• Manufacturing Process Management
  • Manufacturing Process Management

    The fourth element of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is Manufacturing Process Management (MPM). The focus of MPM is the control and integration of the technologies and processes a company employs in the manufacturing of its products. It is distinguished from Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP II), an element of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), whereby a company’s manufacturing resources and activities are managed. MPM forms the foundation upon which MRP II is built by prescribing which technologies, plant layouts, and workflows are required to properly manufacture products.

    Ford Assembly Line

    MPM provides the operational boundaries within which Product and Portfolio Management (PPM) and Product Design (PD) are able to execute their specific functions. While these boundaries are established by the technologies / processes currently employed in a company’s manufacturing facilities, MPM is far from being a stagnant framework. MPM must be flexible in order to facilitate the introduction of the new technologies / processes necessary for the development and production of the next generation of products. From the standpoint of a company’s strategic objectives, the challenge is to decide whether to prevent projects requiring non-existent or infeasible technologies / processes for production-scale manufacturing from entering the pipeline, or to develop the technologies / processes to allow for the production. Countless examples exist, where companies invent manufacturing technologies / processes to enable the production of products that otherwise could not have been produced. IBM developed surface mount technology which revolutionized circuit card assemblies by substantially reducing their size and weight. Henry Ford’s assembly line, which made high volume assembly possible, is now the standard in mass production.

    Product Design

    Product Design (PD) is not as flexible in its relationship with MPM as PPM. PPM deals with the strategic objectives of the company and governs the product development pipeline to which PD is subject. Since the vast majority of products designed and transitioned into production do not require the invention of new manufacturing technologies / processes, PD is subordinate to MPM. This subordination comes in the form of ‘designing for manufacturability’. As discussed in previous articles, designing products with manufacturability in mind is critical for the successful completion and production of projects. A “perfect” design that cannot be built is useless and a design that does not reflect effectiveness and conservation of resources is close to useless.

    Thomas Edison

    Although PD is almost ubiquitously subordinate to MPM and PPM, there are many examples where the design of new products has driven the development of new manufacturing processes / technologies or altered the course of a company’s business objectives. After Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, technologies / processes had to be developed to handle the mass production of light bulbs. Xerox Corporation manufactured photographic paper until it stumbled upon xerography technology, which changed the company direction to producing copying machines.

    Regardless of whether new areas of MPM are explored or a company’s processes / technologies remain unchanged, there are principles that should govern MPM to maximize its effectiveness. These principles are the same as the main forces that drive PPM;

    • maximization of value-added results
    • minimization of resource expenditures.

    There are numerous methodologies across all industries that provide practical guidance in accomplishing these two objectives. At the core of all these methods is the initiative to ensure every product leaving a facility possesses its intended fit, form and function. Some systems are negative in nature, focusing on the reduction of waste and defects. Others are positive in nature, focusing on increasing quality. Whatever the discipline chosen or developed, it must contain the following attributes:

    1. Procedure – Always have a procedure in place. Not having a solid system in place or not faithfully following it leads to the aimless and unending pursuit of problems.
    2. Data-driven – Always let the data drive information and decisions. Not allowing data to drive knowledge and execution leads to the creation of new problems that compound the situation.
    3. Consistency – Do not change methods during evaluations. Changing methods mid-evaluation is equivalent to comparing apples to oranges.
    4. Control – Only change one variable at a time. Changing multiple variables simultaneously introduces uncertainty and invalidates any data collected.
    5. Focused – Aim to define and resolve the root cause and not to remedy the symptoms. Remedying symptoms prolongs the problem resulting in continued loss of resources.
    6. History – Keep detailed records to help identify trends and recurrences. The lack of good historical records can make the detection of trends impossible. It can also increase the amount of time it takes to resolve issues that resurface if they’ve previously been solved.