Principles of Good Product Development

Digital product models under EDM and PDM control

In coming years, the product development process has to get faster, it has to cost less, and it has to be higher quality. Having digital product models under the control of EDM and PDM systems will help attain these objectives in several ways. It should be much quicker to access and retrieve computer-based product data than it is to get paper documents. It should also be much cheaper - once the information is in the system it can be displayed on a screen. There's no need to pay someone to get the document. There's no need to make a physical copy. The quality should be much better - the information shown on the screen will be the information in the computer. It won't get torn, it won't be a faint copy, it won't be mislaid, it won't be the wrong version - and the information can be shown on the screen in 3D, which should mean less confusion.

Provided the computer is up and running, the information will be available almost immediately. There'll be no need to wait for a document until someone gets back from lunch, or recovers from being sick. There'll be no need to wait while someone who recently joined the company asks his or her boss where a particular document can be found. Then of course, there are all the other problems that will be avoided - someone else has the document, or someone modified the document but didn't tell anyone, or someone modified the entity described in the document but didn't modify the document.

For most of the product development process, information is all-important. It's all people can work with when the product doesn't physically exist. Yet strangely enough, in most organizations information is not managed the same way as other company assets. In most companies, there's no high-level manager responsible for the information describing the product and the processes that are used to develop, manufacture and support it. Some of this information will be under the control of the 'Document Store' - often a low-level organization located in a basement.

The rest of the information is distributed round the company, and is under the control of the people who use it, or maybe the people who create it - it's not always very clear. The detailed ownership and procedures for each piece of information are difficult to resolve, and there may be many cases where they are not resolved. As a result, people do their own thing. If they are to be held responsible for a task using certain information, they want the information to be under their control. As most information is used by people in several departments, each of whom is held responsible for tasks using that same information, several people want the same information to be under their control. Each one invents their own rules on how the information is managed, structured, stored, and used.

Problems occur at the interface between each pair of departments. Each department is responsible for its own work. When it comes to information, this means that each department structures the information the way that is most suitable for its own needs, uses the terminology that is most appropriate for its discipline, stores information on the medium that it finds to be most effective, and defines the information elements as a function of its own needs. This leads to the department working in the most effective way for its own needs, but creates problems when the information is transferred to another department.

The result of this approach to using and managing information is that the product development process is slow and expensive and riddled with errors. All along the process, time is wasted as information is converted and transferred, unnecessary overhead cost is added, and there is a lot of non-value-adding translation of information. Problems occur as paper is shuffled from one desk to another and from one department to another. On the shop floor, the result is expensive rework and scrap as the wrong parts are produced.

Access to information is slow, and there is always the chance that data will be lost. Copies of the same information differ, and a lot of time is lost in discussions trying to reconcile differences. Due to all the time lost with information problems, projects overrun. People can't find existing information, so there is little reuse of information - instead money and time are wasted as people continually reinvent the wheel. As the departments use different formats and structures of information, it is often simplest for them to put the information on paper before transferring it to another department. Once on paper it can be destroyed, lost, or mislaid.

In future product development organizations, Engineering information will be a strategic resource, and its management a key issue. Effective use, and re-use, of engineering information will play a key role in differentiating world-class companies from others.

World-class product development organizations will want to control their information, and achieve the maximum benefit from it. They will only be able to do this if it is all available electronically. As a result, all relevant information will be converted to a computer-controllable electronic form. Paper documents will be converted to electronic form. Discussions will be recorded on electronic media. Products and processes will be videotaped. All relevant product and process information will be made available on electronic media as an electronic corporate memory. EDM and PDM systems will manage this data. They will include cross-functional data dictionaries so that people from all functions can understand what they contain.

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Page last modified on March 10, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark