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Steinbeis helps companies maintain consistency in their engineering processes

Product development is a complex process. And it’s getting even more complex as people introduce issues like smart products and Industry 4.0. But does intensifying complexity automatically mean the product development process will become more expensive? Certainly not. Instead, according to the experts at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Applications in Engineering based in Karlsruhe, it is becoming more urgent than ever to optimize the product development process (PDP).

Thanks to simultaneous engineering, lots of development work is virtual these days. It involves many people in different departments working simultaneously on one and the same product. This makes it necessary to synchronize countless items of information, spanning different methods and departments. If managers overlook the impact a change could have on all systems involved in a process, the follow-on costs and outlays caused by corrective measures soon shoot up. Steinbeis experts can point to an actual example of this which involved an automotive supplier. The firm made a change to the design of its construction method – as requested by the customer – but it didn’t change the methods being used in quality assurance (QA). Good parts were then categorized as rejects and destroyed because the documents used in QA were out of date. The damage to the company was a 7-figure number. It’s rare for such examples to be documented and often they are swept under the rug. Sometimes even senior managers in the same company don’t even get to hear about them.

Until now, the usual way to deal with such problems has been to revert to good engineering logic – typically by introducing a system such as product lifecycle management (PLM). Realigning the PDP instead, along the lines of a more rationalized organization, is usually not on the agenda. Existing processes are simply not challenged. It is expected that by introducing new software, existing processes will sort themselves out. But in the same way that a person’s inability to organize themselves won’t be solved by buying a new closet, good software is no substitute for shortfalls in semantic, structural and organizational concepts. It’s crucial to organize the PDP properly when a PLM system is introduced. And it’s important to see this as a genuine opportunity to actively rationalize organizational procedures and to leverage this carefully as part of a continuous improvement process.

Working in collaboration with the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Applications in Engineering, Siemens Industrial Software has developed a consulting technique called Do(PLM)Con to help rationalize organiFigure zational procedures used in product development. One of the underlying considerations during the development of this technique was to apply tried and tested principles of lean management to the design of product development processes. It is based on the logic of continuous improvement, in which the current status of product development is made transparent to everyone involved in the process by analyzing information flows. Once that has been achieved, Do(PLM)Con design guidelines can be used to start developing a more suitable target scenario. This scenario consists of a structural or semantic concept that goes hand in hand with an organizational concept. The third step is to develop a PLM technology concept. This establishes an engineering foundation for achieving the target scenario which can then be introduced.

Comparable techniques often fall foul of the complexity of the PDP. Until now it was seldom possible to map the actual situation and target scenario in such a way that everyone in the process actually understood them. So with the Do(PLM)Con model, lifecycle mapping was developed as a tool which is roughly comparable to value stream analysis in production management. This makes it possible to draw a map of the product development process – without complicated IT terminology – in a way which is easy for others to understand. Using the Do(PLM)Con technique is particularly useful when picking or working on the introduction of a PLM system. But even when it’s not used in connection with a PLM introduction, it brings major benefits. This is because rationalizing organizational procedures in the PDP is often possible in existing system environments. On a project of average complexity, between 10 and 15 consulting days can be expected.

The Steinbeis experts introduced the Do(PLM)Con technique at a company involved in the contract manufacture of tool machines. An analysis of PLM information flows highlighted a string of weaknesses in the company’s PDP. For example, the company was not coordinating the methods used for products or its stock keeping processes. It was often ordering the wrong parts, resulting in excessive costs. Another problem was that it was taking a long time to deliver projects that involved intensive development of new products. The competitors were often quicker to deliver and key contracts were frequently being lost. To get to the root of the problem, Steinbeis analyzed the information flow of product data using Lifecycle Mapping. When a new order came in, the product manager drafted a first profile for the new product using a TDM system and forwarded corresponding briefs to the design engineers. As product development got underway, the engineers spoke with, met with or called logistics on an ad hoc basis to discuss materials for adapted or new parts. Before completion of the design stage, the product manager drafted – by hand – a master list for parts in the ERP system, which had been pulled manually from a product profile in the TDM system. The PDP analysis showed that this back and forth was a key cause of the problem. The link between the material master data and the actual product design had developed organically. Everyone coordinated information between each system however they wanted. There were no consistent data semantics and no organizational guidelines to coordinate the master part data or the master material data with product profile data. Links within the different IT systems were managed manually. Changes in each method were therefore often not even communicated, or only communicated badly.

The Steinbeis experts first solved semantic issues and then turned to organizational problems. Following an initial analysis, they concluded that it would be possible to allocate parts according to product profiles, master material data and master part data. To do this, the advanced, functional structure of the semantics of the product profiles was transferred to the more logistics-based semantics of the master part data. This entailed changing the scope of module profiles to ensure they would always be captured securely and clearly in the master material data in the ERP system. To make sure things were 100% clear, all relevant allocation options were worked out between different methods and each was solved individually. This made it possible to manage master material data and master part data via the product profile. This product profile was defined as the primary source of information. Now materials could be worked out at any time by looking at the product profile.

The next step was to redesign how the PDP was organized. When a product profile is set up, the product manager defines who is responsible for parts or components to be used in development and logistics. These people communicate amongst themselves according to defined approval processes initiated by the design engineers. Once parts have been approved, data is transferred between the systems. To provide technical support, a PLM system was introduced to replace the TDM system. This contains all product profiles. It was then possible to automate key parts of the previously defined process. The PLM and ERP systems were then linked up via a special interface to allow for the automatic transfer of parts information into the ERP system.

The Do(PLM)Con method and its associated Lifecycle Mapping tool can simplify PDP as an integral part of an organizational rationalization. Given different Industry 4.0 scenarios, these methods are likely to become more and more important. Industry 4.0 techniques will make it much more important to integrate and manage information throughout the entire product life cycle in the future, and with Do(PLM)Con, this information can be planned easily and precisely long before software is introduced.

How to check product development in your company:

  • Have there been projects where people had to discuss and design how to manage product information during the product life cycle?
  • Can people involved in the PDP name the value and purpose of calculation models they set up?
  • Do people know how much detail is needed in these models?
  • Do people know which IT models are needed and when?
  • Are original and target scenarios known for each model?
  • Can information be generated in such a way that it is available exactly when it is needed?
  • Cankey players describe how the information flows between models as the PDP progresses


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg W. Fischer, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Hoheisel, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ute Dietrich
Steinbeis Transfer Center Computer Applications in Engineering (STZ-RIM) (Karlsruhe) |

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