In order to signify the differences between the traditional approach of sequential engineering and the modern concurrent engineering approach, I will simulate the release of an aircraft component onto the market, and explain in detail the process. I will point out differences between the methods as I go along.
Traditionally, products were designed and manufactured following the sequential engineering methods, where people from different departments work one after the other on successive phases of development. This method of production is in a linear format. The different steps are done one after another, with all attention and resources focused on that one task. After it is completed it is left alone and everything is concentrated on the next task. The product is first completely defined by the engineering design department, and then the manufacturing department take over and define the manufacturing process, etc. This was a lengthy process, and often led to a lot of design changes as the prototype testing began, due to production problems, delays or design flaws. This is therefore a slow and costly approach, often leading to a low-quality and less competitive product.
Concurrent Engineering, sometimes called Simultaneous Engineering or Integrated Product Development (IPD), can be defined as a systematic approach to the integrated, concurrent design of products and their related processes, including manufacture and support. This approach is intended to cause the developers, from the outset, to consider all elements of the product life cycle from conception through disposal, including quality, cost, schedule, and user requirements. This results in the product development team clearly understanding what the product requires in terms of mission performance, environmental conditions during operation, budget, and scheduling. In this method, several teams within an organization work simultaneously to develop new products and services andthis therefore allows a more streamlined approach. Decision making involves full team participation and involvement. The team often consists of product design engineers, manufacturing engineers, marketing personnel, purchasing, finance, and suppliers, and the role of the leader is to supply the basic foundation and support for change, rather than to tell the other team members what to do. In concurrent engineering, different tasks are tackled at the same time, and not necessarily in the usual order. This means that info found out later in the process can be added to earlier parts, improving them, and also saving a lot of time. Examples from companies using Concurrent Engineering techniques show significant increases in overall quality, 30-40% reduction in project times and costs, and 60-80% reductions in design changes after release.
Concurrent engineering provides many benefits over sequential engineering, including lower manufacturing and production costs, improved quality of resulting end products and increased accuracy in predicting and meeting project plans, schedules, timelines, and budgets. Because the multidisciplinary teams working together early in the process can make informed decisions about cost, quality, process and product issues, trade-offs can be made between design features, part manufacturability, assembly requirements, material needs, reliability issues, serviceability requirements, and cost and time constraints. Any differences are usually reconciled early in the design process, leading to increased efficiency and performance, higher reliability in the product development process, reduced defect rate and ultimately a faster time to market which results in increased market share. This also means faster reaction times in responding to the rapidly changing market, which in turn fosters increased customer satisfaction and a higher return on investments due to the reduced labour and resource requirements, improved inventory control and scheduling. Improved communication between individuals and departments within the firm also encourages cohesiveness, and a more pleasant working environment, which in turn can positively affect productivity of the workforce.
Concurrent engineering is not a trivial process to apply; therefore companies must be careful in using this approach. To be successful, they should initially compare themselves with their competitors to set a benchmark, and identify potential performance improvements and realistic targets by analysing the market and knowing the customers. It is paramount to have the top management’s support, and to develop a clear strategy and implementation plan which must be continually reviewed and revised with progress. Individualism should be suppressed within the team and project leaders must have a clear overall visualization of the project and goals. Cross -functional integration and collaboration needs to be established and encouraged, so as to foster team ethics and freely transfer technology and information between individuals and departments. Some organisations have been known to have problems in the past, which manifest themselves when there is an unwillingness to institutionalize concurrent engineering, and new reporting lines and reward systems are not set up to agree with the new approach. Problems can also arise if the employees have not had any training in teamwork, or if the schedules set are unrealistic. There needs to be a change in relationships with vendors in order for the concurrent engineering methods to work at their best, alongside a focus on process improvement rather than computerisation. Concurrent engineering is an evolving process that requires continuous improvement and refinement. This continuous improvement cycle consist of planning, implementing, reviewing, and revising. The process must be updated and revised on a regular basis to optimize the effectiveness and benefits in the concurrent engineering development process.
In today’s business world, a quick effective response to changing market needs is paramount if a corporation is to be successful. They must be able to reduce their time to market with an adaptable attitude and decision must be made quickly and correctly the first time around. If the firms waste time repeating tasks, as might happen using sequential methods, they will become less competitive, therefore concurrent engineering has emerged as way of bringing rapid solutions to product design and development process.
Concurrent engineering is indisputably the future for new product development for all companies regardless of their size, sophistication, or product portfolio. In order to be competitive, corporations must be able to complete diverse tasks concurrently, even if that means altering their product and process development cycle. Although it will require a major reorganisation and be reviewed and adjusted for continuous improvements of engineering and business operations, this new process will benefit the company in the long-term.
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