Planes, Trains, and…Improved Time-to-Market

I know what you are thinking - isn’t it Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Well, not when it comes to the world of complex discrete manufacturing. In industries that are low volume and high mix - with engineer to order business models - the pain points, challenges, and subsequent solutions are unique.

High Profile Time to Market Failures

In the most extreme cases, if things don’t work out to plan, a company or program can even end up on 60 Minutes (not a good thing). For those who missed it, one of the top stories on this past Sunday night’s 60 minutes was the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Currently the program is 6 years behind schedule and $163 Billion over budget. There are number of reasons cited for the program being late, including:

  • An over-reliance on simulation rather than physical prototypes, i.e. “buying before flying”
  • The complex nature of the F-35, 24 million lines of code that has prompted the description “flying super computer”

Although the F-35 program represents a high profile failure when it comes to Time to Market, in many ways the corrective actions that have been implemented over the past year by the Pentagon are even more insightful than the root causes described above. To put the program back on track, the Department of Defense now has complete visibility of the contractors manufacturing processes, tracking the flow of each plane through work cells, and charging a profit penalty every time a plane falls behind tact time or quality targets.

Even though this situation is extreme relative to what most end-customers are expecting, the real-time tracking of production and quality metrics is a key capability for Operation Excellence and an important enabler of improved time-to-market performance.

The Operational Excellence Journey and Time to Market

picture 1In LNS Research’s recent study on Operational Excellence in manufacturing, 6 key journeys for Operational Excellence were identified, including the ability to speed product designs through to volume production. In this research, a key result was that even though each company has a different Operational Excellence journey, there is a lot of important commonality across people, process, and technology capabilities that drive actual performance benefits.

For companies that are looking to improve time to market, it is important that companies are taking a holistic approach to measuring time to market and are also taking a comprehensive approach to performance management. When it comes to measuring success in time-to-market, often companies come up short by just looking at ‘time to volume’ targets. Market leading companies also account for ‘time to quality’ as an accompanying metric for success.

Second, companies often only look at the initial hand-off between engineering and manufacturing when a product is first released to production, which is again a mistake. The feedback-loops of performance information between engineering, manufacturing, and even customer service need to be maintained for the entire life of a product, not just when the product is first introduced. New failure modes and reliability issues can arise months or even years after a new product introduction and using continuous improvement tools is critical to ensure these issues are identified and resolved.

The Benefits of Real Time Visibility of Quality and Production

Finally, as the F-35 program did originally, the benefit (or even necessity) of real-time visibility of quality and production metrics can be grossly overlooked. However, for those companies that don’t overlook these capabilities, the benefits are clear and substantial. In the most recent LNS Research study on Manufacturing Operations Management it was shown that companies with real time visibility of quality and production metrics had over a 12% higher median performance in Successful New Product Introductions.

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For many companies manufacturing, can still be a black box, especially in complex discrete manufacturing, where processes aren’t linear and are often dominated by manual processes and paper-based systems. Most companies still associate the benefits of real-time visibility in manufacturing just with traditional efficiency and cost gains. However, it is time to broaden the scope of possible benefits and look to real-time visibility in quality and production as key enablers of improved time to market.