The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 24.0°F | A Few Clouds

Session Investigates Design and Manufacturing

By Eva Moy
News Editor

Industry is increasingly recognizing the success of concurrent engineering and implementing its use in design and manufacturing, which span most of the product development process.

Two of the sessions at the Industry Summit last weekend addressed this issue. "Design: The Next Imperative of Industrial Competitiveness" featured panelists Woodie C. Flowers PhD '73, professor of mechanical engineering, G. Glenn Gardner, general manager of large car platform engineering at Chrysler Corp., Peter G. Lawrence, chairman of Corporate Design Foundation, and Session Chair Thomas L. Magnanti, professor of management science and co-director of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program.

Sloan Professor of Management and Leaders for Manufacturing Professor Arnoldo C. Hax led a session on "Emerging Best Managerial Practices."

"Human and organizational development approaches such as greater employee empowerment, reliance on autonomous teams, and flattened organizational structures are as key to enabling process change as any technical tool," Hax said. "In fact, information technology is rarely effective without simultaneous human innovations."

"As work becomes more participative and team-oriented, this distinction between manager and non-manager begins to fade," he said.

Customer needs must come first

"The product is the object at the intersection of the company and the user," Lawrence said.

A company must "operate as if the final customer ... was the only focus of the team," with personal and company goals given lower priority, Gardener said. "The customer is always the one at the table with you."

Chrysler needed to make changes in its corporate structure to survive, much less compete, Gardener said. He described the "LH" team at Chrysler that experimented with a platform team design structure to increase competitiveness.

The team rejected the "throw-over-the-wall" approach, where each section of the company works independently, Gardener said. Instead, it brought together suppliers, and design, engineering, manufacturing, and marketing sections from the beginning, he said.

Individual members had their own goals, responsibilities, authority, and plans for profitability. Non-critical items, such as briefings and coordinators, were removed from the critical path. The technical level, not managerial level, now made the decisions, Gardener said.

The L* team reduced the development time from 4.5 to 3.5 years and personnel from 1400 to 741, representing a savings of $42 million. The overall product came in under-weight, $20 under target, and had better fuel economy.

Lawrence also gave the example of Xerox Corp., which "shifted from machine-centered design process to user-centered design process" to try to regain its market share. Xerox observed photocopier users and projected their needs. They also used models and crude prototypes early in the design process.

Need to know competitors

Along with teamwork, management is also important in a company's higher levels. Managers need to be clear about who the company's competitors are, on a regional, national, and international scale, Hax said.

Competitive benchmarking "is the continuous process of measuring products, services, processes, and practices against the toughest competitors or those companies renowned as the leaders," Hax said. But he warned that standards should be established, because benchmarking against different classes of companies may cause distractions in the goal of a company.

Managers need to determine "the key perspectives that [they] have to keep track of in [their] businesses," Hax said.

"We regret that our survival is at risk against Japanese companies, let alone domestic," Gardener said. Chrysler's L* team was an experiment to compete against Japanese and other American companies, not just to survive.

Design and manufacturing tools

Cooperation between design and manufacturing is especially important, both for total preventative maintenance and design for manufacturability and assembly, Hax said.

Flowers also emphasized concurrent education, citing programs at MIT such as the class Design Projects (2.73), the Leaders for Manufacturing program, and the New Products Program.

Designers use tools such as the House of Quality and Quality Function Deployment, which correlate customer demands with engineering attributes. Using computer aided engineering and computer aided design, parameters can be changed and redesigned with a single keystroke.

Even with this technology, designers still need to consider tradeoffs between analysis and testing, risk and comfort, and method and free form, Flowers said. Manufacturing engineers also need to consider cost, quality, speed, and flexibility of the manufacturing processes, Hax said.

It is "more costly to do things wrong than do things right," Hax said.