Archive for the ‘Cost Savings’ Category

To make the right decision, use the right data.

wheels fall offWhen it’s time for a tough decision, it’s time to use data.  The idea is the data removes biases and opinions so the decision is grounded in the fundamentals.  But using the right data the right way takes a lot of disciple and care.

The most straightforward decision is a decision between two things – an either or – and here’s how it goes.

The first step is to agree on the test protocols and measure systems used to create the data.  To eliminate biases, this is done before any testing.  The test protocols are the actual procedural steps to run the tests and are revision controlled documents.  The measurement systems are also fully defined.  This includes the make and model of the machine/hardware, full definition of the fixtures and supporting equipment, and a measurement protocol (the steps to do the measurements).

The next step is to create the charts and graphs used to present the data. (Again, this is done before any testing.) The simplest and best is the bar chart – with one bar for A and one bar for B.  But for all formats, the axes are labeled (including units), the test protocol is referenced (with its document number and revision letter), and the title is created.  The title defines the type of test, important shared elements of the tested configurations and important input conditions.   The title helps make sure the tested configurations are the same in the ways they should be.  And to be doubly sure they’re the same, once the graph is populated with the actual test data, a small image of the tested configurations can be added next to each bar.

The configurations under test change over time, and it’s important to maintain linkage between the test data and the tested configuration.  This can be accomplished with descriptive titles and formal revision numbers of the test configurations.  When you choose design concept A over concept B but unknowingly use data from the wrong revisions it’s still a data-driven decision, it’s just wrong one.

But the most important problem to guard against is a mismatch between the tested configuration and the configuration used to create the cost estimate.  To increase profit, test results want to increase and costs wants to decrease, and this natural pressure can create divergence between the tested and costed configurations. Test results predict how the configuration under test will perform in the field.  The cost estimate predicts how much the costed configuration will cost.  Though there’s strong desire to have the performance of one configuration and the cost of another, things don’t work that way.  When you launch you’ll get the performance of AND cost of the configuration you launched.  You might as well choose the configuration to launch using performance data and cost as a matched pair.

All this detail may feel like overkill, but it’s not because the consequences of getting it wrong can decimate profitability. Here’s why:

Profit = (price – cost) x volume.

Test results predict goodness, and goodness defines what the customer will pay (price) and how many they’ll buy (volume).  And cost is cost.  And when it comes to profit, if you make the right decision with the wrong data, the wheels fall off.

Image credit – alabaster crow photographic

Product Thinking

Product costs, without product thinking, drop 2% per year. With product thinking, product costs fall by 50%, and while your competitors’ profit margins drift downward, yours are too high to track by conventional methods. And your company is known for unending increases in stock price and long term investment in all the things that secure the future.

The supply chain, without product thinking, improves 3% per year. With product thinking, longest lead processes are eliminated, poorest yield processes are a thing of the past, problem suppliers are gone, and your distributers associate your brand with uninterrupted supply and on time delivery.

Product robustness, without product thinking, is the same year-on-year. Re-injecting long forgotten product thinking to simplify the product, product robustness jumps to unattainable levels and warranty costs plummet. And your brand is known for products that simply don’t break.

Rolled throughput yield is stalled at 90%. With product thinking, the product is simplified, opportunities for defects are reduced, and throughput skyrockets due to improved RTY. And your brand is known as a good value – providing good, repeatable functionality at a good price.

Lean, without product thinking has delivered wonderful results, but the low hanging fruit is gone and lean is moving into the back office. With product thinking, the design is changed and value-added work is eliminated along with its associated non-value added work (which is about 8 times bigger); manufacturing monuments with their long changeover times are ripped out and sold to your competitors; work from two factories is consolidated into one; new work is taken on to fill the emptied factories; and profit per square foot triples. And your brand is known for best-in-class quality, unbeatable on time delivery, world class performance, and pioneering the next generation of lean.

The sales argument is low price and good payment terms. With product thinking, the argument starts with product performance and ends with product reliability. The sales team is energized, and your brand is linked with solid products that just plain work.

The marketing approach is stickers and new packaging. With product thinking, it’s based on competitive advantage explained in terms of head-to-head performance data and a richer feature set. And your brand stands for winning technology and killer products.

