Posts Tagged ‘Part Count’

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.

Radically Simplify Your Value Stream – Change Your Design

The next level of factory simplification won’t come from your factory.  It will come from outside your factory.  The next level of simplification will come from upstream savings – your suppliers’ factories – and downstream savings – your distribution system.  And this next level of simplification will create radically shorter value streams (from raw materials to customer.)

To reinvent your value stream, traditional lean techniques – reduction of non-value added (NVA) time through process change – aren’t the best way.  The best way is to eliminate value added (VA) time through product redesign – product change.  Reduction of VA time generates a massive NVA savings multiple. (Value streams are mostly NVA with a little VA sprinkled in.) At first this seems like backward thinking (It is bit since lean focuses exclusively on NVA.), but NVA time exists only to enable VA time (VA work).  No VA time, no associated NVA time.

Value streams are all about parts (making them, counting them, measuring them, boxing them, moving them, and un-boxing them) and products (making, boxing, moving.)  The making – touch time, spindle time – is VA time and everything else is VA time.  Design out the parts themselves (VA time) and NVA time is designed out.  Massive multiple achieved.

But the design community is the only group that can design out the parts. How to get them involved? Not all parts are created equal. How to choose the ones that matter? Value streams cut across departments and companies. How to get everyone pulling together?

Watch the video: link to video.  (And embedded below.)

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.


I can name that tune in three notes.

More with more doesn’t cut it anymore, just not good enough.

The behavior we’re looking for can be nicely described by the old TV game show Name That Tune, where two contestants competed to guess the name of a song with the fewest notes. They were read a clue that described a song, and ratcheted down the notes needed to guess it. Here’s the nugget: they challenged themselves to do more with less, they were excited to do more with less, they were rewarded when they did more with less. The smartest, most knowledgeable contestants needed fewer notes. Let me say that again – the best contestants used the fewest notes.

In product design, the number of notes is analogous to part count, but the similarities end there. Those that use the fewest are not considered our best or our most knowledgeable, they’re not rewarded for their work, and our organizations don’t create excitement or a sense of challenge around using the fewest.

For other work, the number of notes is analogous to complexity. Acknowledge those that use the fewest, because their impact ripples through your company, and makes all your work easier.

Pareto’s Three Lenses for Product Design

Axiom 1 – Time is short, so make sure you’re working on the most important stuff.

Axiom 2 – You can’t design out what you can’t see.

In product development, these two axioms can keep you out of trouble. They’re two sides of the same coin, but I’ll describe them one at a time and hope it comes together in the end.

With Axiom 1, how do you make sure you’re working on the most important stuff? We all know it’s function first – no learning there. But, sorry design engineers, it doesn’t end with function. You must also design for lean, for cost, and factory floor space. Great. More things to design for. Didn’t you say time was short? How the hell am I going to design for all that?

Now onto the seeing business of Axiom 2. If we agree that lean, cost, and factory floor space are the right stuff, we must “see it” if we are to design it out. See lean? See cost? See factory floor space? You’re nuts.  How do you expect us to do that?

Pareto to the rescue – use Pareto charts to identify the most important stuff, to prioritize the work. With Pareto, it’s simple: work on the biggest bars at the expense of the smaller ones. But, Paretos of what?

There is no such thing as a clean sheet design – all new product designs have a lineage. A new design is based on an existing design, a baseline design, with improvements made in several areas to realize more features or better function defined by the product specification. The Pareto charts are created from the baseline design to allow you to see the things  to design out (Axiom 2). But what lenses to use to see lean, cost, and factory floor space?

Here are Pareto’s three lenses so see what must be seen:

To lean out lean out your factory, design out the parts. Parts create waste and part count is the surrogate for lean.


To design out cost, measure cost. Cost is the surrogate for cost.


To design out factory floor space, measure assembly time. Since factory floor space scales with assembly time, assembly time is the surrogate for factory floor space.


Now that your design engineers have created the right Pareto charts and can see with the right glasses, they’re ready to focus their efforts on the most important stuff. No boiling the ocean here. For lean, focus on part count of subassembly 1; for cost, focus on the cost of subassemblies 2 and 4; for floor space, focus on assembly time of subassembly 5. Leave the others alone.

Focus is important and difficult, but Pareto can help you see the light.

Fasteners Can Consume 20-50% of Assembly Labor

The data-driven people in our lives tell us that you can’t improve what you can’t measure.  I believe that. And it’s no different with product cost. Before improving product cost, before designing it out, you have to know where it is. However, it can be difficult to know what really creates cost.  Not all parts and features are created equal; some create more cost than others, and it’s often unclear which are the heavy hitters. Sometimes the heavy hitters don’t look heavy, and often are buried deeply within the hidden factory.

