When it comes to manufacturing, a low-cost product does not have to be synonymous with a low-quality product.
That was a main takeaway from a recent webinar hosted by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West, MiBiz and The Right Place. The webinar on Design for Manufacturing and Assembly — often referred to as DFMA — brought together West Michigan manufacturing executives to discuss the importance of intentional product design in manufacturing.
Reduce costs. Improve quality. Change Culture. Learn how RoMan Manufacturing achieved manufacturing success and opened new market opportunities by implementing Design for Manufacturing and Assembly in this free online video of our recent webinar.
To access expertise and help on beginning your own DFMA journey, download the 2019-2020 Training Catalog from The Center-West. For more information, contact The Center West at 616-301-6247 or via email.
The DFMA process involves designing products for ease of manufacturing and assembly, with the distinct goal of streamlining assembly operations, minimizing components and reducing scrap. While that definition may seem simple, it requires companies take a deep dive into their operations and potentially alter some of their foundational practices.
By some estimates, only half of all small- and medium-sized manufacturers use DFMA principles, but when they are implemented the results can be extraordinary.
That was the case for RoMan Manufacturing, a West Michigan manufacturer of transformers. RoMan Manufacturing used DFMA to shave 55 percent of its cost of goods from a resistance welding transforming line. It also reduced machining time from 2.5 hours to 45 minutes and reduced assembly time from 13 hours to under three hours, said Chad Schondelmayer, operations director at RoMan Manufacturing.
“We took cost out, took variability out and we created a pretty robust product,” Schondelmayer said. “Get that stigma of low-cost equals low quality out, because if you follow the process and do your homework during the launch phase, this product doesn’t have to be lower quality. It’s actually higher quality because we eliminated several variable points.”
Diving Into DFMA
For RoMan Manufacturing, the company’s DFMA journey began in 2017 as a way to combat lower-cost competitors entering its sector of the automotive market.
“Our DFMA process really started out as a defensive maneuver to counteract something that was trying to commoditize a product we built on quality,” Schondelmayer said. “We had very good and loyal customers, but that can only go so long. Quality can only get you so far until price starts to put pressure on you.”
RoMan manufacturing executives took note of the coming trends and CEO Bob Roth issued a directive: Cut costs by 40 percent in 24 months.
Schondelmayer and other executives set to work implementing a DFMA strategy. They codenamed it “Project 4024” and hired a consultant to help them develop a roadmap and to educate the team. From there, the Project 4024 team created a cross-functional “quality function deployment” (QFD) group to speak with RoMan’s customer base about improving product design.
“That was a big opening for us down the road, “ Schondelmayer said. “Some of the feedback we got was that some of our assumptions about what the customer wanted were wrong.”
Following conversations with customers, Project 4024 created an “activity-based costing team” (ABC) to determine all of the costs associated with creating the product in detail. With both the QFD and the ABC teams having completed their goals, Project 4024 mixed the teams and instituted a final DFMA group, which took the information gathered through the QFD and ABC processes and set to work redesigning the product. Ultimately, RoMan’s Project 4024 team was able to complete the DFMA process in 14 months
Throughout the process, Schondelmayer noted the importance of remaining engaged with RoMan’s customer base.
“If there’s something holding you up, that conversation with the customer can help solve some of those roadblocks you may come across,” he said.
A Culture of Change
Outside of the cost savings and reductions in production time, Schondelmayer also indicated the DFMA process ushered in a period of change at RoMan Manufacturing. Now, the company actively looks for ways to improve its organization through DFMA.
“What (the DFMA process) did was now it’s become a culture of change at RoMan,” Schondelmayor said. “The 4024 process is our DFMA process and its the word we use when we want to look at something in a different way.”
Whereas RoMan Manufacturing’s first foray into DFMA was meant to defend its domestic market, the manufacturer intends to use DFMA to develop more offense-minded strategies. Specifically, the company plans to take its lower-cost product and enter into international markets, Schondelmayor said.
Jess Cruz, a business development manager at the The Center-West experienced in DMFA, understands that it's easy for small- and medium-sized manufacturers to believe they have already maximized efficiencies with their products. However, he stressed the importance of digging in and thinking about improving products as early in the production cycle as possible.
“There are very intelligent companies in West Michigan,” Cruz said. “We’re talking about finding a different way and a better way to apply the methods that have been proven. It’s out there. It’s a matter of embracing it and moving your organization forward.”
Design for Manufacturing Part Two: Reducing Costs Through Design
In a second “bonus” webinar, Jesse Anderson, global director of advanced manufacturing and facilities for Holland-based GHSP, spoke about the company’s journey into DFMA. In particular, Anderson focused on the importance of “cost avoidance” as one of the key drivers for GHSP developing its own DFMA process. Not only do DFMA principles reduce costs in the near-term when it comes to certain projects, but can cause a ripple effect of savings for years to come, according to Anderson.
“You can reduce investment, you can get to the market faster by potentially weeding out a design that’s not really capable or that’s too cumbersome,” Anderson said during the webinar. “I think it opens a lot of doors and opportunities and allows additional financing to go down other paths if you can save money on the front side. I would be pained to see someone not utilizing this.”
GHSP, which manufactures components for the automotive, transportation and appliance industries, began initiating DFMA processes in late 2016. After some initial attempts, which included an elaborate matrix created on Microsoft Excel, the team decided to expand their DFMA experience. Anderson and others attended a training in Rhode Island with Boothroyd Dewhurst, Inc. Following the training, GHSP invited consultants from Boothroyd to explain DFMA to its 30 team members during an all week “symposium.”
“We were more than confident that we could do it internally but we wanted to keep working with (Boothroyd) and bring them in as consultants,”Anderson said of GHSP’s decision to invite the consultants to its facilities. “They had so many different exercises they could provide...that we felt it was important the whole organization saw it, not just heard it from us. Ultimately that was really the catalyst to get (DFMA) jumpstarted.”
From there, Anderson piloted additional workshops in DFMA for GHSP’s other operations in Mexico and Shanghai. However, Anderson noted the initial reaction to GHSP’s DFMA journey was not always positive.
“We walked away with people being a little bit upset at first, trying to tell them when they brought their new designs that ‘hey, your baby is ugly,’ and they didn’t like that, “Anderson said. “They’d been working on it for months. But, here’s the first rule. Check your emotions at the door. We’re not saying what you’re doing is wrong, we’re just saying it’s not right for the organization and that’s what we need to work through as a team to determine.”
GHSP conducts its DFMA assessments over a three-day-period, involving key people throughout its operation. Since beginning in late 2016, the GHSP has completed 20 DFMA assessments across its global operation, approximately five of which have been launched, with three more close behind. If GHSP wins all of those 20 projects from its customers, it will be on track to save roughly $50 million in cost avoidances as a direct result of DFMA, Anderson said.
For GHSP, the next step in its journey is to “institutionalize” DFMA principles into its everyday operation. For starters, the company has begun to analyze production data from the DFMA-guided projects thus far to determine the impacts of those decisions compared to the potential outcomes from other options available at the time. From there, Anderson hopes to train leaders in each of GHSP’s facilities to run their own teams dedicated to DFMA assessments.
GHSP has more than doubled sales since Anderson joined the company in 2013, and he expects those numbers to increase as GHSP wins more projects from its customers. A large part of that winning strategy comes from the applied knowledge of the DFMA assessments, he said.
“We’re competing against larger suppliers with larger parent companies and we’re quite successful against them,” Anderson said. “Where (DFMA) is helping us, is they may have the product today, so they have that benefit, but as we streamline the processes and the warranty costs, and reduce weight, size and complexity, we can offer up a solution. Sometimes we beat them, and more than 50 percent of the time we win the project.”