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Streamlining thermal management design, production

Posted: 14 Aug 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:manufacturing  Centralization  heat issues 

There are a number of other issues, all of which are detrimental to successful and timely completion. One of them is perspective; the less unified the process, the more likely perspectives are bound to differ. This situation tends to occur with a supplier who sees the company's sole responsibility as fulfilment of contracted obligations by following specifications. What happens elsewhere is not a concern unless problems, such as thermal management issues, are discovered. There may also be regulatory requirements that vary from state to state or country to country—a dilemma that is generally eliminated through a centralised design/manufacturing effort. When thermal management issues arise as project managers warily eye approaching deadlines, distance between the parties magnifies in importance. Instantaneous electronic communication is not enough to bring about a quick resolution.

Decentralised failure
Could these issues have been prevented through a consolidated effort? Quite possibly if one company's unfortunate experience is viewed as a learning example. The U.S. manufacturer of component parts for aircraft products determined that a ruggedized product for the military would be cost-prohibitive if designed and manufactured stateside. Instead it outsourced mechanical design and fabrication to companies in India, but contracted with an American firm for thermal management. That decision turned out to a costly oversight that would negatively impact the project throughout the process. The oversight: some key mechanical and thermal design requirements were "hidden" in governing specifications and procedures. The offshore companies failed to take those into account due to the lack of familiarity with some of the specialised requirements. The project sustained numerous delays as the Indian companies had to redesign and rework. The initial cost savings that the company anticipated through the decentralised approach were obliterated by constant delays and their predictable corollary—escalating expenditures that exceeded budgetary limitations. The company finally admitted defeat and cancelled the project.

This example should not be viewed as criticism of the capabilities of the outsourced firms. Instead, it graphically illustrates the need for constant communication between all involved with the logistics of thermal management design and manufacturing. Clearly, that was not the case with the company that separated thermal engineering from design and fabrication. The fact is that the quality and speed to solution will be impacted by this demonstrated lack of understanding.

Contrast that outcome with the success of a U.S. firm in the Southwest that expeditiously resolved thermal management issues thanks to centralisation. As the development process continued, the customer demanded working prototypes in three weeks. Engineering moved first to define the thermal requirements with the customer. Now, it was time to discuss the project with all of the disciplines including production, testing, engineering, quality assurance and sales, all of whom were close enough to conduct their review in the same room. Working together without the specter of delays caused by distance, language and corporate culture, the group identified potential challenges, quickly resolved them and produced the successfully functioning parts to the customer within the obviously tight time frame. "I doubt we could have resolved things that quickly had we been scattered around the globe," the owner said.

All companies recognise the imperative of scaling up manufacturing and reproducing parts without frequent delays. The process is rendered more efficient when all sides speak the same technical language—a preferred scenario and one of the fundamental reasons for unifying design and manufacturing. Expeditious communications and ultimately a solution are less likely to occur when design, fabrication and thermal management exist in separate and distant facilities.

The value of cross-pollination
Companies are understandably proud to trumpet the "added value" of their products, but that value tends to be eliminated when disciplines from design through production are isolated—a situation that tends to increase costs of development for the company and the purchase price for the client. The necessity here is for bridge building, in this case interaction that can be facilitated through a centralised process. This type of interaction is similar to cross-pollination in which pollen is taken from one type of flower or plant and delivered to a different one. In our example of centralised design and manufacturing, various disciplines transfer their seemingly unrelated expertise (pollen) in real-time to help facilitate thermal management solutions. Globalisation is a permanent fact of business life, but thermal management generally will not benefit from it because of the need for system interaction and communication at every step of the process.

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