How well do your R&D engineers work with the colleagues in manufacturing? Many manufacturing CEOs say that their control of the activities and costs of their R&D departments needs to become better. Often, R&D operates in a virtual vacuum, which makes it difficult for manufacturers to stay abreast of changing customer needs, reduce their time-to-market, and remain competitive. Without the right systems to enable seamless information exchanges and collaboration across R&D, manufacturing, and other business groups, manufacturing companies risk losing their edge.
Many industrial manufacturing companies aim to differentiate themselves primarily through innovative products, not cost or other distinctions. Naturally, R&D plays a business-critical role for them. Typically, the design engineers in the R&D group prepare bills-of-material (BOM) and move them on to the manufacturing group for production.
R&D is often isolated from manufacturing and assembly, and maybe not even fully on the radar for procurement and finance. Purchasing agents frequently get a late start in qualifying vendors, negotiating contracts, and sourcing materials and components. Without insight into the availability and cost of materials, R&D may go down an unprofitable cul-de-sac. Under these conditions, concurrent engineering easily loses direction or becomes too complicated to manage. Reducing time-to-market, taking advantage of evolving technologies, and collaborating with third parties to accelerate R&D, become overwhelming ambitions.
Imagine what it could look like if R&D and its design functions were in sync with manufacturing and the rest of the operation.
You would have seamless information sharing between design engineers and manufacturing. Data from the manufacturing group would help R&D make smart decisions and choices. Design revisions and additions would be actionable for manufacturing as soon as they come out of R&D. Why? Because purchasing would receive all the information it needs to manage the appropriate vendor relationships, get contracts signed, and source the right materials to help the company shorten its lead times for taking new products to customers.
What does it take to make this happen? Certainly, you need capable, trusted suppliers, excellent R&D talent, and readiness to risk innovation. But, in order not to waste any of your resources and efforts, your systems have to connect people, business groups, and processes. R&D systems need to link with back-office and manufacturing software. ERP and CAD and PLM software tools have to integrate to facilitate an automated, structured flow of information. They can’t be rigid—you need to be able to accommodate product engineering and design changes on the fly, without running into process hurdles. Your integrated MRP needs to have the right planning parameters built into it, and procurement and finance systems should connect closely with R&D and manufacturing.
As manufacturing companies become real-time enterprises, they have to deploy such integrated systems—the sooner, the better. The urgency to be fast and respond to changes rapidly will only increase.
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