In the past decades, manufacturing had been constantly shifting from mass production towards an engineer-to-order (ETO) approach, creating mass customized and one-off products. Making products customizable, while also meeting traditional customer expectations such as high quality and affordability, made such manufacturers face new challenges, such as managing a wider product range in smaller production batches, with their corresponding documentation.
Dealing with more complex products and more frequent changes throughout the development phase elongates the time it takes to finalize products and increases the number of specialists involved in a single product’s lifecycle.
Furthermore, when some of the ever-changing customer requests are missed due to misplacement, engineers are enforced to make corrections in a short period of time. To counterbalance the higher expenses, while keeping the end product’s price at a reasonable level, manufacturers must aim to optimize their internal processes and streamline the product data flow.
Top challenges in ETO
For ETO manufacturers there are many complaints and challenges they experience on a day-to-day basis which vastly impacts business performance. Here are the main ones:
- Information sharing between sales, engineering and manufacturing: ETO manufacturing requires constant information sharing between sales, engineering and manufacturing teams to meet and follow the customers’ requirements. This level of collaboration requires a common IT platform to ensure fast and reliable data exchange; otherwise, overseeing such projects can be problematic.
- Tracing single products: When dealing with one-off custom parts and products, manufacturers cannot afford not to document these changes, both in terms of 3D models and support documentation. Without proper documentations, the servicing and replacement of the products will be impossible in the span of a couple of years.
- Handling customer requests: Within companies without a proper data management or product lifecycle software, crucial details of the custom product are not received, but also stored in emails, saved to shared drives or they only exist as notes on printed out documents and drawings. This can easily pose a risk of simply forgetting one of the requests or updates on a product, which lowers customer satisfaction and depending on when the misinformation is realized, can force the manufacturer to re-design and produce whole batches.
- Higher need for engineering work: ETO manufacturers have to repeat design and engineering steps more often than non-ETO manufacturers due to having a more diverse variety of products. One-off, or small batch production requires active engineering involvement in finalizing the custom end products.
- Managing and utilizing existing product data: Working with a high number of custom or one-off products leads to a massive item database, with connecting documentation, which can force companies not to spend too many resources on managing individual items. The improper management of such data can easily result in data loss or creating duplicates, making data management even more challenging.
Challenges’ negative impact on the business
- Constant information sharing between sales, engineering and manufacturing can create bottlenecks, that are slowing down or completely stopping the development processes
- Collaboration between departments or sites can be problematic without a shared business system
- Wasting valuable resources on redesigning already produced components or products due to the awareness of their existence
- Engineers are often obligated to spend time on non-engineering tasks, that could have been spent on designing new products and R&D
- The mismanagement of documentation can lead to missing crucial customer requests
- ETO manufacturers have to manage a bigger engineering team as more engineering resources have to be spent on meeting the customers’ requirements
How CAD+PLM+ERP embedded in Microsoft D365&AX can solve the problem
In order to optimize the data flow between sales, engineering and manufacturing, ETO manufacturers have to align their data and data related processes.
Bluestar PLM – being embedded in Microsoft Dynamics 365/AX ERP and integrated with the market-leading CAD and PDM systems. This solution allows engineers to utilize existing ERP and PLM data when designing new, or custom products, then transferring the updated engineering data seamlessly back to the management systems.
Abolishing the need for manual data re-entry not only saves valuable time, but also increases the overall data quality and integrity. Bluestar PLM’s reuse function within the CAD systems can further assist engineers to find and make use of existing components.
With cutting down the non-value adding processes, engineers can focus on designing new or customizing existing products. The engineering and manufacturing managers get a clear overview of the product lifecycle, while the centralized master data grants the sales team access to up-to-date engineering data.