There’s a disconnect between R&D and manufacturing which is hurting the introduction of crucial new technologies – but there is a solution.
By James Montgomery VP of Solutions at Andea
A deep disconnect between R&D and manufacturing is jeopardising efforts to increase speed to market and achieve economies of scale for complex new technologies. The hand-off from product design and development to production creates significant risks as engineers prepare the shopfloor to ramp-up the rate of production and without the necessary feedback loop, there can be a significant disconnect.
When engineering knowledge isn’t transferred to those working on the shop floor, practical workflows often fail to materialise. Failure to capture and communicate engineering processes and knowledge prevents companies from streamlining and automating manufacturing processes and adopting Industry 4.0 innovations.
As a result, lessons learned during development and manufacturing may not be captured and used to improve future products. This is why it’s critical that feedback loops are adopted early, ensuring a flow of insight from engineering to shopfloor and vice versa. Inadequate transparency and traceability hampers quality control and compliance, subsequently delaying the introduction of new technologies across multiple sectors.
The disconnect between innovation and implementation
Manufacturing processes are perceived as an administrative cost rather than a competitive advantage, while research and development is seen as the true money-spinner. Companies often fail to invest in converting new innovations into practical manufacturing plans, preventing manufacturers translating concepts into mass-manufactured technologies.
There is significant pressure to accelerate speed to market which falls on the shoulders of engineers. This pressure, combined with the cost of continual changes to manufacturing processes, often means work instructions can overlook production requirements. Lack of communication during production means that engineers are missing vital shopfloor feedback.
It is flawed to confine production knowledge to a small group within a business. Companies try to rapidly scale production by hiring non-specialist factory workers and see them struggle due to a lack of transparent or open knowledge sharing. As a result, those working on the shopfloor are often confined to specific tasks, but without a significant drive to feedback challenges to design or manufacture, there is a risk that feedback never makes it to the engineering team in the first place.
While changes or non-conformance are sometimes tracked, often they are not, leading to poor quality control on the manufacturing line. Any production errors or unanticipated changes can cause a ripple effect across assembly processes, leading to costly delays or dangerous defects going unnoticed.
Crucially, the accelerating pace of innovation and complexity of assembly makes it progressively harder for engineers to track and trace components, or detect and correct errors at an early stage. Lack of visibility and traceability over manufacturing changes is causing excessive scrap rates and product recalls while creating safety and sustainability risks with new technologies.
Scaling to high-speed, large-scale manufacturing
Accelerating speed to market for complex technologies will require companies to bridge the gap between innovation and implementation to create a mutually beneficial feedback loop from factory floor to design. Manufacturers need to embrace systems that enable data sharing across the manufacturing process. Everything from product design to process plans should be democratised and decentralised, creating collaborative processes continually adjusted to reflect operational realities.
Real-time collaboration and communication between engineering and operations creates agile manufacturing and engineering capable of adapting processes to ramp up production. Live data on excessive downtime or unresolved defects could also help adjust maintenance procedures to quickly contain and correct defects and trace their cause, reducing safety or sustainability risks without excessive scrap rates.
Digitally integrating the factory floor with design would create a digital feedback loop capturing and cross-fertilising insights across projects to optimise future processes. Integrating processes into a single common planning solution allows businesses to centrally synchronise and optimise all manufacturing processes in a single source.
Manufacturers from hi-tech industries including solar and aerospace are now adopting decentralised, data-driven planning solutions, but there is an urgent need for other industries to establish better manufacturing processes. This creates end-to-end visibility over changes and enables processes to be rapidly reconfigured to real-time manufacturing requirements.
Crucially, these companies are moving away from a narrow focus on R&D over the process and instead engaging shopfloor workers in everything from design reviews to approvals. The key to rapidly scaling from R&D to mass manufacturing is bridging the gap between engineering and operations, moving from linear to adaptable processes, and shifting from top-down to two-way information flows.
James Montgomery, VP of Solutions at Andea, has over 25 years’ experience in creating innovative solutions for the manufacturing sector across various industries. He has worked at companies including SpaceX, Apriso and ProDB Business Systems in positions including Lead Product Manager, Solution Architect, Business Analyst, Project Manager and Software Development Team Lead. James is responsible for managing Andea’s key functions in North America; including operations management, team management, customer and marketing relations, services and project delivery activities. https://www.andea.com/