Transitioning Designs To Manufacturing: Partnering For Success
By Bob White, Vice President, Manufacturing Services Division, Millitech, Inc.
Innovation and the development of new products are critical to the overall success of most companies. Leading companies have a continuous pipeline of new technology and/or product development and the process discipline in place to transition new developments into manufacturing. Product development is typically resource-intensive, involving investments in labor, materials, and capital. High frequency products as well as other leading-edge technology-based systems pose unique challenges to successful product development and manufacturing. In order to maximize success and optimize the returns on these investments, it’s imperative to employ a disciplined and comprehensive process from the design phase through the transition into manufacturing and throughout the product’s lifecycle.
All companies have strengths and weaknesses, and history has shown that those companies that focus on their core skills and strengths excel. Original equipment manufacturers, particularly in the aerospace and defense markets, have migrated over the past decade to becoming system integrators pushing higher value-added content into their supply chains. The OEMs are not just procuring higher value-added assemblies, but many are now contracting for design content and manufacturing services that were traditionally provided in-house.
Successful development programs routinely incorporate early engagement with the manufacturing teams participating in design for Six Sigma, design for manufacturability, and design to cost initiatives. Studies consistently conclude that typically 70% to 85% of new product costs are defined during the design stage. Manufacturing teams leverage the collective knowledge of the supply base to ensure the designed product can be manufactured reliably, meeting performance requirements, schedule commitments, quality requirements, and cost objectives.
Integrated product teams (IPTs) utilized throughout the design, development, transition to manufacturing, and eventually production, reduce time-to-market and minimize costs. IPTs incorporate multiple disciplines, including design, development, project management, engineering, manufacturing, quality, supply chain, and contracts management. Early and active involvement helps to ensure planning is completed, schedules maintained, and issues are quickly mitigated. Clear expectations, including product specifications and performance and test and quality requirements, all need to be defined early in the planning stage.
Preparation for transition into production is one of the most critical steps in successful programs. Utilization of gates or reviews, such as Critical Design Reviews, Production Readiness Reviews, and Test Readiness Reviews, ensure key milestones are met and minimize the cost and delays associated with changes required on the production floor. Development of the manufacturing strategy and implementation of lean methodologies need to be defined prior to entering any pilot or low-rate initial production phase. Manufacturing layout, design, and fabrication of fixturing/tooling, capital equipment planning, process and procedure development, test equipment and processes, capacity planning, and manufacturing skill sets all need to be planned and executed for a successful pilot production. The manufacturing team should be actively involved in the planning, including the development of manufacturing processes, assembly procedures, and test procedures. The engineering, design, and quality teams need to work very closely with the manufacturing teams collectively executing the pilot phase. Education and training of unique assembly processes and component technologies is transferred to the manufacturing team during this phase.
Lessons learned from the pilot phase need to be incorporated prior to the production phase. Engineering changes, process/procedure improvements, modification of lean production cells, supplier performance, and other issues all need to be addressed prior to launching the production phase. Continuous improvement is a philosophy that needs to be incorporated throughout the project life cycle, but it is critically important during the transition to manufacturing stages. Every process can be improved, and a disciplined approach to implementing lessons learned, lean methodologies, and efficiency improvements prior to the production phase will result in a robust and reliable manufacturing process with improved cycle times and efficiencies that ensure high-quality products are manufactured to meet customer schedules.
Supply chain management, particularly in high value-added assembly operations, is critical to developing high-reliability manufacturing. OEMs look to partner with manufacturing companies that have effective supplier development programs. High-frequency products in the aerospace and defense markets present unique challenges. Suppliers may have limited manufacturing experience with leading-edge technologies and components as new technologies and product improvements are brought to market. Effective supplier development and supply chain management is required to ensure the suppliers can meet the production demands. The IPTs play a key role in working with the high-risk suppliers understanding product or component capabilities, defining proper specification and test verification procedures, and capacity planning through the supply chain to ensure the end production requirements are achieved.
The development of new products and transition into manufacturing is critical to the success of any enterprise. Certain markets, including aerospace and defense markets, have unique and often very demanding requirements. The development of integrated product teams engaged throughout the entire lifecycle of a program has been instrumental in delivering many new successful products to these challenging markets. As more and more original equipment manufacturers drive to becoming product integrators, there is a compelling need for manufacturing services organizations to partner with OEMs to ensure programmatic success. Combining the design and development expertise of the OEMs and partnering with high-reliability manufacturing partners can often provide the best overall value to the customer. In the end, it’s all about delivering new and profitable revenue streams.
About Millitech Inc.
Millitech Inc. is a Massachusetts-based business which specializes in the design and manufacturing of millimeter-wave components, assemblies, and fully integrated antenna positioning systems for satellite communications, radar, passive imaging, space, and remote sensing applications. Millitech Inc. is a Smiths Interconnect business.
Millitech recently received the “4 Star Supplier Excellence Award” from Raytheon Network Centric Systems. For more information about Millitech, call (413) 582-9620 or visit the company's Website at www.millitech.com.
About Smiths Interconnect
Smiths Interconnect (www.smithsinterconnect.com) is a leader in technically differentiated electronic and radio frequency products that connect, protect, and control critical systems for the wireless telecommunications, aerospace, defense, space, data center, medical, rail, test, and industrial markets. It is part of Smiths Group (www.smiths.com), a global leader in applying advanced technologies for markets in threat and contraband detection, energy, medical devices, communications, and engineered components. Smiths Group employs around 23,000 people in more than 50 countries.