Archive for the ‘DFMA’ Category

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.

Money out the wazoo

There’s a huge untapped source of profits out there – a virtual gold mine – with profit opportunities so large you can’t see them, and if you do see them, too large to believe. These profits larger than you’ve achieved with your traditional lean work. (Actually, what I’m talking about the next evolution of lean.) Want to see what I’m talking about? Go to your factory and watch. The gold mine will be hiding in plain sight – it’s your product.

Huge savings blah, blah, blah. How significant? Here’s the formula:

material cost x volume x 50%.

Now, for your highest volume product, do the calculation. Go ahead. Do it. Humor me. It’s worth it.

Go get your best pen, and calculate by hand. Write down the number. Go ahead. Write it down, but make sure you put the dollar sign in front, and, please, put in the commas. Don’t abbreviate thousands, millions, or billions (or trillions, Mr. Gates) – write the zeros.  All of them.

There. You did it. Not so hard. Now, sit quietly, and contemplate the number. Look at it for an hour. Don’t say anything, just sit with it.

Now, get bigger piece of paper, and re-run the calculation, but this time write big. Repeat with a poster board, and finish with your biggest whiteboard – big zeros, lot’s of them. (Don’t forget the commas.) Marinate for an hour. Don’t say anything, just sit.

Now that you appreciate the significance of the number, go make something happen.  If you’re a CEO, tell your engineering leader to do DFMA; if you’re the manufacturing leader, grab your engineering leader by the ear, and walk to the whiteboard; if you’re the engineering leader, do DFMA.

You likely don’t believe the number. I know. It’s okay. But, a number that big at least deserves a Google search: save 50% with DFMA.

Upcoming Workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment

I will be running a half-day workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment on June 13 in Providence, RI.  The workshop will kick of BDI’s 2011 International Forum on Design for Manufacturing and Assembly and will focus on how to incorporate DFMA into your product development process.

The Forum (June 14, 15) is the yearly gathering of the world’s leading DFMA experts.  It is THE place to learn about DFMA and see examples and results from leading companies.

I urge the product development community to attend.

I am also presenting at the Forum and hope to finally meet you in person.

Too afraid to make money and create jobs.

What if you could double your factory throughput without adding people?

What if you could reduce your product costs by 50%?

How much money would you make?

How many jobs would you create?

Why aren’t you doing it?

What are you afraid of?

Your product costs are twice what they should be.

Your product costs are twice what they should be. That’s right. Twice.

You don’t believe me. But why? Here’s why:

If 50% cost reduction is possible, that would mean you’ve left a whole shitpot of money on the table year-on-year and that would be embarrassing. But for that kind of money don’t you think you could work through it?

If 50% cost reduction is possible, a successful company like yours would have already done it. No. In fact, it’s your success that’s in the way. It’s your success that’s kept you from looking critically at your product costs. It’s your success that’s allowed you to avoid the hard work of helping the design engineering community change its thinking. But for that kind of money don’t you think you could work through it?

Even if you don’t believe 50% cost reduction is possible, for that kind of money don’t you think it’s worth a try?

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.

I don’t know the question, but the answer is jobs.

Some sobering facts: (figure and facts from Matt Slaughter)

  • During the Great Recession, US job loss (peak to trough) was 8.4 million payroll jobs were lost (6.1%) and 8.5 million private-sector jobs (7.3%).
  • In Sept. 2010 there were 108 million U.S. private-sector payroll jobs, about the same as in March 1999.
  • It took 48 months to regain the lost 2.0% of jobs in the 2001 recession. At that rate, the U.S. would again reach 12/07 total payroll jobs around January 2020.

The US has a big problem. And I sure as hell hope we are willing do the hard work and make the hard sacrifices to turn things around.

To me it’s all about jobs.  To create jobs, real jobs, the US has got to become a more affordable place to invent, design, and manufacture products. Certainly modified tax policies will help and so will trade agreements to make it easier for smaller companies to export products. But those will take too long. We need something now.

To start, we need affordability through productivity. But not the traditional making stuff productivity, we need inventing and designing productivity.

Here’s the recipe: Invent technology in-country, design and develop desirable products in-country (products that offer real value, products that do something different, products that folks want to buy), make the products in-country, and sell them outside the country. It’s that straightforward.

To me invention/innovation is all about solving technical problems.  Solving them more productively creates much needed invention/innovation productivity. The result: more affordable invention/innovation.

To me design productivity is all about reducing product complexity through part count reduction. For the same engineering hours, there are few things to design, fewer things to analyze, fewer to transition to manufacturing. The result: more affordable design.

Though important, we can’t wait for new legislation and trade agreements.  To make ourselves  more affordable we need to increase productivity of our invention/innovation and design engines while we work on the longer term stuff.

If you’re an engineering leader who wants more about invention/innovation and or design productivity, send me an email at

and use the subject line to let me know which you’re interested in. (Your contact information will remain confidential and won’t be shared with anyone.  Ever.)

Together we can turn around the country’s economy.

What if labor was free?

The chase for low cost labor is still alive and well. And it’s still a mistake. Low cost labor is fleeting. Open a plant in a low cost country and capitalism takes immediate hold. Workers see others getting rich off their hard work and demand to be compensated. It’s an inevitable death spiral to a living wage. Time to find the next low cost country.