Measure, measure, measure.  That’s what the black belts say.  However, it’s difficult to do well with product cost since our costing methods are hosed up and our measurement systems are limited. What do I mean? Consider fasteners (e.g., nuts, bolts, screws, and washers), the product’s most basic life form. Because fasteners are not on the BOM, they’re not part of product cost. Here’s the party line: it’s overhead to be shared evenly across all the products in a socialist way.  That’s not a big deal, right?  Wrong.  Although fasteners don’t cost much in ones and twos, they do add up. 300-500 pieces per unit times the number of units per year makes for a lot of unallocated and untracked cost.  However, a more significant issue with those little buggers is they take a lot of time attach to the product.  For example, using standard time data from DFMA software, assembly of a 1/4″ nut with a bolt, locktite, a lockwasher, and cleanup takes 50 seconds.  That’s a lot of time. You should be asking yourself what that translates to in your product. To figure it out, multiply the number nut/bolt/washer groupings by 50 seconds and multiply the result by the number of units per year. Actually, never mind.  You can’t do the calculation because you don’t know the number of nut/bolt/washer combinations that are in your product. You could try to query your BOMs, but the information is likely not there.  Remember, fasteners are overhead and not allocated to product. Have you ever tried to do a cost reduction project on overhead?  It’s impossible.  Because overhead inflicts pain evenly to all, no one is responsible to reduce it.

With fasteners, it’s like death by a thousand cuts.

The time to attach them can be as much as 20-50% of labor. That’s right, up to 50%.  That’s like paying 20-50% of your folks to attach fasteners all day. That should make you sick.  But it’s actually worse than that.  From Line Design 101, the number of assembly stations is proportional to demand times labor time. Since fasteners inflate labor time, they also inflate the number of assembly stations, which, in turn, inflates the factory floor space needed to meet demand. Would you rather design out fasteners or add 15% to your floor space?  I know you can get good deals on factory floor space due to the recession, but I’d still rather design out fasteners.

Even with the amount of assembly labor consumed by fasteners, our thinking and computer systems are blind to them and the associated follow-on costs. And because of our vision problems, the design community cannot be held accountable to design out those costs.  We’ve given them the opportunity to play dumb and say things like, “Those fastener things are free. I’m not going to spend time worrying about that.  It’s not part of the product cost.”  Clearly not an enlightened statement, but it’s difficult to overcome without cost allocation data for the fasteners.

The work-around for our ailing thinking and computer-based cost tracking systems is simple: get the design engineers out to the production floor to build the product.  Have them experience first hand how much waste is in the product.  They’ll come back with a deep-in-the-gut understanding of how things really are. Then, have them use DFMA software to score the existing design, part-by-part, feature-by-feature.  I guarantee everyone will know where the cost is after that. And once they know where the cost is, it will be easy for them to design it out.

I have data to support my assertion that fasteners can make up 20-50% of labor time, but don’t take my word for it. Go out to the factory floor, shut your eyes and listen.  You’ll likely hear the never ending song of the nut runners. With each chirp, another nut is fastened to its bolt and washer, and another small bit of labor and factory floor space is consumed by the lowly fastener.

“Hyper” for Lean

Hyper” for Lean — Lean Directions, SME

Hypertherm’s lean journey began in 1997 as a natural and enthusiastic extension of its long history of continuous improvement. Founded in 1968, the company’s “lean vision” includes training, application of 5S components, visual factory audits, single and mixed-model flow lines and the engagement of its product design functions.

A recent Hypertherm success is found in the company’s HyPerformance series of plasma arc, metalcutting systems. The company’s product design community designed a product line with Read the rest of this entry »

Free Up Floor Space with Design for Assembly and Part Count Reduction

Free Up Floor Space with Design for Assembly and Part Count Reduction

By Mike Shipulski, Director of Engineering, Hypertherm, Inc

Design for Assembly (DFA) methods have been around for over 25 years, but the number of companies using the methods is surprisingly low given that they are straight-forward, fast, and produce significant savings in traditional Value Added (VA) metrics: labor content and material cost. Now that LEAN has raised the world’s awareness of the importance of reducing Non-Value Added (NVA) activities, the true value of DFA methods can be appreciated.

As a first principle, Design for Assembly (DFA) methods focus on part count reduction. Part count reduction results in labor content reduction (fewer parts to assemble) and material cost reduction Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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