How To Pick Up The Slack Your Competitors Leave Behind
Success in business comes from a lot of dedication, hard work, smart people, good processes—and, sometimes, a little bit of luck. One of the major challenges in product development is balancing the lifecycle’s overall duration against the need to get the product to market before the competition, or within a reasonable margin, but what happens if your competition falters, giving you abig window of opportunity?Is your business ready to take advantage, pick up the slack, and deliver?
Your bill of materials (BOM) is going to be central to your capacity to pick up this slack. If it’s not up-to-date, controlled with measured and repeatable process, and flexible enough to handle alternatives, stealing away this surprise marketshare might be harder than you’d like. But with a few proactive measures, you and your business can be ready for that game-changing moment.
No product development lifecycle can be truly competitive without strong change management processes, including solid workflows for dealing with engineering change requests (ECRs) and engineering change orders (ECOs).Product lifecycle management (PLM) systems enable much of this activity, in smoother fashions than pen-and-paper or Excel, and should be utilized as much as possible. There simply is no substitute for the way these modern-day PLM systems enable innovation.
In addition, ensure that your BOM is documented as much as possible. No one should have ownership of certain pieces of knowledge—get everything into that central PLM repository so that no piece of information stays in the dark. Your people can’t make good decisions if they don’t know the facts.
A BOM contains anywhere from dozens to thousands of parts, but even if it’s complex it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a handle on its contents. First, you should work to identify the parts within the BOM that are highest risk.Good BOM management tools, as part of your PLMsystem, will allow you to identify alternatives directly within the BOM, so that manufacturing and supply chain people know exactly where they can look next if a certain transistor starts running low.
Parts that require a long lead time, or are currently arriving from a single vendor, fall into this high-risk category. The BOM should be used to identify any possible alternative partners that could be turned to if the existing supply chain can’t handle the uptick in your purchasing orders(POs). Since this is integrated directly into the BOM, everyone is made aware of these alternatives, and can turn to them immediately when they need to—if you only start looking for alternatives when you’re running short, you’re already too late.
Companies that manufacture a variety of different products, particularly those in the same product category, might be able to get away with overlapping certain sub assemblies or specific parts. Corroborate multiple BOMs to help find places where an existing part—and associated manufacturing process—might be a more efficient use of your company’s time than engineering something entirely new. Also, identify places where you can substitute the original part with one you might have on-hand or can acquire easily, as long as it won’t sacrifice in quality.
When it comes to BOM management, no contingency is too crazy—not when the clock is ticking.
Also, take care to clean up the BOM. It doesn’t do anyone any good to have a BOM littered with duplicate or obsoleted/unused parts. Use the BOM management tools to identify these extraneous entries and eliminate them before a well-meaning PO, during a crunch period,gets sent off for a part that isn’t actually in use any more.
With all this talk about substitutions and overlap, it makes sense to also stay aware of potential compliance issues that might arise in the face of contingency. Substitutions might make your supply chain people happy, but are they fully compliant? Using the same BOM management tools for compliance tracking can save you headaches, but only if you do the work before that contingency actually comes into play—luckily, good PLM systems will allow you to manage not only what regulatory bodies you need to stay in the good graces of, but also warn youof any potential errors. Having all this information in a single place means you’ll be able to quickly file all the evidence you need to get certified and get your product out the door.
In business, the only thing worse than missing an opportunity entirely is seeing another competitor get there first. There are plenty of other ways to prepare your business for these kinds of opportunities, from forging deeper bonds with contract manufacturers or further refining the process to reduce scrap, but the BOM isthe key to it all. Without a BOM that is clean, contingency-ready, and compliant, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to ramp up your operations and strike while the iron is hot.