News from the Frontlines of Design for Manufacture and Assembly






What is Innovation?

When asked, most people will say innovation is the act of creating something very new. That's true to some extent. But in biological, material and other types of labs and environments of discovery, achieving innovation is merely the end point of an often long haul marked by gradual progress and short refinements on existing ideas and pathways.

This June, Bill Devenish of Kohler Company received the Distinguished DFMA Supporter of the Year Award at the annual Boothroyd-Dewhurst Forum. His marvelous presentation, titled "Understanding Engineers," was primarily about how engineers approach problem solving. But he also canvased an amazing history of innovation by the likes of Igor Sikorski, Enrico Fermi and even 1930s actress Hedy Lamarr, who patented a version of what is called frequency hopping. (Her invention led to the wireless guiding of torpedoes in WWII, and is the cornerstone of most wireless technology today, such as cell phones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.)

Bill has experienced his own engineering breakthroughs during his problem-solving career. Yet he would probably say that his greatest achievement was bringing teams together around a very common set of challenges: optimizing product functionality, cost, and time-to-market on core products due for improvement. The same circumstances many of you face every day.

We believe that mastering processes and successfully managing product functionality, cost, and time-to-market is innovation, important as any new role a design itself may play in the market. Designers deeply influence these factors because it's at their workstations where the product seed goes into the ground. The price points and margins of profit are determined by their grasp of material behavior and manufacturing efficiency. They can help ensure final quality-and their streamlined designs can allow the factory to have more throughput capacity should a product catch on with customers.

So what gets in the way of this type of innovation?

As Boothroyd Dewhurst's Nick Dewhurst discusses in the Q&A below, DFM Concurrent Costing is the DFMA practice of choice for today's manufacturers. However, not surprisingly, it is often deployed late in the development cycle to reduce costs and done separately from Design for Assembly (DFA) because integrated DFMA was either considered too time-consuming or culturally challenging.

But if innovation is measured by profits, quality, product performance, correct pricing, speed-to-market, and customer satisfaction, then DFA is the critical application that must be used at the earliest opportunity, with DFM-before the seed gets pushed fully into the soil.

Every engineer knows how many organizational resources are expended in the quest for success-marketing dollars, equipment, management seminars, even offshoring when it was felt to be needed-while the easiest and most promising direction is to begin with integrated DFMA.

We welcome you to peruse papers by Bill Devenish on this theme of early DFMA, or ask our team at Boothroyd Dewhurst about how projects can be set up to bring big gains to your company.

Thank you,

John Gilligan



Interview with Nick Dewhurst


Post-Forum Interview with Nick Dewhurst, Executive Vice President of Boothroyd Dewhurst, Inc. on the state of DFMA and Manufacturing

Miles Parker: What are you seeing in manufacturing today, regarding early stage, analytical product costing? What are the trends?

Nick Dewhurst: What seems to be happening most prevalently is the companies that we work with are doing three different things with early stage costing. First off, it is becoming an integral part of new product development projects, where teams that are tasked with doing that type of analysis are providing cost feedback to design teams early in the development stages. On a second front, companies are starting to use the cost information that they're developing using our DFM Concurrent Costing tools to help them in the later stages of the development of new products, to make the correct process choices. So they're using it to trade off manufacturing process and material combinations with one another. And finally, we're seeing a little bit more use in the area of competitive intelligence where new product development teams are beginning to find some value in taking time early in their own product development processes to explore what it is their competitors have done in that market space. And, in some cases they're using DFM to do competitive benchmarking of what those competitive products are likely to cost. This gives them some idea as to whether or not they are going to be able to sell their products at the required margins.

M: Are you seeing more or less DFM and DFA being applied than in the past? Across two decades there has always been some sense of urgency in implementing DFMA. How would you measure that sense of urgency or lack thereof today?

N: So if I were to sum it up simply, I would say there is less Design for Assembly (DFA) and more Design for Manufacture (DFM.) This is nothing new, I don't think. Certainly in the last 10 years there's been a push to hurry up and get it done. Product development teams are not given the time they need to explore creative design alternatives because of the time-to-market pressures and resource pressures, or whatever it happens to be that they're under. And so, DFA, unfortunately, is being seen as an activity that they don't have enough time to do. But they are interested in using DFM later on, once the design is finished and parts have been sourced, to negotiate prices with suppliers using the costs that are coming out of our DFM tools. However, the truly significant money is being left on the table when DFA is not used, and people often don't realize that. They're taking hurried and rushed designs and worrying about buying a dollar piece of sheet metal for 85 cents instead of whether or not that part needs to be in the product in the first place.

