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Matt Wuensch, Mentor Graphics, promotes collaboration across PCB design, prototype development, and electronics assembly. The more this collaboration transpires between teams, the more potential for cost savings and less potential for problems in new product introduction (NPI).
Product development has traversed a learning and evolution cycle that has grown evermore team-oriented, rather than design-specialty groups “doing their thing” in isolation. The more collaboration that transpires between teams, the more potential for cost savings and the lower the potential for problems.
Collaboration between the PCB designer and the rest of the product supply chain (procurement, fabrication, assembly, test, etc.) can realize significant cost savings in terms of development time and greater ongoing manufacturing efficiency.
The challenge confronting us is, as product development and manufacturing become increasingly globally dispersed, how can we achieve highly effective collaboration to enable product launches that are on time and profitable? The answer lies in how well we adopt and utilize the available collaboration tools.
Overall, we tend to experience two different types of collaboration: collaboration within our own focused teams; and collaboration with everyone else who is not part of our team. The characteristics of successful collaboration are typically most evident in focused teams, where the participants tend to be in a small workgroup performing similar or identical tasks. These teams usually have highly interconnected and robust communication mechanisms, from common tools and data to being physically co-located. In addition to these characteristics, focused teams will have closely shared or even identical objectives; creating a common sense of purpose. Finally, one of the key elements of successful collaboration is having a lingua franca that all of the team members understand and use to effectively communicate with each other.
Collaborating for Design for Manufacturing (DfM)
On the other hand, once collaboration moves outside of these tightly focused teams, success becomes more challenging. Usually, once we step beyond our focused teams, we have to deal with fragmented objectives and inefficient communication. It isn’t uncommon to have conflicting objectives; a simple example is where the design team may select a component since it is the cheapest, yet that component causes significant issues during manufacturing that outweigh the per-part savings. If the designers and assemblers do not — or can not — collaborate effectively about this issue, problems will occur.
The root cause of ineffective collaboration is typified by characteristics that are diametrically opposed to the characteristics of effective collaboration. Here, teams lack an overall lingua franca, which makes communication across teams difficult. Coupled with this, these teams use different solutions and data, making information sharing difficult at best. Usually the shared data is reduced to its lowest common denominator, which opens up opportunities for ambiguous communication and mistakes. On top of all of this, it is not uncommon for these teams to work for entirely separate companies and/or in different geographies, which can further complicate the ability to collaborate effectively. The net result of poor collaboration is increased manufacturing costs, reduced efficiencies, lost revenues, and poor performance.
The problems to overcome are the characteristics of ineffective collaboration between teams:
- fragmented and inefficient;
- often have conflicting objectives;
- lack an overall common language;
- utilize different tools and systems;
- data gets reduced to the lowest common denominator;
- have different “homes” (location or employer).
The objective is to change the product development process to more closely embrace the characteristics of effective collaboration:
- interconnected and robust;
- closely shared or identical objectives;
- understand the team’s lingua franca;
- work with tightly integrated tools;
- have common and/or shared data;
- use a common “home.”
To achieve this objective requires the correct tools for the job. Until recently, the ability for teams to share design data has been quite limited; Figure 1 illustrates a collaboration capability between PCB design and the rest of the product supply chain.
Figure 1. Electronic, bi-directional collaboration like Mentor’s visECAD can improve the design for manufacturability process and reduce product costs.
There are solutions available today that allow all members of a product launch team to have a complete view of the product data, allowing their particular specialty to effectively examine the product and clearly communicate their needs, issues, and concerns to the other teams involved. Using these new tools combats the previous lack of a common cross-functional method to express the design intent by providing a lingua franca. This communication disconnect hindered the ability to communicate across teams where each team’s unique specialties and abilities needed to be shared with other teams involved in the product launch.
The key enablers of moving from poor collaboration across teams to effective collaboration across teams are:
- replace manual, paper-based, data-anemic methods with integrated software-based, data-robust solutions;
- focus on shared objectives to bring products to market;
- operate with a clear graphics and data-centric communication mechanism;
- leverage each team’s existing tools;
- expose complete product data to collaborators;
- create a virtual “co-location.”
Deploying solutions targeted at the electronics development process to enable collaboration for all individuals involved in the design and manufacture of these products will lead to vastly improved product launches. Cost control, efficiency, potential revenue, and product performance will all directly benefit.