Product thinking isn’t for everyone. But for those that try – your brand will thank you.

Fix The Economy – Connect The Engineer To The Factory

Rumor has it, manufacturing is back. Yes, manufacturing jobs are coming back, but they’re coming back in dribbles. (They left in a geyser, so we still have much to do.) What we need is a fire hose of new manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing jobs are trickling back from low cost countries because companies now realize the promised labor savings are not there and neither is product quality. But a trickle isn’t good enough; we need to turn the tide; we need the Mississippi river.

For flow like that we need a fundamental change. We need labor costs so low our focus becomes good quality; labor costs so low our focus becomes speed to market; labor costs so low our focus becomes speed to customer. But the secret is not labor rate. In fact, the secret isn’t even in the factory.

The secret is a secret because we’ve mistakenly mapped manufacturing solely to making (to factories). We’ve forgotten manufacturing is about designing and making. And that’s the secret: designing – adding product thinking to the mix. Design out the labor.

There are many names for designing and making done together. Most commonly it’s called concurrent engineering. Though seemingly innocuous, taken together, those words have over a thousand meanings layered with even more nuances. (Ask someone for a simple description of concurrent engineering. You’ll see.) It’s time to take a step back and demystify designing and making done together. We can do this with two simple questions:

  • What behavior do we want?
  • How do we get it?

What’s the behavior we want? We want design engineers to understand what drives cost in the factory (and suppliers’ factories) and design out cost. In short, we want to connect the engineer to the factory.

Great idea. But what if the factory and engineer are separated by geography? How do we get the behavior we want? We need to create a stand-in for the factory, a factory surrogate, and connect the engineer to the surrogate. And that surrogate is cost. (Cost is realized in the factory.) We get the desired behavior when we connect the engineer to cost.

When we make engineering responsible for cost (connect them to cost), they must figure out where the cost is so they can design it out. And when they figure out where the cost is, they’re effectively connected to the factory.

But the engineers don’t need to understand the whole factory (or supply chain), they only need to understand places that create cost (where the cost is.) To understand where cost is, they must look to the baseline product – the one you’re making today. To help them understand supply chain costs, ask for a Pareto chart of cost by part number for purchased parts. (The engineers will use cost to connect to suppliers’ factories.) The new design will focus on the big bars on the left of the Pareto – where the supply chain cost is.

To help them understand your factory’s cost, they must make two more Paretos. The first one is a Pareto of part count by major subassembly. Factory costs are high where the parts are – time to put them together. The second is a Pareto chart of process times. Factory costs are high where the time is – machine capacity, machine operators, and floor space.

To make it stick, use design reviews. At the first design review – where their design approach is defined – ask engineering for the three Paretos for the baseline product. Use the Pareto data to set a cost reduction goal of 50% (It will be easily achieved, but not easily believed.) and part count reduction goal of 50%. (Easily achieved.) Here’s a hint for the design review – their design approach should be strongly shaped by the Paretos.

Going forward, at every design review, ask engineering to present the three Paretos (for the new design) and cost and part count data (for the new design.) Engineering must present the data themselves; otherwise they’ll disconnect themselves from the factory.

To seal the deal, just before full production, engineering should present the go-to-production Paretos, cost, and part count data.

What I’ve described may not be concurrent engineering, but it’s the most profitable activity you’ll ever do. And, as a nice side benefit, you’ll help turn around the economy one company at a time.

Heroes of the Company

If I was a company, the first thing I’d do is invest in my engineering teams. But not for the reasons we normally associate with engineering. Not for more function and features, not for product robustness, not technology, and not patents. I would invest in engineering for increased profits.

When it comes to their engineering divisions, other companies think minimization – fewest heads, lowest wages, least expensive tools. Not me. I’m all about maximization – smartest, best trained, and the best tools. That’s how I like to maximize profits. To me, investing in my engineering teams gives me the highest return on my investment.

Engineers create the products I sell to my customers. I’ve found when my best engineers sit down and think for a while they come up with magical ideas that translate into super-performing products, products with features that differentiate me from my cousin companies, and products that flat-out don’t break. My sales teams love to sell them (Sure, I pay a lot in bonuses, but it’s worth it.), my marketing teams love to market them, and my factory folks build them with a smile.