M: Is that because they feel comfortable that they've met their margins and now have a product that's functional for the market-and just want to tune up their costs later on?

N: I think it's because people are naturally risk-averse. So changing the design of a product that is working seems dangerous and isn't something they're willing to do. But instead, you can go to the supplier and say, "You're charging me a dollar for this component, and I think it should cost 85 cents." Companies get a 15% savings at a piece-part level, but at the end of the day that doesn't have a positive impact on throughput and quality at the factory that's producing the product. I do believe it's the short-sided view. It's essentially saying: "Let's take our pennies now, instead of worrying about the dollars we could yield later on."

M: Is procurement embracing science-based costing? And if not, what are their hesitations and limitations?

N: We get lots of contacts from procurement groups within organizations now. Quantitative costing is certainly something that they want to do. They typically don't have the technical training to use current science-based costing tools. Again, if you're talking about companies taking the short-sided view, I think that not hiring engineering people in their purchasing departments is another place where tremendous amounts of money are being left on the table by U.S. corporations. Procurement is still seen within companies as a paper pushing exercise: "Here's a packet of drawings, send them out to 3 suppliers, when the quotes come back pick the lowest one." Instead, those individuals could be doing cost analysis to understand what it should cost to manufacture those parts and using that as the basis for supplier selection and negotiation.

I could probably count it on one hand the companies that have brought engineers onto the full-time staffs of purchasing groups. But the ones that do are accomplishing tremendous things because they understand how to work with the suppliers, and how to talk to them, and how to develop the cost estimates, and use that information to leverage the supply base in positive ways.

M: At the 2016 DFMA forum, a number of speakers recommended using a larger costing procedure that still entails DFM should costing-managed by engineering teams with procurement involvement-yet with more iterative DFA/DFM done first by the engineers. Should designers be taking a larger role and responsibility in costing and why?

N: Yes. Because the decisions they make when they're developing new concept designs for products impact everything else in that organization for the x number of years in the future that they're going to make it. This is a big point of frustration with me and a lot of the groups that I work with. The engineering team is being pressured to hurry up and finish their designs. So they don't get a chance to do things like DFA analysis to explore design alternatives, and yet the company's now hamstrung for the next 10 years, producing a design that is terribly inefficient because we wouldn't take an extra 3 days in the design process to look at some of the alternative concepts and what those might do to impact manufacturability, cost, quality and everything else that goes on. So if it were up to me, and I were the CEO of a large company that manufactured electro-mechanical products, I would rely heavily on my design engineering team to produce the most efficient designs that they could early-on. I think a forward-looking company realizes that the design decisions individuals are making in the trenches are going to ultimately impact their profitability well into the future.

M: Some of the presenters at the Forum were clearly practicing textbook DFMA. I'm thinking of Woodward, for instance, where they first engaged DFM and went on to deploy DFA for full efficiency. Is it still just a minority of user companies that roll out integrated DFMA?

N: Yes. Unfortunately, I think that's true. But look at the savings Woodward was experiencing. Millions and millions of dollars of avoided costs for a software investment that is a fraction of the savings. Their ROI calculations just looked ridiculous. The speaker didn't think anyone would believe they were correct.

M: Tell us about your integration of DFMA data fields with TCO. When did this happen and what outcomes do you expect for industry? How will DFMA and TCO aid in sourcing decisions?

N: It happened about 7 or 8 years ago. That is when we casually linked DFA with TCO fields. What companies have finally come around to realizing about DFA and TCO is really the argument that Dave Meeker and I wrote about 13 years ago: it's not just the labor you have to measure. The mantra for 10 years was, "It's 60 dollars an hour here in the US to assemble things, and it's 50 cents an hour in China to assemble things." What people are finally understanding through trial and error is that it's not just about the labor rate. There's a lot of intangible, unquantifiable costs that should be added to the bottom-line cost of that product that's being made in China in order to perform a true apples-to-apples comparison with that's being made in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Walmart is currently willing to invest 250 billion dollars to revive American manufacturing. I wonder whether they're playing the long game and realizing that low-cost Chinese labor isn't going to continue to bear fruit like it has. And you see that already! We work with companies all the time that are moving production from China to Vietnam or Thailand, because labor rates in China have become more expensive and the savings that they had been getting simply aren't materializing anymore. TCO is a direct view into that accounting dynamic. You get to realize all of the things that were missing in a standard analysis that didn't apply overhead and hidden costs to the piece part under bid on the other side of the world.

