Concurrent Engineering

Product development consists of the movement of a product idea from concept through to market availability. This process involves a number of distinct phases and has traditionally been viewed as a linear process involving individual, predetermined steps, each of which required completion and sign-off before subsequent stages could begin. The design and manufacturing phases for a serial process are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The serial product development process

The serial product development process

The grey area is the amount of knowledge known of the design during first the design process and then the manufacturing process. The communication link between the two stages is after the design has been approved for manufacture. It also indicates the steep learning curve required during manufacture.

The sequential approach is held to have several advantages:

  1. The distinct stages make the process easy to manage and control since each stage is predetermined and can be reviewed.
  2. Uncertainty is reduced before the next phase begins, since the information received downstream is complete and signed off.
  3. The approach optimises functional expertise, since each department focuses on a limited number of tasks and engineers (or designers) can participate on a number of projects simultaneously.

However, this approach has its drawbacks:

  1. The separation of expertise can result in products that are difficult to make since manufacturing expertise only enters the process once the design has been finalised
  2. It is inappropriate for customers because, due to the separation of design from marketing, there is the possibility of designing a product which does not satisfy the customer.
  3. It is slow to reach the market since all stages must be complete before the next can begin. Procedures have to be established that deal with problems that arise after handover.

An alternative approach, shown in Figure 2, is to consider these various stages as overlapping, co-operative and iterative. The dotted box represents the involvement of manufacturing in design problem solving. It shows the improved communication between the two phases.

Figure 2: The concurrent development process

The concurrent development process

This approach of over-lapping and integration of design, development, prototyping and manufacturing is known as ‘simultaneous engineering’ or ‘concurrent engineering’. This overlapping and integration reduces total development time because downstream activities receive resources prior to completion, but after the start, of the upstream task. Manufacturing companies have realised that to reduce quality problems and production costs, designers and manufacturing engineers must work together at the early stages of product design.

The concept is very simple but execution is more difficult. To be successful, simultaneous engineering must be underpinned by:


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