Coordinating Product Development

By Bob Violino  |  Posted 2009-12-08 Print this article Print

Technologies such as radio frequency identification, product life cycle management and business intelligence/business analytics can help manufacturers improve performance and meet the demand for products as the economy recovers.

Coordinating Product Development

Keeping track of products in development is often a complex task fraught with potential problems. Xerox’s Global Product Delivery Group in Wilsonville, Ore., is addressing the challenge by using open source PLM software from Aras. The software enables Xerox engineers, offshore manufacturing partners and remote development partners to coordinate on product development and keep track of changes during the process.

“The biggest problem is change control,” says Andy Finkbeiner, manager of the engineering support department at the Xerox Wilsonville facility. When the group is developing color printers, Finkbeiner says, the process involves a large team that includes engineers and manufacturing partners located around the world.

“If you have 100 engineers working remotely on a product that contains 1,000 parts, and an engineer finds a problem with his or her part and needs to make a change, that change needs to be communicated to everyone else who has a mating part,” Finkbeiner explains. “The driving force [of the PLM adoption] is trying to coordinate a group of engineers” working in many different locations.

The PLM software is used at each stage to monitor product development. Typically, development begins with design and then a prototype product, followed by various tests to find issues that require fixes. Solutions are developed, changes are made, the changes are approved and the design drawings are updated. PLM tracks all the activity and sends e-mails to all the interested parties, including the procurement people, who then order the parts.

The software has been in use at the Xerox facility for about a year, and so far is used only for projects managed by the site. Even so, the software’s impact has been significant in terms of reducing errors in the product development process.

“If a person makes a change and everybody is notified, the project moves smoothly,” Finkbeiner says. Projects are being completed in a timelier manner, and quality has increased. “We can see the benefits internally; we see ongoing avoidance of small errors,” he adds.

One of the key benefits is the lower up-front cost associated with an open source product. There are no licensing fees; Xerox pays only a small fee for a maintenance service that includes training and product upgrades.

Making Informed Decisions

Rossignol USA, a Park City, Utah, company that manufactures and distributes skiing and related equipment, wanted an easier way to get information about products and orders to its independent sales force, which is scattered throughout North America, and to a corporate management group that travels extensively around the world.

“We were struggling [to provide] information access for those people while they were outside the normal office confines, which is most of the time,” recalls Jim Hunter, vice president of operations and CFO at Rossignol.

The company tried a number of solutions, including creating remote log-in capabilities for its proprietary ERP system. But none of them provided an easy, reliable way to deliver information access to users who worked from the road.

Rossignol eventually selected PivotLink’s on-demand BI/BA application. Because the technology is provided as a software service, implementation challenges were minimal, Hunter says. And because the application is Web-based, users can access business analytics, reporting and dashboard capabilities from anywhere there’s an Internet connection.

The sales reps use the application to monitor the flow and accuracy of order information being received from retail customers, so they can track which orders are in and which are not, and whether the quantity of goods being shipped is accurate. Managers use the application to determine how well specific types of products are selling around the country, to learn how many products individual reps have sold and to measure other performance factors. “It gives them the ability to do any kind of analytical work they want to do by looking at actual performance data,” Hunter says.

The BI/BA tools enable business users to make more informed decisions and better serve customers, Hunter says. The company also provides the sales and order information to planning groups in its factories worldwide, so they can better plan production schedules based on the expected demand for specific types of products.

The application worked so well for the initial users that employees who do not typically work from the road recently began using it. “It has now become the information source of choice for our entire staff,” Hunter says. “This is the preferred method of access to most of the information they need on a day-to-day basis.”

With products such as RFID, PLM and BI, manufacturers can gather more information and use that information to improve processes, customer service and the bottom line.


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