Over my life I’ve developed some simple truisms that I live by: When I sell more products, I make more profits; when my products allow a differentiated marketing message, I sell more and make more profits; and when my product jumps together, my quality is better, and, you guessed it, I make more profits. All these are good reasons to invest in engineering, but it’s not my reason. All this increased sales stuff is good, but it’s not great. It’s not my real reason to invest in engineering. It’s not my secret.

When I was younger I vowed to take my secret to the grave, but now that I’ve matured (and filled up several banks with money), I think it’s okay to share it. So, here goes.

My real reason to invest in engineering is material cost reduction. Yes, material cost reduction. My materials budget is one of my largest line items and I help my engineers reduce it with reckless abandon (and the right tools, time, training, and teacher.) I’ve asked my lean folks to reduce material cost, but they’ve not been able to dent it. Sure, they’ve done a super job with inventory reduction (I get a one-time carrying cost reduction.), but no material cost reduction from my lean projects. I’ve also asked my six sigma organization to reduce material costs, but they, too, have not made a dent. They’ve improved my product quality, but that doesn’t translate into piles of money like material cost reduction.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why, Mrs. Company, are you wasting engineering’s time with cost? Cost is manufacturing’s responsibility – they should reduce it, not engineering. Plain and simple – that’s not what I believe, and neither do my engineers. They know they create cost to enable function, good material cost – worth every penny. But they also know all other cost is bad. And since they know they design in cost, they know they’re the ones that must design it out. And they’re good at it. With the right tools, time, and training, they typically reduce material costs by 50%. Do the math –material cost for your highest volume product times 50% – year-on-year. Piles of money.

I’ve learned over the years increasing sales is difficult and takes a lot of work. I’ve also learned I can make lots of money reducing material costs without increasing sales. In fact, even during the recent downturn, through my material cost reductions I made more money than ever. I have my design engineers to thank for that.

Company-to-company, I know things have been tough for us over the last years, and money is still tight. But if you have a little extra stashed away, I urge you to invest in your engineering organization. It makes for great profits.

A Recipe for Unreasonable Profits

There’s an unnatural attraction to lean – a methodology to change the value stream to reduce waste.  And it’s the same with Design for Manufacturing (DFM) – a methodology to design out cost of your piece-parts. The real rain maker is Design for Assembly (DFA) which eliminates parts altogether (50% reductions are commonplace.) DFA is far more powerful.

The cost for a designed out part is zero.  Floor space for a designed out part is zero. Transportation cost for a designed out part is zero. (Can you say Green?) From a lean perspective, for a designed out part there is zero waste.  For a designed out part the seven wastes do not apply.

Here’s a recipe for unreasonable profits:

Design out half the parts with DFA.  For the ones that remain, choose the three highest cost parts and design out the cost.  Then, and only then, do lean on the manufacturing processes.

For a video version of the post, see this link: (Video embedded below.)

A Recipe for Unreasonable Profits.


How To Create a Sea of Manufacturing Jobs

It’s been a long slide from greatness for US manufacturing.  It’s been downhill since the 70s – a multi-decade slide.  Lately there’s a lot of hype about a manufacturing renaissance in the US – re-shoring, on-shoring, right-shoring.  But the celebration misguided.  A real, sustainable return to greatness will take decades, decades of single-minded focus, coordination, alignment and hard work – industry, government, and academia in it together for the long haul.

To return to greatness, the number of new manufacturing jobs to be created is distressing. 100,000 new manufacturing jobs is paltry. And today there is a severe skills gap.  Today there are unfilled manufacturing jobs because there’s no one to do the work. No one has the skills. With so many without jobs it sad.  No, it’s a shame.  And the manufacturing talent pipeline is dry – priming before filling.  Creating a sea of new manufacturing jobs will be hard, but filling them will be harder.  What can we do?

The first thing to do is make list of all the open manufacturing jobs and categorize them. Sort them by themes: by discipline, skills, experience, tools.  Use the themes to create training programs, train people, and fill the open jobs. (Demonstrate coordinated work of government, industry, and academia.)  Then, using the learning, repeat.  Define themes of open manufacturing jobs, create training programs, train, and fill the jobs.  After doing this several times there will be sufficient knowledge to predict needed skills and proactive training can begin.  This cycle should continue for decades.

