Staying Competitive in a Crunch

7 easy steps to reduce costs in the product development and engineering cycle

Comments Off on Staying Competitive in a Crunch February 6, 2009
by Milind Dange

While severe economic pressures can result in budget cutbacks and layoffs, these changes fail to produce the process or product improvements necessary for gaining a competitive advantage. There are plenty of “rocks in the stream” when it comes to meeting the challenge of reducing costs in the product development and engineering cycle. In spite of mandates from management to cut expenses and speed up development, there are inhibitors or barriers to success, so here are seven useful tools to help remove the rocks:

1. Reduce complexity

It may be that unnecessary complexity is a primary cost driver when it comes to product development. In many companies, products develop independently of each other, with engineers focusing solely on the task at hand. For example, a company may find it has designed 14, 14½ and 15-inch hinges and an engineer is about to embark on one that’s 14¾ inches, even though the door size is nearly the same in each case. Slower periods are an opportunity to deploy engineers to work on the complexity problem by creating “a virtual parts bin” that can give the engineering team access to the company’s engineering legacy. This makes it possible to go back and not only uncover redundancy, but to also use their time to improve the company’s products.

2. Reduce prototype development time

Although putting 3D digital prototyping technology to work has many advantages, there are engineers who continue to rely on physical prototypes. Unfortunately, the process creates bottlenecks, so engineers find themselves waiting around until the next prototype is finished. Management can help overcome engineer reluctance by taking two steps: (1) make a commitment to move to digital prototyping and (2) follow up by investing in the technology and training. Guarantee effectiveness by ensuring design reviews happen digitally and that all involved learn to think “digitally” (making key decisions using only the digital prototype).

3. Use more technology

Along with prototype building, technology offers other benefits. For example, it allows designers and engineers to work as teams, interacting quickly, whether they are in the same location or dispersed. Not only does this approach save valuable time, but the collaboration also allows them to achieve the best possible solution.

Technology can also speed up the time-consuming sign-off process. There is no reason to distribute physical drawings when it can be done digitally. Changes and comments can be noted electronically and redistributed. Many successful companies have used downturns to their advantage by choosing to introduce new processes when the going is slow.