Suppliers Are Joining the Design Team

Suppliers Are Joining the Design Team

Aug 4, 2015

By Rob Spiegel, Design News

As pressure grows for design teams to be quicker and reduce errors, they are including their suppliers in design input and change procedures. It is a behavior change that isn’t based on Big Data, IoT, or 3D printing, but rather on necessity. And instead of technology providers leading the way, product producers are turning to design software vendors, saying, “Help us make this work.”

Reasons for Collaborating
Product producers have shifted their approach to design. Efficiency and speed have become the top values. “A decade ago, design was all about the ego and getting the design perfect. That’s changed, and now it’s all about speed,” Kent Kilmer, VP of marketing for Arena Solutions, toldDesign News. “Now there’s no loss of dignity in failure. The new motto is: Fail fast and move quickly.”

The reasons for opening up the design process to include suppliers vary with each industry.

Design Profit from Munro and Associates allows for collaboration across many teams (and supply chains) tracking cost, weight, manufacturing steps, quality data, MRL, and a myriad of other metrics while maintaining cross user compliance for risk management in the design phase..   (Source: Munro and Associates)

Design Profit from Munro and Associates allows for collaboration across many teams (and supply chains) tracking cost, weight, manufacturing steps, quality data, MRL, and a myriad of other metrics while maintaining cross user compliance for risk management in the design phase.. (Source: Munro and Associates)

Automotive and aerospace have been the long-time leaders in design collaboration. In both industries, the vast complexity of products requires intimate relationships between OEMs and suppliers. After decades of this, auto and aerospace have it pretty well worked out.

“With each industry there’s a sweet spot. Automotive and aerospace were first in collaboration because they’re so complex,” Sandra Mitchell, product manager of Teamcenter Supplier Collaboration at Siemens PLM, told Design News.

“In auto, one of the big sweet spots is change. OEMs are looking for a quick turnaround. If you don’t have an efficient way to collaborate, you have to make an educated guess on the cost of the change and the lead time. That can put you in danger of missing your target,” Mitchell said. “Time versus cost is big with auto. You need to get everyone’s input before you lock everyone in.”

Efficiency from design collaboration is spreading beyond automotive and aerospace. “We’ve seen a lot of collaboration activity in electronics and semiconductors. They’ve been interested managing changes and making sure their suppliers have up-to-date information on design changes,” Mitchell said. “The biggest issue is being able to get all of their changes out to suppliers. We get a lot of requests for help from electronics companies, and it’s spreading to other industries.”

One of those is the medical device industry, according to Alistair Munro, Munro and Associates’ director of business development for lean design for Canada “I have seen a surge in collaboration in the medical device industry, where they’re incorporating suppliers early on in the design process,” Munro said. “The more forward thinking the company, the more suppliers are involved in the concept and early design phase.”

Managing Suppliers
One of the major reasons for collaborating with suppliers is to keep track of who’s doing what, and keep track of it early. “Everyone realizes they need to manage their suppliers early in the design process. Once you get so far into your design, things are locked in, and [any change] affects cost and quality,” Mitchell said. “If suppliers want to give you some input, they need to do it fast before things are set.”

One of the recent shifts in design collaboration is that auto and aero now want to extend the collaboration beyond the top tier in order to gain even greater efficiencies. “Now they’re trying to involve the other suppliers. That can be tens of thousands. That’s quite a challenge. You might not even be able to manage it,” said Mitchell. “The challenge is reaching every one and not just the top 10 percent.”

Design Teams Are Demanding New Tools
Design collaboration is a practice where the users have been ahead of the design platform makers. “Developments in collaboration tools came from customer demand for a long time,” Mitchell said.

Teamcenter Supplier Collaboration's supplier portal is designed to receive bid requests and submit bid proposals.   (Source: Siemens PLM)

Teamcenter Supplier Collaboration’s supplier portal is designed to receive bid requests and submit bid proposals. (Source: Siemens PLM)

She believes the design software vendors are beginning to deliver systems that meet the demands of their customers. “The tools are just now starting to catch up. In the past, companies had to piece together solutions,” Mitchell said. “Now what they’re doing is embedding collaboration into the PLM process. Then they offer their suppliers access, so they’re working on the same platform. That’s a necessity.”

However, not everyone agrees that the PLM platform is the best place for collaboration to take place. “PLM tools aren’t really that effective for the purpose of early design collaboration between different companies,” Munro said. “You need to have design software that maps out the assembly and manufacturing process in order to get a visual understanding of all of the variables. That has to be shareable and collaborative without giving out your early CAD models.”

The Dangers of Sharing
As companies develop collaboration programs, they also have to manage what their partners are allowed to see and what’s off limits. “Each industry has a different reason to let suppliers in or not let them in,” Mitchell said. “Maybe the supplier doesn’t need access to everything in the system. You certainly don’t want everyone to have access to your IP.”

The need for control is one of the reasons PLM is not always the first choice as a collaboration platform. “One of the big issues is being able to do a round trip. I need to give the supplier a context with reference data, and they need to give something back. So it needs to be more than a shared site,” Mitchell said. “A lot of folks have manual processes around this. Some have whole teams of people who are responsible just for taking things in and out of the PLM system. Yet once you export from the PLM, you lose control of the versions.” Some design vendors such as Siemens PLM have tailored their PLM systems to support collaboration while also managing who has access to what.

Ultimately, the reason for bringing suppliers into the design process may be to offload the burden of design just as companies have offloaded manufacturing. Scott Reedy, director of product marketing at Arena Solutions, told Design News: “Companies are focusing on what they do best and outsource the rest. They’ve learned to outsource manufacturing. Now we’re seeing them outsource design, as well. You don’t have to ramp up design as you grow; you can outsource your design.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper

 

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