Now the tough parts – transcending our short time horizon and finding the money.  Our time horizon is limited to the presidential election cycle – four years, but the manufacturing rebirth will take decades. Our four year time horizon prevents success. There needs to be a guiding force that maintains consistency of purpose – manufacturing resurgence – a consistency of purpose for decades.  And the resurgence cannot require additional money. (There isn’t any.)  So who has a long time horizon and money?

The DoD has both – the long term view (the military is not elected or appointed) and the money.  (They buy a lot of stuff.) Before you call me a war hawk, this is simply a marriage of convenience.  I wish there was, but there is no better option.

The DoD should pull together their biggest contractors (industry) and decree that the stuff they buy will have radically reduced cost signatures and teach them and their sub-tier folks how to get it done.  No cost reduction, no contract.  (There’s no reason military stuff should cost what it does, other than the DoD contractors don’t know how design things cost effectively.) The DoD should educate their contractors how to design products to reduce material cost, assembly time, supply chain complexity, and time to market and demand the suppliers.  Then, demand they demonstrate the learning by designing the next generation stuff.  (We mistakenly limit manufacturing to making, when, in fact, radical improvement is realized when we see manufacturing as designing and making.)

The DoD should increase its applied research at the expense of its basic research.  They should fund applied research that solves real problems that result in reduced cost signatures, reduce total cost of ownership, and improved performance.  Likely, they should fund technologies to improve engineering tools, technologies that make themselves energy independent and new materials.  Once used in production-grade systems, the new technologies will spill into non-DoD world (broad industry application) and create new generation products and a sea of manufacturing jobs.

I think this is approach has a balanced time horizon – fill manufacturing jobs now and do the long term work to create millions of manufacturing jobs in the future.

Yes, the DoD is at the center of the approach. Yes, some have a problem with that.  Yes, it’s a marriage of convenience. Yes, it requires coordination among DoD, industry, and academia.  Yes, that’s almost impossible to imagine. Yes, it requires consistency of purpose over decades. And, yes, it’s the best way I know.

What is Design for Manufacturing and Assembly?

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) is all about reducing the cost of piece-parts. Design for Assembly is all about reducing the cost of putting things together (assembly).  What’s often forgotten is that function comes first.  Change the design to reduce part cost, but make sure the product functions well.  Change the parts (eliminate them) to reduce assembly cost, but make sure the product functions well.

Paradoxically, DFM and DFA are all about function.

Here’s a link to a short video that explains DFM and DFA: link to video. (and embedded below)


Engineering’s Contribution to the Profit Equation

We all want to increase profits, but sometimes we get caught in the details and miss the big picture:
Profit = (Price – Cost) x Volume.

It’s a simple formula, but it provides a framework to focus on fundamentals. While all parts of the organization contribute to profit in their own way, engineering’s work has a surprisingly broad impact on the equation.

The market sets price, but engineering creates function, and improved function increases the price the market will pay. Design the product to do more, and do it better, and customers will pay more. What’s missing for engineering is an objective measure of what is good to the customer.

To read the complete article, click this link.

Secret Sauce that Doubles Profits

Last month a group of engineers met secretly to reinvent the US economy one company at a time.  Here are some of the players, maybe you’ve heard of them:

Alcoa, BAE, Boeing, Bose, Covidien, EMC, GE Medical, GE Transportation, Grundfos, ITT, Medrad, Medtronic, Microsoft, Motorola, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Samsung, Schneider Electric, Siemens, United Technologies, Westinghouse, Whirlpool.

Presenter after presenter the themes were the same: double profits, faster time to market, and better products – the triple crown of product development. Magic in a bottle, and still the best kept secret of the product development community. (No sense sharing the secret sauce when you can have it all for yourself.)

Microsoft used the secret sauce to increase profits of their hardware business by $75 million; Boeing recently elevated the secret methodology to the level of lean. Yet it’s still a secret.

What is this sauce that doubles profits without increasing sales?  (That’s right, doubles.) What is this magic that decreases time to market? That reduces engineering documentation? That reduces design work itself? What is this growth strategy?

