Being a capital equipment and tooling supplier in the plastics industry, we know that equipment is ordered at just the right time and sometimes, past the optimal time. Each industry has its nuances with product life cycles and new product launches and we strive to understand them. As we monitor how industries perform, we put processes and systems in place to support these rhythms. We use historical data to plan accordingly and align our staff to best support our customer’s expectations.
Over the past couple years, Extol’s team has noticed that some industries have begun to significantly compress development cycles leading up to production. This isn’t necessarily a surprise; the development process is costly. Lifecycle durability testing takes time. People want products and services… now. 3D plastic and metallurgical printing technologies are advancing at exponential rates – cost of printers have dropped from hundreds of thousands of dollars to tens of thousands and below, while quality and diversity of materials for rapid prototypes is increasing. Global sourcing has greatly increased speed and competition. The demand for information in manufacturing continues to increase. Lastly, as the economy has rebounded, we understand our customers have not expanded their staff to meet these faster-paced projects.
One example in the automotive industry is how aggressively Tesla has begun to challenge traditional development timelines. From its Gigafactory and its philosophy on vertical integration to announcing that deadlines may be intentionally unrealistic, Tesla is challenging the automotive industry to respond accordingly. One commentary published in DesignNews states that Tesla’s vehicle validation timelines are so short that the company appears to be taking a completely different approach to vehicle validation and launch (Murray, 2017). This kind of philosophical change has implications throughout the entire engineering and manufacturing supply chain. The processes and business philosophies of automotive OEM’s and suppliers need to consider these changing expectations to increase the speed to market.
So how do Extol’s established departments, systems, and people adapt to our customers’ needs? And how do our customers respond? To support shorter timelines leading up to production, here are some ways we attempt to cope with the increasingly fast pace.
Process Development Center
Armed with a team of application engineers to evaluate customers’ plastic joining designs prior to the molding process, we support our customers with weld joint recommendations upstream. This department also supports the ever-increasing pre-production support to bridge the gap from prototype to production. With prototype tooling and flexible machines, we can assist with plastic joining of small to medium preliminary orders.
Manufacturing Solutions Center
This team is equipped with experienced manufacturing engineers who assist our customers’ through plant layouts, automation solutions, and other manufacturing challenges. The team then directly transfers those concepts to proposals for our customers. This can assist compressed timelines by having sound concepts with proper budgets to hit the ground running once the customer makes the decision to go.
Sure, many companies have various levels of project management, but our hands-on team understands how the industry is transforming. Our project management team is the voice of our customer for changing needs. While some customer needs may require engineering changes due to last minute part changes, these team members work with our customers in real time.
Most workforces want known tasks and timelines. Ours is no different, but we often talk about how best to put the customer first. In the current climate, this means accommodating last minute tooling changes, supporting multiple part runs before machine shipment, or shuffling schedules.
While Extol is still working to adapt these departments and objectives to more flexible and faster customer demands, we still have a long way to go. However, it is my view that the current climate is one that must be acknowledged and planned for accordingly. We will continue to work on ways to adapt to this unique position of being an equipment supplier who provides services that help our customers succeed, regardless of a quickening pace.
Murray, Charles. (2017) Has Tesla Found a Better Way to Test and Validate Vehicles? https://www.designnews.com/electronics-test/has-tesla-found-better-way-test-and-validate-vehicles/141623126256511?cid=nl.x.dn14.edt.aud.dn.20170323
Nick is a mechanical engineer who works with Extol’s Design, Controls, Service, Applications, and Manufacturing Solutions teams. When Nick isn’t thinking about plastic joining machines, he’s cycling, boating, or hanging out with his wife and boys.