It may be hard to believe in today’s multi-tasked business environment, but there appears to be a “disconnect” between thermal management specialists and real world manufacturing. Some thermal management specialists believe their responsibility and focus are limited to resolving specifically defined heat issues within a product. This is an unfortunate, but common attitude when design and manufacturing are separate whether their location is in different facilities within the same organization, different organizations or different countries. Communication and perspective dissimilarities with these separate entities can become an obstacle and eventually impact the product’s time-to-market. Outsourcing, always initiated for cost reasons, becomes an even greater detriment, perhaps due to language problems or conflicting corporate cultures. That is the price companies pay for having design, thermal management and manufacturing in separate locations—and the price may be too high.
The ability to transfer an idea or discuss a technical problem can turn into an arduous and ultimately expensive task simply because of communication impediments stemming from cross border locations. Testing technicians, production managers and thermal design engineers may each have a different view of a product issue that may not be easily resolved face-to-face, let alone over thousands of miles. While this is not to be viewed as a blanket criticism of outsourcing, it is a fair warning. The fact is: issues tend to be handled more expeditiously and tactfully when all involved departments are at the same location and, most important, on the same page. That along with costs associated with delays may be just a few of the reasons why more U.S.-based companies are considering centralizing design and manufacturing under one roof.
The trouble with decentralized logistics
The logistics that comprise the essentials through design and development, manufacturing, and testing can be staggering. All of the “modules” from design concept to production have their own intricacies that can be either overlooked or misunderstood by those not directly involved as the project advances from one stage to the next. Start with concept and detailed design—always difficult when dealing with conceptual models, especially when attempting to meet the customer’s needs and expectations. At this point, the process is usually one-to-one, designers to clients. Now, however, input broadens as abstract moves to reality with the drafting of manufacturing requirements. This impediment can be a detriment to the project’s successful completion when and if manufacturing is contracted to another provider not closely associated with design and development. That is especially true in the determination of initial testing requirements, prototype construction and additional testing.
All of this is basic process management as understood by designers and manufacturers, particularly those involved in ruggedizing products for the military. Yet this seemingly simplified approach becomes complicated when other parties not connected to product development enter the mix. Each project requires coordination at every step of the process. However, coordination sadly tends to be hampered when the product is outsourced globally. Project management has often been impeded because of component issues that require timely resolution, only to be stalled because of distance, language and occasionally culture.
Thermal management problems are difficult to solve by themselves, but they’re the classic examples of unwanted outcomes when the design and manufacturing process is decentralized with little or no coordination between teams—a common occurrence associated with outsourcing. Thermal management, whether the end user is the military, aerospace industry or Silicon Valley, requires extremely close association and planning at all stages. Issues associated with heat dissipation and/or distribution cannot remain unresolved if the product is to provide optimum performance. Thermal engineers often complain about the difficulty of coordination or simply keeping everyone on the same page—a task made even more difficult when the role of provider is viewed only as a vendor or supplier.
“What you have are various documents and everyone playing the blame game,” said David Thompson, chief executive officer of A1A Vista Tech, a Tempe, Ariz., designer of custom automated assembly lines. “There has to be a common philosophy and that’s what is missing when you have a supplier instead of a partner.”
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 fulfillment 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 centralized 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.