No, I’m not talking about a rocket launch. I’m talking about a well-oiled perfect product launch that is on-time and achieves full ramp-up on Day One. This type of new product introduction would appear as a vertical line on a time / volume graph, and would notably win a marketplace for an enterprise, and at the very least, make a career for the product manager. This kind of innovation could revolutionize manufacturing.
Is such a thing possible? Let’s consider exactly what challenges would need to be overcome in order to achieve a vertical launch. Then we’ll have a better idea if it’s possible or not.
Challenge 1: Engineering Change Order fluidity
Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) are the enemy of a smooth product launch, and it is unlikely they are going to disappear. S%#t happens. In the real world, new products undergo significant engineering and design changes, often all the way up to launch. I know of one Consumer Products Company that was experiencing 10 to 20 ECO’s per week for new products. With dozens of manufacturing facilities, keeping up with that level of ECOs is downright brutal!
If you hope to launch a product smoothly across multiple manufacturing facilities, change orders have to run like clockwork. How can this be done? The only answer is really tight integration with PLM on the one hand, and all the production floors on the other. So, if a change order comes through for any reason, all members of the team and all facilities must know about it and be completely aligned. That goes for ECOs generated downstream, such as when the factories discover they can’t produce the parts with sufficient quality or for a low enough cost. And it goes for ECOs generated upstream, such as when market research discovers halfway through the project that consumers want a different set of features.
Challenge 2: Instantly programming changes to shop floor equipment
It’s not enough for the plants to know about the ECOs. The various plants have to be able to act on them quickly and efficiently in order to minimize delay. And there’s the rub.
Manufacturing actions typically are performed at the machine layer by Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) that execute instructions according to a process plan. For many manufacturers, when adjustments to the process are required at this level, production must stop until the changes have been programmed directly into the machines. The more plants and equipment in the manufacturing landscape, the harder it becomes to coordinate and keep up with product launches as the final design is completed.
This challenge can be overcome by implementing adjustments at a higher level – at the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) layer, instead of the machine layer. Changes can then be made automatically to multiple plants, by distributing new processes to the MES systems (ideally from a Center of Excellence).
This will be harder to do for manufacturers who have a lot of legacy equipment on their plant floors. Nevertheless, a growing number of manufacturers have solved this problem by implementing a standardized MES as a platform-based solution. Under this scenario, it is possible to use machine interfaces that allow virtually instant and simultaneous process updates across an entire manufacturing enterprise – cutting weeks and months off of product launches.
If you can effectively address these two challenges, then the potential to achieve a vertical launch is now on the horizon. But, we’re far from reaching it. In my next post, I’ll take a look at two more major hurdles that must also be overcome before we can even begin to talk about achieving a perfect, vertical product launch.