Due to the influence of digitalisation and the possibilities that it offers, existing competitors and emerging startups are forcing product companies to develop new products, produce them in a scalable way and sell them on the market ever more rapidly. Industrialisation is becoming more and more important because of this growing time pressure. Unfortunately, how companies regard project phase industrialisation can differ greatly from one to another.
Interdisciplinary product development has been dominated by a development process based on the waterfall model for years. Phased development processes, in which development and industrialisation are strictly separated, are not only common in startups but also in well-known corporations.
This is not wrong per se, as every development process is more or less broken down into phases anyway. However, it is important to constantly ask yourself whether the current path can lead to success or whether you might need to pivot. Without such an agile approach (at least in the early project stages), short development cycles cannot be achieved and there is a much greater risk of developing a product that misses the target in terms of what the customer actually wants.
What does industrialisation mean to Zühlke?
Producers or system suppliers (OEMs) like to push the idea that industrialisation is the same as a production ramp-up. When selling their services to product companies, they claim to be able to transition from product prototype to mass production in a very short space of time. The product companies, therefore, focus mainly on the preliminary study, the system architecture, and initial prototypes or samples, and then expect the transfer of production from the producer to happen automatically, smoothly, and rapidly. But can such a harsh transition ever go well?
At Zühlke, we are vehemently opposed to this simplistic representation. The industrialisation of a product is much more than just a production ramp-up. We see industrialisation as being part of the product development process, whereby the product is designed for demand-driven production and production methods with a constant focus on quality, costs, and time to market.
Based on our experiences from many interdisciplinary product development projects, we believe it is useful to see industrialisation as a parallel part of the actual development process. Only in this way can developers shift their focus towards the aforementioned activities at the right time. The motto for those who want to save time and money throughout the entire product life cycle is: ‘Industrialisation and the NPD process start almost simultaneously.’
Toyota has already shown how processes can be combined to eliminate waste – but what does this mean with regard to the industrialisation of a product?
Each product development project starts with an upstream project phase, a product definition stage, and a preliminary study. The aim here is to answer the following question: ‘How and with what kind of product can my company earn money in the future?’ Once my business vision is clear, the feasibility of complex technical issues can be assessed. The lean startup approach (build/measure/learn/adapt) is particularly suited to this purpose, as it allows rapid insights to be gained from short iterations. Once a rough system architecture has been established and the main uncertainties have been clarified, the actual development process can get underway with a bigger team. Aspects relating to the eventual production – and thus industrialisation – must be taken into account from a very early stage of the development process.
What are the benefits of seeing the industrialisation of a product as part of the development process?
Shorter cycle times
Most of the time that is saved comes from linking the different phases and integrating the industrialisation into the development process. This means that, once the concept is clear and the main business decisions have been made, the developers have to constantly ask themselves in their day-to-day work whether the developed feature is actually scalable in its current form and can be produced in the requisite quality in a reliable process. This must be done consistently, otherwise there is a danger that many components or even whole assemblies will have to be modified again at great effort and expense close to the finishing line in order to make the production process reliable.
At the same time, it removes the need for a transfer from development to industrialisation. And typical friction losses and inefficiencies can also be avoided, especially if the tasks are shared across different teams or even different departments.
Shorter cycle times also mean lower costs – provided, of course, that more employees aren’t working on the project due to the parallelisation of activities.
Substantial cost savings are achieved by avoiding longer development loops. With sequential industrialisation processes, it is unfortunately all too often the case that functions cannot be produced in sufficient quantities. In the worst-case scenario, this means that the team has to go all the way back to the feasibility stage.
Further cost advantages include a reduction in recurring expenses for testing or in additional costs for hardware or for producing test samples and prototypes. Another considerable but often overlooked benefit is early market entry. On the one hand, this means that more revenue can be generated with the product. On the other, the company can occupy the field before its competitors and thereby also increase its market share.
Combining processes to increase quality
Quality and production often go hand in hand. We’re all familiar with terms such as quality assurance, quality engineering, CIP, and process reliability. Most of the time, however, expensive or embarrassing errors can be traced back to the development stage. This can be explained using the example of a control lever for a plastic subassembly: process reliability is directly influenced by the choice of materials, an injection-mouldable design, production factors (humidity, material processing, employee expertise), or the configuration of tolerances, for example. Physics is an integral part of production: if I develop the component without taking all of these influences into account, it can be too big a task to rectify these decisions in production alone. It is essential that production expertise flows into the development process as early as possible in order to ensure high product quality further down the line.
Greater employee satisfaction
We are often pleased to see that the measures mentioned above not only result in economic benefits for companies but also have a positive effect on employee satisfaction. Fewer development-related problems in production lead to a more harmonious working relationship, and a two-class society can also be avoided; it is no longer a case of ‘great innovators’ on one side and ‘implementers’ on the other, but simply ‘developers’. And last but not least, all employees acquire a broader range of skills, which benefits both them and the company.
How do we implement this at Zühlke?
The most important piece of the puzzle is for companies to think and work in terms of roles rather than functions or departments. If you develop a product from idea through to production as a Zühlke customer, you’ll always work with a development team in which the members can play different roles depending on the size of the project. For instance, the project managers can also be requirements engineers, the developers are always testers to a certain degree, and the architects are usually also test managers responsible for documentation or product certification.
To help our team, we map out all necessary roles and their activities alongside each other in a product life cycle ranging from initial brainstorming through to sales or disposal. In this way, we can ensure that an industrialisation and production plausibility check is performed early on during the concept development stage and that testability is verified or the design-to-cost approach is consistently applied.
Claudio Schödler is a managing partner and the Senior Business Solution Manager at Zühlke. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and an executive MBA. Over the course of his professional career, he has gained a wealth of experience in interdisciplinary product development and manufacturing. Claudio would be delighted to accompany your project from initial brainstorming through to operation on the market. Generating value for the client is Claudio’s top priority at all times.