Last summer Cogent Technology counted a total of 18 concurrent new product introductions being processed alongside regular scheduled manufacturing. This prompted the business to stand back and review the process for handling NPI as systematically as possible. While the contract review ensured that the engineering elements were covered, it needed a more holistic approach to determine how this work entered the production plan with minimal interruption to embedded products.
One of the key factors was to acknowledge that production planning has a greater number of dependencies than just the kit complete date. There is a raft of engineering activity that needs to be completed before manufacture can commence.
By the same token, juggling priorities for the engineering work needs to be considered along with the whole picture. For example, if Cogent is preparing assembly drawings for a product, but the customer decides to delay the release of firmware, it should be possible to reset the required date. This makes room for a product which can come together sooner because, for example, material lead times have been compressed as a result of Cogent’s buying team.
The end result was a new bespoke software tool which not only plans production capacity but schedules and assigns engineering tasks. The immediate impact was the end of a ‘who shouts loudest’ priority list for engineers and reduced effort expediting tools and documentation to meet kits awaiting production.
This gave a high level plan for both production and engineering, but Cogent went beyond this to assign works orders to individual production cells. The leader of each cell then checks the flags indicating engineering readiness at a pre-production review. With a list of production ready works orders they can confidently plan the activity of individuals for the week ahead taking account of skills and planned absences.
As with all process improvement, the results magnified the next constraint. During the next 12 months Cogent will therefore be embedding outsourced software tools from Aegis to rapidly process and standardise the myriad of data formats received from customers.
When processing large numbers of new products it’s tempting to adapt customer supplied engineering drawings and although these are often good, it does lead to inconsistency of presentation and a drift of conventions. Using the new tools will not discount the valuable data within customers’ documentation, but will take that information and present it in a consistent style.
Furthermore, the software tools will allow Cogent to seamlessly create machine programming data and so speed up the complete NPI process. It will also make it possible to cross reference and validate the bill of materials (BOM) within Cogent’s material requirement planning (MRP) system with the latest issue from the design authority.
The future Cogent factory will take this technology to the next level and deliver electronic engineering documents to the production workstation with live flags for any engineering change notice (ECN) or concessions that impact on the works order. Control and flexibility will still be delivered in equal measure. At the same time the system will recognise the reality of taking NPI into embedded production, with the need to convey change, in real time, until the moment the product is complete.