The truth is labor costs are an extremely small portion of product cost. (The major cost, by far, is the material and the associated costs of moving it around the planet and managing its movement.) And when design engineers actively design out labor costs (50% reductions are commonplace) it becomes so small it should be ignored altogether. That’s right – ignored. No labor costs. Free labor. What would you do if labor was free?

Eliminate labor costs from the equation and it’s clear what to do. Make it where you can achieve the highest product quality, make it where you can run the smallest batches, and make it where you sell it. Design out labor and you’re on your way.

Design engineers are the key. Only they can design out labor. Management can’t do it without engineers, but engineers can do it without management.

A call to arms for design engineers: organize yourselves, design out labor, and force your company to do the right thing. Your kids and your economy will thank you.

Cure for offshoring: The design side of product development, from Machine Design

A recent article written by Leslie Gordon of Machine Design.

You have probably seen it yourself: images of Chinese workers toiling in mud-floored factories, each feeding a separate punch press, as if part and parcel of a living, progressive die. The lure of this cheap labor has sent many U.S. manufacturers scrambling overseas to cut production costs.

Although design-for-manufacturing tools that would have made this exodus unnecessary have been around for more than 20 years, companies continue to overlook them, says Mike Shipulski, chief engineer of plasma-cutter manufacturer Hypertherm,, Hanover, N.H. “Companies are sticking their heads in the sand. Many U.S. firms have become too entrenched in doing things the same way. For example, a typical product-cost breakdown shows material to be the largest cost at about 72%. Overhead is around 24% and labor is only about 4%. The question becomes, why continue to move manufacturing to so-called ‘low-cost countries’ to chase 50% labor reductions for a whopping 2% cost reduction? And it’s sillier than that because companies don’t account for cost increases in shipping and quality control.”

The problem is that companies neglect to efficiently account for cost during the design side of product development….

Click for the rest of the article

Bring It Back

Companies (and countries) are slowly learning that moving manufacturing to low cost countries is a big mistake, a mistake of economy-busting proportion. (More costly than any war.) With labor costs at 10% of product cost, saving 20% on labor yields a staggering 2% cost savings. 2%. Say that out loud. 2%. Are you kidding me? 2%? Really? Moving machines all over the planet for 2%? What about cost increases from longer supply chains, poor quality, and loss of control? Move manufacturing to a country with low cost labor? Are you kidding me? Who came up with that idea? Certainly not a knowledgeable manufacturing person. Don’t chase low cost labor, design it out.

(I feel silly writing this. This is so basic.  Blocking-and-tackling. Design 101. But we’ve lost our way, so I will write.)

Use Design for Assembly (DFA) and Design for Manufacturing (DFM) to design out 25-50% of the labor time and make product where you have control. The end. Do it. Do it now. But do it for the right reasons – throughput, and quality.  (And there’s that little thing about radical material cost reduction which yield cost savings of 20+%, but that’s for another time).

The real benefit of labor reduction is not dollars, it’s time. Less time, more throughput. Half the labor time, double the throughput. One factory performs like two. Bring it back. Fill your factories. Repeat the mantra and you’ll bring it back:

Half the labor and one factory performs like two.

QC stands for Quality Control. No control, no quality. Ever try to control things from 10 time zones in the past? It does not work. It has not worked. Bring it back. Bring back your manufacturing to improve quality. Your brand will thank you. Put the C back in QC – bring it back.

Forward this to your highest level Design Leaders. Tell them they can turn things around; tell them they’re the only ones who can pull it off; tell them we need; tell them we’re counting on them; tell them we’ll help; tell them to bring it back.

Anyone want to save $50 billion?

I read a refreshing article in the Washington Post. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wants to save $20B per year on the Pentagon’s spend. I could kiss this guy!

Gates wants contracts scrutinized more closely for inefficiencies and unneeded overhead. He said the savings could be shifted to support U.S. troops around the globe. Pentagon officials said they’re looking for annual savings in the $400 billion spent on goods and services. They’re looking to save $20B, or 5%.

Gates has it right. The government must stop overpaying. But how? Gates suggests improved contract scrutiny to eliminate inefficiencies and unneeded overhead. He’s on the right track, but that’s not where the money is. Gates’ real target should be material cost – that’s where the money is. But, can material cost bring $20B savings? Yes.

Assume the Pentagon spends $100B on services and $300B on goods. The cost of those of goods falls into three buckets: labor, material, and overhead, where material cost makes up the lion’s share at 70%, or $210B. A 10% reduction in material cost brings $21B in savings, and gets Gates to his target. But how?

To get the savings, the Pentagon must drive the right behavior.  They must must make suppliers submit a “should cost” with all proposals. The should cost is an estimated cost based on part geometries, materials, manufacturing processes used to create the parts, prevailing wage rates and machine rates, and profit. From these parameters, a should cost can be created in the design phase, without actually making the parts. So, the Pentagon will know what they should pay before the product is made. This cost analysis is based on real data, real machines, and real material costs.  There is no escape for defense contractors.  The cash cow is no longer.

Should costing will drive the design engineers to create designs that work better and cost less, something the defense industry thinks is impossible. They’re wrong. Given the tools, time, and training, the defense industry’s design engineering community can design out at least 25% of material cost, resulting in $50B+ in savings, more than twice Gates’ goal. Someone just has to teach them how.

Mr. Secretary, the non-defense world is ready to help.  Just ask us. (But we’ll go after a 50% cost reduction.)

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner