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7.04 - IT support for the NPI process

Information Technology can be used to radically improve the New Product Introduction process. If the potential benefits are to be realised the emphasis must be on re-engineering and not merely automating existing processes. The IT systems that support New Product Introduction must be fully integrated with other systems in the business.

Tools that can be applied include:-

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Product Data Management (PDM)
  • Engineering Document Management (EDM)
  • Project Management Software
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Design Tools and Techniques Software Support (FEMA, QFD etc)
  • Virtual Reality Software
  • Simulation Tools

Document and Product Data Management

Engineering Document Management is the control and distribution of engineering drawings and supporting documents. It gives all personnel access to up-to-date engineering documents.

Product Data Management is the computerised management, control and distribution of all data related to products throughout their life cycle EDM may be considered a subset of PDM. Because of the emphasis on the management of the product life-cycle this capability is now called Product Life-cycle Management (PLM). PLM gives company personnel access to up-to-date information on products.

PLM can allow access to remote databases. Therefore design engineers, production staff and field engineers can be working from the same data. PLM can assist in creating virtual co-location between design offices and satellite manufacturing plants.

Workflow Management (WFM) controls the routing of drawings and data within the PLM system. WFM also integrates with email systems to provide action messages for the players in the processes. For instance, Engineering Change Management.

Both Document Management and Product Data Management are available as software applications. Potential users should be aware that there are a number of standards in this area. Off-the-shelf packages will normally need to be customised to meet user requirements. PLM systems vary widely in their capabilities for customisation.

The benefits of PLM systems include:-

  • Company-wide access to common documents
  • Increased utilisation of design resources
  • Improved customer service
  • Part count reductions
  • Reduced time to market
  • Increased options for business re-engineering – it helps make some geographically dispersed business operating models feasible.

Standard application software selection and implementation principles apply. The software should be piloted in a real situation before full roll-out. This could involve, for example, a product group, a new product and, if appropriate, it should be run on all user sites before implementation. Many bridges, some temporary and some permanent, will have to be set-up. A “big-bang” approach would most likely to be complex and to risky to manage successfully.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Prototyping is a generic term for the group of technologies that, in a matter of hours, turn 3D Solid CAD data into a prototype product, mould or die. The primary advantage is that rapid prototyping saves time and allows prototypes to built and evaluated quickly. Mould and die making is frequently on the critical path of new product introduction.

Most companies use a bureaux rapid prototyping service – the machines can be expensive and are invariably not required that often by the OEM.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality allows the real product to be seen and “used” without being built. Used effectively it can save considerable time and costs. 3D Solid CAD applications can be used for some virtual reality applications such as kinematics and clash detection.

Tools and Techniques Software

Software can be used to automate and simplify the simultaneous use of basic engineering tools and techniques. It is important that the basic procedures used in the techniques are not substituted by the software. Many of the benefits of these tools come from the structured “thinking” disciplines and systems engineering approaches they encourage and NOT necessarily the end result. Many such tools are now incorporated into PLM software suites.

Further Reading