are already addressing the role of product design through VA/VE, an overwhelming majority uses a piecemeal approach that doesn't capitalize fully on the opportunity to cut costs and increase top-line growth.

Leaders in VA/VE take a broader, more holistic approach that drastically reduces their material costs while meeting customer needs.

For example, a $5 billion supplier to oil and gas companies that manufactures valve components had already taken the usual steps to improve his bottom line before deciding to analyze the design of its valves.

A traditional VA/VE process would have involved reviewing each valve component, describing its function and reducing its material content if possible. Instead, the supplier looked at the product holistically and found that 75% of the valve system's total costs were secondary functions (protecting the valve from oxidation, holding the valve in position, housing the valve) and only 25% of the costs were associated with its primary function (regulating the flow of oil).

The company designed a completely new intra-tube system with the valve now housed inside the pipe. This eliminated the need for the secondary functions-and therefore the associated costs-while delivering a simpler product. Most of the components actually were eliminated, enhancing customer value and leading to top-line growth.

By taking a strategic, flexible approach to VA/VE, the supplier reduced the material costs associated with manufacturing valve components by 70% and increased customer satisfaction by drastically reducing the market price of the valve.

Three key steps for optimizing VA/VE

1. Define which products will generate the greatest results. Begin with an overall view of your products/product families and analyze which should be prioritized for improvement. The success of the first project will keep management and teams motivated to sustain the initiative, so make sure stretch goals are clearly defined and understood. As part of this definition process, conduct a supply chain analysis and establish process capabilities. Fine-tune data analysis with an internal strategy to align stakeholders' objectives. The goal might not only be to reduce material costs, but also to improve functionality, delivery time, vertical integration and other aspects that will have an impact on top-line growth.

2. Design a product that performs the essential functions at the lowest cost without sacrificing quality or delivery requirements. Be consistent but flexible. Actively challenge basic assumptions throughout the process. For example, rather than asking, "Can this component be produced using less plastic?" ask, "Is there a completely different way to achieve the product's primary function and improve customer satisfaction while delivering the secondary function using the same or different components? Are all of these functions necessary?" Conduct a teardown of competitors' products to see how the same function was achieved in different ways.

3. Deploy the redesign strategically. This means implementing VA/VE workshops and implementing management structures that ensure continuous redesign accountability and sustainability. Don't take shortcuts or use an overly theoretical approach that won't create real results. A successful VA/VE initiative may require engaging a resource with implementation expertise and/or experience in generating buy-in from senior leadership and front-line employees.

Throughout the process it's critical to involve various stakeholders, including suppliers, select customers and engineering and production teams who can offer different insights. There should be objective discussions, with participants challenged to look deeply and broadly for opportunities for improvement.

For instance, a $10 billion food processing machine manufacturer was able to significantly reduce the overall cost of a meat-processing machine after speaking with customers and performing a consistent product teardown that addressed several design criteria, including serviceability, manufacturability and purchasing.

The product design was aligned with customers' expressed needs. By eliminating, combining and transferring functions that weren't critical to customers and reducing the number of components, the manufacturer reduced the overall cost of the machine by 20% and reduced delivery lead-time by 12%.

The bottom line

By taking a holistic, collaborative and pragmatic approach to VA/VE, manufacturers can decrease their material costs and simultaneously increase customer value. This translates to top-line earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization growth.

VA/VE should be performed on a continuous basis to stay competitive, and the success of the first few projects is critical to ensuring a workable, sustainable process. This may mean investing in resources to ensure success at the onset, then transferring the capability internally. 

- Andreas Doerken is the senior vice president at Argo Consulting. This article originally appeared on AME's blog. AME is a CFE Media content partner.

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