American manufacturing faces many challenges. With so many products being made overseas, U.S. manufacturing struggles with the competitive environment and ability to participate in the high-tech exports market. Innovative manufacturing involves more than making high-tech products. It uses new, often cutting-edge machines and processes to make products that are unique, more complex and competitively priced. Two activities – factory and material development – innovate manufacturing using quick integration of improvements, permitting changes in design and accommodating custom, cost-effective production.
By understanding and implementing factory process and material process development, your company can gain an edge in manufacturing. More specifically, by delivering instant change management and progressive response, the end product will meet client requirements and improve R&D development. Technical discoveries, new ideas and fresh engineering approaches can be transformed quickly into the various stages of new products. When you have a complex product, the more engineering oversight is required during production. Involving engineers at the front-end of manufacturing allows for adjustments to prototypes while working closely with the client and the product. Products can be engineered, tested, built and engineered again in an iterative manner that enhances design and adds production efficiencies. Once a product is verified through successful prototype builds, it can then be produced in comparatively higher volumes more inexpensively.
Factory process development includes infrastructure, records, forms and build guidelines. The infrastructure of the manufacturing facility, the plant layout, employees and build schedules are all essential in creating an efficient and collaborative work environment. Good infrastructure communicates to the employees and clients confidence in the build operations. Well organized infrastructure makes the product builds run smoothly.
Records and forms methods ensure that production is managed proficiently. Significant pieces of the records and forms methods include serial label configurations, a build deviation procedure, part records, build matrix, part rework procedure and defect records. The use of records and forms is how an organization captures “learnings” for clients by identifying a defect in process, contacting the responsible engineer and technician, and providing key attributes of the issue to root cause. These critical steps allow clients to make changes to the design to improve their product.
The build guidelines drive efficiency from concept design to production. Build guidelines include buffer build limits, team structure, defect/observation escalation procedure, flow and line stoppage criteria. These guidelines make sure changes to product designs are fully reviewed and approved by all parties to maintain high quality and avoid downstream production issues.
Material process development entails the tracking and control methods for all materials included within the manufacturing process. Material processes track materials characters, incoming materials, tooling and material movement. Good management of the materials process gives insight into how materials changes affect production costs. Tracking materials through assembly and testing of parts results in product optimization.
Innovative manufacturing takes a detailed and managed approach. By integrating factory and material development processes into manufacturing, companies create a learning environment that improves production. Factory and material development methods streamline integration of process improvements, allow for changes in design, and accommodate custom production.
Bill Huseby is the CEO of Sigma Design, a Vancouver-based product engineering firm. For more information, visit www.sigmadzn.com.