A Unifying Theory for Manufacturing?

The notion of a unifying theory is tantalizing – one idea that cuts across everything. Though there isn’t one in manufacturing, I think there’s something close: Design simplification through part count reduction. It cuts across everything – across-the-board simplification. It makes everything better. Take a look how even HR is simplified.

HR takes care of the people side of the business and fewer parts means fewer people – fewer manufacturing people to make the product, fewer people to maintain smaller factories, fewer people to maintain fewer machine tools, fewer resources to move fewer parts, fewer folks to develop and manage fewer suppliers, fewer quality professionals to check the fewer parts and create fewer quality plans, fewer people to create manufacturing documentation, fewer coordinators to process fewer engineering changes, fewer RMA technicians to handle fewer returned parts, fewer field service technicians to service more reliable products, fewer design engineers to design fewer parts, few reliability engineers to test fewer parts, fewer accountants to account for fewer line items, fewer managers to manage fewer people.

Before I catch hell for the fewer-people-across-the-board language, product simplification is not about reducing people. (Fewer, fewer, fewer was just a good way to make a point.) In fact, design simplification is a growth strategy – more output with the people you have, which creates a lower cost structure, more profits, and new hires.

A unifying theory? Really? Product simplification?

Your products fundamentally shape your organization. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your businesses – you’ll see your product families in your org structure. Take look at your teams – you’ll see your BOM structure in your org structure. Simplify your product to simplify your company across-the-board. Strange, but true. Give it a try. I dare you.

6 Responses to “A Unifying Theory for Manufacturing?”

  • Doug Hoover:

    Really glad to see paragraph 3. It didn’t read like you, but I see your point. I think Bill Ketel needs to be reminded that proper simplification reduces part count to increase reliability, and ultimately eliminate the need for repair (because it doesn’t break when it gets to the customer). I do agree with the modification concern but even that implies that marketing / engineering / design didn’t really understand the customers requirements.

    The problem with cost cutting to save money short term is the failure to recognize the opportunity for long term profit improvement (read this as Return On Investment). Get there and you can spend even more of your investors money. Growth always seems to be an underlying theme in Mikes columns.

    I don’t forward everything he writes but this one will get passed along.

    Thanks Mike.

  • Mike:


    I’m all about creating value that creates growth that creates jobs.

    Not sure why paragraph 3 did not read like me, but I’m glad it worked for you.

    Thanks for investing the the discussion.

    Would you write something meaningful so I can post it on the website?


  • Doug Hoover:


    I didn’t spend enough time proof reading my first post. I knew what I meant but it didn’t make it into words.

    Paragraph 2 didn’t read like you. I was expecting something like … more people available to make more product with the same factory / resources / overhead…

    You came through with Paragraph 3. It (paragraph 3) was what I expected.


  • Mike:

    Got it, Doug. I wrote paragraph 3 to address my non-Mike-ness of paragraph 2. Mike

  • I remember an article I photocopied way back in the early 80’s about estimating the cost of an electronics product by counting the chips and multiplying by $20. Worked quite well. That was right at the beginning of VLSI technology, and before the software costs of today’s ubiquitous micros, so it’s probably not so simple now. Yet I’m sure your point about part count reduction is still very applicable.

  • Mike:

    The methods are more advanced now, but drive the same behavior. It’s amazing how part count reduction simplifies everything from product design right through warranty cost.

Leave a Reply

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner