Life cycle engineering – thinking about tomorrow, today

Designing product families systematically and sustainably

2E mechatronic, a specialist in the development of innovative mechatronics products in the fields of sensors, precision injection molding and microelectromechanical systems, has made a name for itself as a specialist in 3D injection-molded circuit carriers and other technologies. The company has grown continuously over the past decade. The Steinbeis Transfer Center “Management – Innovation – Technology” (MIT) supported 2E on an innovative product development project in the field of sensors. The challenge: to develop product architecture suitable for a variety of product variants, and optimize all engineering processes throughout the entire product life cycle.

“Our innovation projects are becoming more and more complex and their product life cycles shorter and shorter. For maximum efficiency in all processes, we increasingly need to focus on our core competencies,” explains Uwe Remer, managing partner at 2E. Key to this is 2E’s building-block approach to developing innovative products. This approach recently provided a springboard for an inclination sensor enhancement project.

As well as the need to optimize internal processes, the building-block approach also entails finding and selecting the right third-party support – people with the right skills. “Networking has been central to all of 2E’s innovation work for over 15 years, throughout the supply chain, all the way to the customer,” continues Remer. 2E didn’t want to leave finding these partners to chance.

The project scope was clearly defined. The second generation of the inclination sensor should be based on a clear design principle – similar to the architecture of a house. Preplanned, combinable product and process elements should be used to generate new customer-specific solutions quickly and reliably. The entire life cycle of the product, from initial brainstorming to follow-on products, should be taken into account, and all engineering processes should be set up accordingly. For functions and processes beyond 2E’s core competences, value creation partners should be identified and successfully integrated into company networks.

The 2E project team invited the experts from Steinbeis to join them on this challenging task. 2E chose to work with Steinbeis as a consulting partner because of their excellent product and process engineering network, and their expertise in managing networks both within companies and between them. The team used the Steinbeis Transfer Center’s three-phase model:

Phase 1: Customer requirements and system development
Systematically classify customer and market needs and develop suitable integrated technology/ functional modules.

Phase 2: Product classification and configuration
Draw up a product catalog of basic functionalities, standard (catalog) options and tailored (customer) versions.

Phase 3: Process evaluation and value creation partners
Optimize core processes (internal) for core functions; evaluate special processes (external) for special functions, network processes efficiently, adapt regularly.

2E’s self-assessment highlighted where its core competences lie within the engineering processes. However, certain key figures highlighted that there was still plenty of potential to standardize and optimize inclination sensor product architecture. “Too many product variants, too low volumes,” sums up Uwe Remer. “We could meet all kinds of different customer needs with our inclination sensor technology – but we don’t want to,” he continues. To avoid adapting products to each new customer, the team systematically analyzed selected target groups in the chosen markets, and implemented their requirements in appropriate product modules. Thismassively reduces the time-to-market for each order – and the freed-up development capacity can now be used for customer projects that really do match company goals.

For the catalog modules, the team determined and optimized corresponding engineering processes. 2E no longer develops special processes for tailored solutions, but buys them from reliable network partners. Uwe Remer is already thinking one step further. “We’re designing an entire product portfolio for each application area – after all, we have the technological expertise to do this. But it takes careful planning to integrate this sensibly into our existing business fields without customer projects getting in each other’s way. Our goal is to maximize efficiency!” Remer is delighted with the outcome of the project. “We wanted to expand into newmarkets and industries for our innovative inclination sensor – and do this more quickly than before, in a more targeted way. Now that we have a pretty good idea which application fields our technology matches best, we can offer them the right product variants without delay. We also now know the exact areas we need to improve our engineering processes in – and we’ve already found the right external process specialists to support us with this.”

For Dr. Günther Würtz, director of the MIT Steinbeis Transfer Center, the key to long term success also lies in networked engineering processes. “Focusing solely on the development process is no guarantee of long-term success. For lasting profitability, the entire product life cycle needs to work as efficiently as possible, from first prototypes to second generation products. The rule for each and every process is the same: simplythe best. We only want to retain in-house processes that are core competences – all other processes can be taken care of by our excellent new partners.”

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