The Changing Manufacturing Culture

19 Sep, 2006 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Collaboration and flexibility must become part of industry's day-to-day workings

Last week I attended an interesting and thought-provoking event: the UGS Digital Manufacturing Symposium, held in Dearborn, Michigan. (UGS also made a major manufacturing product announcement, but more on that later.)

Because the event was held in the Detroit area, the audience was largely, but not exclusively, composed of automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. The audience also included some medium- and a few small-sized businesses -- customer groups that UGS has given more attention to of late. The mix of speakers included UGS representatives (of course), customers and an independent consultant.

Manufacturing Differentiators

The event began with a presentation by Kevin Smith, director of performance consulting for Harbour Consulting. He focused on the key factors that act as differentiators and enablers for the most successful manufacturers today, with an emphasis on collaboration and flexibility.

Collaboration. In Smith’s view, collaboration is a process that synchronizes product innovation throughout the entire supply chain -- including manufacturing -- and is key to product launch success. Smith said that in his experience, manufacturing is still all too often an afterthought, with designs literally being thrown “over the transom” to production.

This must change, and he suggested that one of the most effective ways of promoting change is to have more employees, regardless of background or job function, spend some time on the manufacturing floor to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the work. Manufacturing must influence design and other areas of an organization so that it’s more integral to, and optimized with, the big picture.

According to Smith, less than 1% of typical manufacturing processes are value-added, making the vast majority non-value-added, but necessary, due to a lack of collaboration. So, while it may seem obvious that collaboration is a key to manufacturing success, it’s slow in being accepted as a fact of life for higher levels of productivity and quality. Ironically (or maybe not), in Smith’s experience, the industry sectors that are the best at collaborative practices are among the most highly regulated, such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals -- primarily because the nature of these types of businesses demands more comprehensive collaboration.

Flexibility. Smith said another key to manufacturing success is flexibility, or the ability to adapt to changes in the market by balancing and re-balancing production. Some of the most important flexibility enablers include similar product architectures with common assembly sequences; a well-trained, rotating workforce; generic production capacity; responsive suppliers; and collaborative tools and systems (there’s that word again: collaboration!). Although flexibility is something that makes sense, it has not historically been regarded as an essential element by the majority of manufacturers -- but it has been implemented by a growing number of successful ones.

A number of other presentations indicated the absolute necessity of changing the culture surrounding products, processes and plants. There is a real need for process-driven product development, as well as concurrent development of product and process -- once again, the need for collaboration. Because product and process are so intertwined, expect to see parametrics introduced into digital process design, where they will have as much effect on the plant as when they were introduced into product design models. And, much like products, we’ll see a similar sequence for process and plant modeling:

Model -» Simulate -» Evaluate -» Validate -» Build

UGS's Production Management Portfolio

The production management product announcements made in conjunction with UGS's Digital Manufacturing Symposium echoed the theme of the changing manufacturing culture.

UGS announced the Tecnomatix Production Management portfolio, a family of manufacturing shop-floor applications intended to integrate production management with a company's overall PLM process. Ideally, Tecnomatix Production Management will bridge the gaps between product design and production processes.

Not surprisingly, Production Management is part of UGS's Tecnomatix suite of digital manufacturing products that includes:

  • Tecnomatix FactoryLink for shop-floor connectivity
  • Tecnomatix MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems, formerly known as Xfactory) for production monitoring and control
  • Tecnomatix Production Management Portal for manufacturing event reporting and shop-floor intelligence.

With the announcement, these products are now integrated with UGS’s Teamcenter software. The manufacturing backbone, as the company calls it, provided by Teamcenter serves as a scalable environment designed to facilitate interoperability with a wide variety of digital design and manufacturing applications. Through this integration, the product and process definitions in Teamcenter are linked with the execution systems in Tecnomatix, for promoting consistency between planning and production.

From their inception, manufacturing execution systems have been able to accept process definitions for establishing manufacturing parameters that are monitored and reported back to management. However, the lack of a way to automatically link this production information back to the product and process definition through a common database often led to a mismatch between "as planned" and "as built" configurations that negatively impacted both product launches and sustained production.

Tecnomatix Production Management was developed to address this situation by establishing a shared database between the MES and PLM systems. The integration enables a transition from planning to production and creates a closed-loop feedback mechanism, so that changes occurring in planning can be instantly synchronized with production, and feedback from production can suggest changes to product or process design.

A Time to Change

The bottom line of the Symposium and all that was said there is that both technology and people will ultimately change the mindset and culture of manufacturing. The two factors must work in tandem, because if one is emphasized over the other, no positive change will come about -- and that’s something that no manufacturer can afford.

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