The art of getting everything done

Seeing engineering projects through to completion

A Herrenberg-based company called Feinmetall has plenty of experience in safely bonding electronic components in the test room. In fact it’s one of the electronics industry’s largest manufacturers of test equipment. As the corporate philosophy stipulates that no customer solution can be “off the shelf”, product innovations and projects that drive innovation are growing in number and complexity. The Steinbeis Transfer Center Management – Innovation – Technology (MIT) is supporting Feinmetall with the optimization of its product engineering process (PEP) and helping the company implement a sustainable engineering system. The aim: to complete projects on schedule and in line with quality standards.

The number of test card and test adapter projects and their level of complexity rose so sharply over the last few years that the management at Feinmetall decided to take actions to cope well with this situation. The next step: introduce a standardized process for completing engineering projects. This process needed to do three things: help staff meet stipulated project completion deadlines, reduce the number of rounds of changes and in doing so, improve productivity among the project team.

For years, Feinmetall has used a project management system that organizes the scope of projects as well as timings. “But I was increasingly getting the impression”, notes Wolfgang Bürkle, managing director of Feinmetall, “that we weren’t all going in the same direction”. So the mandate for the project was clear. From now on, engineering projects needed to follow one standardized process – from the first stage of development to the production handover – and include defined work packages to help staff accurately assess costs and necessary resources.

Joining forces with the Steinbeis experts, the Feinmetall team embarked on the project using an engineering method called 3PRO. This links product engineering with process engineering and project engineering, uniting the seasoned approaches of simultaneous engineering with project management to create an integrated project engineering system. Designed around each individual company, 3PRO integrates and synchronizes three core components: work packages that outline the PEP; working guidelines (consisting of checklists and design rules) that govern how products and production must be designed; a kit of ready-to-use tools for fully functional products and processes within budget.

Work packages needed to create two things: product development based on established routines and carefully coordinated production procedures. One important resource in this phase was a classification covering three types of projects: standard; application/ change; one-off. One-off projects are the only ones that require engineers to work through the work packages according to plan. For application/change and standard projects, engineers agreed to use a streamlined, shortened version to make the best use of limited resources and man-hours. Spanning checklists and design guidelines, the set of rules outlines standards drawn from best practice. One task lay in clearing up applicable procedures and checklists. Some of them were subsumed, those that remained were revised, shortened and tailored to each particular application. The greatest gains in efficiency were made when the teams structured the methods. Over the years, employees at Feinmetall had amassed an arsenal of product development and process planning methods. Here again, a cleanup was the order of the day. The methods that were kept in place were trimmed down to an easy-touse “light version” and assigned to individual work packages.

But the decision makers didn't stop when the project was determined. “We realized that if the new project engineering approach was going to succeed in the long run”, explains Bürkle, “our employees were going to have to adopt a different mindset. They’d have to recognize the benefits of standardization – and not view them as a hamstring to their creativity.” As a result, Steinbeis devoted a separate, parallel training project to this area. The outcome: a standardized product engineering process that primarily allows Feinmetall to offer a greater sense of security to all of the project stakeholders. This means that senior managers can manage the right projects with the right priority, thus minimizing risk. Heads of specialist departments will also have fewer fires to put out as they will be able to take other departmental needs into account earlier. Project managers will spend less time checking up on things internally. And project team members will see their productivity rise – now that they know precisely what needs to be delivered, by when, and what that will require.

“This tailor-made PEP affords everyone involved in the project more time to come up with solutions to the real technical and business challenges we’re faced with” emphasizes Dr. Günther Würtz, managing director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center MIT. “The supposed drain on creativity has been transformed into a catalyst for creativity!”

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