When trying to spread it on your company there are some obstacles, but the benefits should be enough to carry the day.  First off, the secret sauce isn’t new, but double the profits should be enough to take a first bite.  Second, its name doesn’t roll off the tongue (there’s no sizzle), but decreased time to market should justify a taste test. Last, design engineering must change its behavior (we don’t like to do that), but improved product functionality should be enough to convince engineering to swallow.

There are also two mapping problems: First, the sauce has been mapped to the wrong organization – instead of engineering it’s mapped to manufacturing, a group that, by definition, cannot do the work. (Only engineering can change the design.) Second, the sauce is mapped to the wrong word – instead of profit it’s mapped to cost.  Engineering is praised for increased profits (higher function generates higher profits) and manufacturing is responsible for cost – those are the rules.

With double profits, reduced time to market, and improved product function, the name shouldn’t matter. But if you must know, its name is Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA), though I prefer to call it the secret sauce that doubles profits, reduces time to market, and improves product function.

Improve the US economy, one company at a time.

I think we can turn around the US economy, one company at a time.  Here’s how:

To start, we must make a couple commitments to ourselves.  1. We will do what it takes to manufacture products in the US because it’s right for the country. 2. We will be more profitable because of it.

Next, we will set up a meeting with our engineering community, and we will tell them about the two commitments. (We will wear earplugs because the cheering will be overwhelming.) Then, we will throw down the gauntlet; we will tell them that, going forward, it’s no longer acceptable to design products as before, that going forward the mantra is: half the cost, half the parts, half the time. Then we will describe the plan.

On the next new product we will define cost, part count, and assembly time goals 50% less that the existing product; we will train the team on DFMA; we will tear apart the existing product and use the toolset; we will learn where the cost is (so we can design it out); we will learn where the parts are (so we can design them out); we will learn where the assembly time is (so we can design it out).

On the next new product we will front load the engineering work; we will spend the needed time to do the up-front thinking; we will analyze; we will examine; we will weigh options; we will understand our designs. This time we will not just talk about the right work, this time we will do it.

On the next new product we will use our design reviews to hold ourselves accountable to the 50% reductions, to the investment in DFMA tools, to the training plan, to the front-loaded engineering work, to our commitment to our profitability and our country.

On the next new product we will celebrate the success of improved product functionality, improved product robustness, a tighter, more predictable supply chain, increased sales, increased profits, and increased US manufacturing jobs.

On the next new product we will do what it takes to manufacture products in the US because it’s the right thing for the country, and we will be more profitable because of it.

If you’d like some help improving the US economy one company at a time, send me an email (, and I’ll help you put a plan together.


p.s. I’m holding a half-day workshop on how to implement systematic cost savings through product design on June 13 in Providence RI as part of the International Forum on DFMA — here’s the link. I hope to see you there.

Pull the product lever, now.

If you’re reading this you’ve probably survived the great recession. You had to do some radical stuff, but you pulled it off. You cut to the bone as demand fell off, but you managed to shed staff and capacity and kept your company alive. Congratulations. Amazing work. But now the hard part: increased demand!

Customers are ordering, and they want product now. You’re bringing on capacity, re-hiring, and re-training, and taking waste out of your processes with lean and even extending lean to your supply chain and logistics. You’re pulling the levers as hard as you can, but you know it won’t be enough. What you need is another lever, a big, powerful, magical lever to make everything better. You need to pull the product lever.

So, you’re telling me to look at my product as a way to meet increased demand? Yes. To get more products out of few factories? Yes. To make more products with a short staff? Yes. To reduce supply chain complexity? Yes. Pull the product lever, pull it hard, and pull it now.

But meeting increased demand is a manufacturing/supply chain problem, right? No. What about flogging suppliers for unreasonably short lead times? No. What about quickly bringing on unproven suppliers? No. What about bringing on a totally new factory by next week? No. What about using folks of the street to make the product? No. Pull the product lever, pull hard, and pull it now.

Dust off the value stream map of your supply chain and identify the three longest lead times, and design them out of your product. Dust off your routings and identify the three largest labor times, and design them out of our product. Dust off your BOMs and identify the three highest cost parts, and design them out of your product. Pull the product lever. Then, identify the next three, and pull it again. Then repeat. Pull it hard, and pull it now.

Meeting increased demand will be challenging, but your customers and stockholders deserve your best. So, pull hard on all your levers, and pull them now.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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