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Motorola University Teaches Smarter, Faster Product Designs

[This article also appeared in Designfax]

Motorola University, based in Chicago, has been an educational innovator in business and technology since 1974, with campuses around the globe. Newer campuses in Asia meet a growing need for business optimization programs that produce rapid and tangible results in a globally connected marketplace of shifting economies and rising manufacturing costs.

Steven Lee, instructor at Motorola’s Quality Institute in Taiwan, trains teams of Motorola employees, customers, and supply chain partners to integrate Motorola’s legacy Six Sigma program with lean initiatives and DFMA software. His approach is an applied business strategy that works: This year, a top electronic device manufacturer completed 12 product redesign projects in four months, saving $6.8 million.

The quest for faster and better product development strategies leads busy engineers and business managers to Motorola University. “The average product manufacturing lifecycle is very short, about three to six months, and Motorola’s global development teams and customers launch hundreds of new products each year,” says Lee. “So we are always under pressure to improve, to retain quality with a current heightened emphasis on cost.”

This focus on speeding a high-quality, yet inexpensive product to the consumer includes using Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) software from Boothroyd Dewhurst, Inc., Wakefield, RI.

DFMA strengthens team approach and refines design

DFMA software is based on two interlocking approaches: Design for Assembly (DFA) and Design for Manufacturing (DFM). DFA guides engineers to evaluate the functional purpose of each assembly component in a conceptual design, helping them to simplify the design and reduce parts. DFM identifies and calculates the cost drivers associated with manufacturing and finishing parts in alternative processes.

A clear goal of part reduction goes a long way toward focusing a DFA project, because part-count reduction is the mechanism for eliminating labor content. While no design tool removes labor content from a product, reduced labor content is the result of part-count reduction. DFA takes parts out of the product, and reduced labor content follows.

“Our primary mission at MU is to provide learning solutions to internal and external customers to enhance overall business performance,” says Lee. “Six Sigma can enhance product quality, cost, delivery, service, and customer satisfaction, and the DFMA program is key to optimal design and reducing manufacturing costs.” This is why his interactive course engages every single student in several practical DFMA projects, including business managers and non-engineers.

Motorola University emphasizes collaboration and integration, with cross-engineering between design and industrial engineers, and even inter-organizational teams of engineers and business managers. Business unit heads sponsor a particular design project, where the latest design is ultimately presented in a showcase.

Lee notes, “We also encourage customers to build their annual Business Balance Scorecard according to customer cost strategies and Key Performance Indexes that integrate Six Sigma and DFA methodology.” Each company is required to keep a scorecard that blends all these sciences and helps quantify project goals and results.

His students find DFA user friendly, and are impressed by the significant reductions in part count and assembly time. Lee notes that at Motorola the “overall average part count reduction is 35% for new product design and 11% for existing product redesign. We find that introducing DFA at the initial design stage generally gives the most cost benefits.”

Ultimately, a direct engagement of business leaders, and training in DFMA, promote “buy in” from top management in customer organizations.

When the value of engineering tools like DFMA is made clear to management and to Motorola customers, “Essentially, DFMA becomes institutionalized as part of a greater business strategy,” says Lee. This approach reinforces success. “Then these people return to their companies, taking with them lean, Six Sigma, and DFMA real-world experience — carrying this message with them.”

Laptop design sheds parts, costs

This year, a top Asian electronic device manufacturer (EDM) wanted to reduce the manufacturing cost of their laptop by at least 30% within 6 months. The company had been using Six Sigma for several years, but was “looking for a systematic methodology to improve overall performance,” says Lee. He trained a team of their employees to reduce the part count and assembly time of the laptop with DFMA.

Part count reduction as a means to reduce labor content is fast becoming a cost reduction strategy to offset rising labor costs in Asia. “Each year labor costs in China increase by 10%, driving either cost reduction or shifting labor to Vietnam or back to home countries,” says Lee.

The EDM training class had over 100 participants from various backgrounds including design engineering, manufacturing, and product management, with professional experience ranging from two to 20 years. Some had Six Sigma Black Belts and others were assigned Green Belts. To stay on track, Lee had just one day to train his class in DFA software and two days for project coaching.

Along with the Six Sigma statistical method, and the lean approach to cutting waste, Lee taught the EDM team to integrate DFMA — for its ease of use in design iteration, benchmarking, and overall cost reduction. The wealth of cost information stored in the program reduces a great deal of time-consuming recalculating that engineers would otherwise need to do. “To improve manufacturing time, we simply consult the program, instead of standing on a factory floor with a stopwatch, doing time studies, which have become obsolete,” says Lee.

The Motorola/EDM team reduced their laptop parts by 36% in 90 days, using the DFA Project Quick Win model. They were also trained in DFMA practices. In total they completed 12 projects, saving 30% on part count and assembly time for a PDA, 41.3% part count reduction on an LCD TV, and 57.5% reduced part count on a server. For the laptop, DFA identified fasteners and clamps for elimination, parts for consolidation, and improved ease and time of assembly.

  Old Design New Design Difference
Laptop  
Parts 124 79 36.3%
Assembly Time (seconds) 870 708 18.6%
LCD TV  
Parts 155 91 41.3%
Assembly Time (seconds) 749 474 36.7%
Server  
Parts 146 62 57.5%
Assembly Time (seconds) 977 549 43.8%

DFA Quick Win project design improvements

Laptop design engineers brought their original design to the table, and in collaboration with Motorola instructors and its wealth of product design tools and project strategy, the laptop design was refined and improved dramatically, using a smooth and focused collaborative process. As a systematic and objective methodology, "DFA clearly promotes the evolution of design iterations and overcomes any hypothetical resistance against innovation,” says Lee.

Business and technology: The cost benefits of a shared perspective

Lee believes that the University’s Six Sigma, lean, and DFMA project model, through “sponsorship” from business unit heads, business scorecards, and presentations of final product design, fully engages business management in the product design process, with lasting effects. In other organizations, engineering is largely separated from business management, but the Motorola approach bridges that divide and brings business leaders right to the CAD table.

“To realize maximum cost efficiency in the long term, it is imperative to foster a shared perspective between management and engineering,” says Lee.

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