Steps to increase your competitive advantage |

Steps to increase your competitive advantage

In today’s challenging business environment, companies that design and manufacture their product are doing everything possible to be competitive in our global economy. The objective of this article is to provide design, manufacturing companies with improvement opportunities in four core areas: Business, Marketing, Engineering, and Manufacturing.

Business vision: In most companies, the standard business processes are in place in terms of finance, accounting, purchasing, legal…etc. What I will like focus on as an improvement opportunity is a clear vision and the process to execute the vision. This process involves defining a clear vision, an assessment, a road map, and communication plan with employees.

Vision: Define why you are in business and where you are going with the business. This vision should be a clear statement that anyone in the company can understand and support. It is also a reference for your business as conditions change or new opportunities present themselves.

Assessment: Review your current company to see if your can support your vision; determine where gaps exist in your management, infrastructure, processes, and resources. Define what is required to close the gaps and the time required to close the gap.

Mission statement and road map: Define a mission statement, a clearly defined plan with activities, and key goals and milestones; where goals are defined make sure they are measureable goals; a data collection and reporting mechanism should be in place to monitor the performance of your goals that are tied to financial impact. The goals should be reviewed on regular bases and corrective action taken by those responsible for the objectives.

Communication: Develop a clear communication plan to inform employees on how they are involved in achieving the vision.

Whenever you have a new opportunity ask yourself “is it in line with my current vision, assessment, mission statement and roadmap, and communication plan?” This should be a dynamic process that is revisited as new business opportunities present themselves.

Marketing and Design: A two-step process to improve how you translate the customer requirements into your product design involves the Market Requirement Process and the Design Requirements Process.

Market Requirement Process – 1) Defines and prioritizes the customer requirements for the potential market of product or service. 2) Defines projected volumes if you meet the market/customer requirements. 3) Defines product cost target. 4) Defines the product price point. 5) Performs a business analysis based on the volumes, price, cost target and other business cost to make sure the product is profitable. 6) Project a product introduction date that meets your customers required schedule.

Design Requirement Process – 1) Perform an Engineering review of customer requirements 2) Prioritizes those customer requirements. 3) Engineering defines design/functional specifications that will meet the customer requirements; it is important to point if any of the customer specifications will be met; this could affect projected volumes and financials. 4) Engineering projects the product cost that hopefully is in line with the projected cost target outlined in the market requirement process document; it is important to note that any deviations to the cost target identified so the business case is updated to determine the impact.

This process is an iterative process that is most effective when marketing and engineering work closely together reviewing trade-off s of customer requirements, design, cost and schedule. Both of these processes can be as simple or complex depending on the product or service you are attempting to deliver. By implementing and documenting the requirements in each process, you have a higher probability of delivering a product and or service that meets your customer requirements, achieves your market projections, and meets your business needs for a profitable product.

Engineering: The success of product introduction can be improved with design improvements.

Product definition: Clearly define and prioritize features and functions of a product. Serviceability – Review all assemblies or components requiring service or replacement and make sure you have access with minimal tools and effort; engaging your field service personnel could have a significant impact. Manufacturing – Design products for high quality, lean and fast production. Design for Manufacturing Assembly and Design for Test are some of the methodologies you can apply to products to optimize the design for production; early engagement of manufacturing engineering, test engineering, quality, and suppliers in the design process can avoid quality, sourcing and production problems down the road.

Cost – Design needs to achieve a cost target to be competitive. Applying Value Engineering concepts can support this goal. It attempts to eliminate unnecessary parts, assemblies, assembly time, and material.

Packaging – Make sure you address packaging requirements of your products during the design process as well; it may affect transportation requirements, the country you are shipping to, and transport cost.

Design – Produce engineering released drawings, specifications, software, and supporting documentation (ex. assembly, maintenance, shipping, service) for your suppliers, manufacturing, and field service to achieve the performance and quality expectations of your customers; releasing all documentation under engineering change control is also important.

Manufacturing: Assuming you’ve done an effective job of working with engineering to designing the product for manufacturability:

Materials and sourcing – work with suppliers to insure they can deliver the material and or assemblies at the cost, schedules, quality and packaging requirements.

Lean manufacturing – Define a process that minimizes the steps, time, and resources to build, test, package the product.

Metrics – Establish appropriate metrics, data collection processes and reporting mechanism to monitor your material, manufacturing process, quality, and information. This may help identify improvement opportunities.

In terms of customer feedback, what is extremely important is to implement a data-driven process and resources to respond to customer issues (ex. delivery, quality, returns, and service). Failure to implement an effective customer feedback process can impact your product acceptance, market share, and profitability.

Robert Francis is president of Core4 Consultants LLC of Reno. Contact him at 775-853-9480 or at


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