M: What outcomes do you expect for industry when they start using TCO?

N: All of a sudden U.S. manufacturing is going to look a lot more interesting. If a lot of the talk that you hear from both political parties about bringing back jobs starts to be something that gets some engineering and accounting "teeth," then the companies that are ahead of the curve on DFMA and TCO are going to be more successful in their large domestic markets and reap rewards earlier.

M: Is the engineering argument for domestic manufacturing is too technical for the nation to concentrate on. People will be looking instead for changes in our trade agreements, which is critical too. But if we're stuck with what we've done in those agreements, then we really need to turn to design.

N: It all comes back to that design and accounting team in the end, doesn't it? Those folks spinning the data models in the trenches are making decisions that ultimately dictate the profitability of their business, regardless of trade inequities.

M: Can DFMA TCO equalize the playing field for advanced industrialized nations competing against low foreign labor rates.

N: Yes, because of what we just talked about in design and total cost. Allowing a company to come up with those additional total costs, which are associated with low-cost overseas labor, will start to make American manufacturing look competitive. 13 years ago we were arguing that you had to add 24% to do an apples-to-apples comparison between China and the U.S. And I think with 13 more years' worth of data, companies now realize that the number has grown because labor and related costs have gone up.

M: Coupling with what you're talking about with more efficient designs, we're seeing a national investment in automation that will also reduce labor. How does this contribute in your opinion?

N: There is a problem waiting to happen in that world, as well. Because if the designers have not taken the time to design those products for ease of assembly by hand, you're going to have a heck of a time to get automatic equipment or a robot to put your products together.

M: Are customer requirements being considered accurately by manufacturers? Do customers lose in the cost reduction exercises?

N: Companies that are taking an un-disciplined approach to cost reduction are generally de-featuring and cheapening products in order to offer them at lower costs. What going through a DFMA exercise allows you to do, especially with the addition of our new functional groupings in the software, is identify what things are important to the customer (the functions that they value and the ones they don't), and then you can assign parts within your DFA analysis to each of those function groups. It's a really powerful thing to be able to look at because you can change the design to reduce the amount of money spent on features they don't care about, and increase the amount of resources for in areas that are valued.

M: Achieving time to market, product performance, and cost goals were discussed at the Forum as not being exclusive of each other. Can organizations have all three objectives realistically met?

N: Yes you can, with appropriate resource allocation to upfront design. An investment in upfront design time is going to be the thing that helps you achieve all three of those factors. It's long been established that 70% of the cost of the product is locked in in the design phase. You better make sure that you're asking the right questions and making the right decisions during that development phase in order to lock in the lowest possible 70% of the cost. And fewer parts leads to enhanced quality and there's less material to drag through your product development process. So time-to-market is speeded by part-count reduction in upfront design. It all comes back to that investment in upfront design time and getting people to think critically about the designs of their products with an eye to part-count reduction. Simply doing that would get a lot of organizations well on their way to achieving what seems impossible to them today, which is to bring products to market more quickly, at lower cost, and with higher quality.



Bill Devenish of Kohler Company Wins 2016 DFMA Award


Bill Devenish, Principal Engineer-Global DFx at the Kohler Company,accepted the "Distinguished DFMA Supporter of the Year Award" at the Boothroyd Dewhurst 2016 International Forum on Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA®) in Providence, R.I., June 7-8.


The Forum is the foremost conference worldwide on DFMA methodologies and software.This year's theme was "DFMA Design Decision: Understanding Total Product Cost."


Devenish, who spoke about "Understanding Engineers" at this year's Forum, is recognized for his long history of finding innovative solutions that lead to milestone cost reductions and market excellence for the companies he serves. Devenish was acknowledged by Boothroyd Dewhurst, Inc. for his work within various manufacturing organizations and for his role in consistently educating the larger engineering community about DFMA.



(Left) Bill Devenish, Principal Engineer-Global DFx at the Kohler Company, with his "Distinguished DFMA Supporter of the Year" award. Devenish's colleague Stephanie Freier (middle) and Matthieu Da Rocha (right), attended the2016 Boothroyd Dewhurst International Forum on Design for Manufacture and Assembly to learn more about implementing DFMA in an organization.



Since 1983 Boothroyd Dewhurst, Inc. has helped hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies, including Dell, John Deere, Boeing and Kohler, use DFMA to cut the costs of their manufactured products and achieve design innovation in their markets.

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