Concurrent Engineering consists of a systematic approach in the integrated design of a product and its associated processes. This approach is intended to induce developers to consider all aspects of the product life cycle from the very beginning, from conception, production to disposal, including after-sales support and non-quality costs.
In this post, we identify the main benefits of concurrent engineering compared to the traditional approach, also called “over the wall”, and we identify the main criticalities.
The over the wall approach
Historically, product development makes use of the so-called “over the wall” approach, in which the various steps of the development process follow one another in a well-defined sequence, often with poor communication between the various department involved, as if there were indeed a wall to divide them. However, these barriers are more cultural than physical, especially in a world that is always connected by new digital tools.
The concurrent engineering approach
Many companies, especially in advanced technological sectors, already apply concurrent engineering, but too often they use it improperly. In fact, the design team proceeds to the preliminary concept selection phase and sometimes also to the detailed design phase without any involvement of the other corporate departments, worrying to contact them only once some main characteristics have been defined. From this point on, the actual concurrent phase begins, in which the product technologies, but also the other corporate departments such as marketing, supply chain and product support, are involved in an iterative process that leads to the definition of the final concept.
Although this process also brings significant advantages compared to the traditional approach, in which the contribution of non-technical departments was minimal if not zero, however, to be truly effective, it would be necessary to start right from the concept selection phase.
Concurrent engineering involves a greater effort, especially organizational, in the design phase, which will consequently be more time consuming and expensive. However, if we adopt a broader point of view, that is, looking at the entire life cycle of the product, the advantages are undoubtedly greater than the initial disadvantages:
- most of the costs are defined in the design phase;
- design changes are substantially at no cost compared to the costs of modification in subsequent phases;
- more initial project loops lead to fewer loops in the subsequent phases, which are much more expensive and require more time;
- the result is a more robust and higher quality product and process, as all the causes of possible anomalies in the production and product support phase are taken into consideration from the beginning.
Despite the obvious benefits, there are nevertheless some challenges in implementing a true simultaneous engineering approach:
- the different departments speak a different “language” which often makes communication difficult, especially when discussing technical topics or in any case specific to a single department;
- the designer has difficulty sharing information in the initial phase of the project, thinking that it is not important to other departments;
- more effort is needed in managing the flow of information;
- a vision of the product life cycle must be adopted: everyone must be aware that the decisions made upstream have a greater specific weight on the downstream effects, for example production and product support.
Where to start?
To adequately conduct the concurrent engineering phase it is advisable:
- to define a structured and shared approach;
- to follow such approach;
- to work, as far as possible, in the same office as a multifunctional team, especially in the initial stages where a continuous dialogue is needed;
- to develop appropriate multidisciplinary (hard) and behavioral (soft) skills.
In this sense, Accialini Training & Consulting is able to provide adequate support in defining a structured approach for concurrent tailored to specific business needs. Specifically, simultaneous engineering is, in addition to one of the main processes used in the product development phase (find out what they are in our online course), one of the 3 critical phases in the manufacturing capability management of a company.