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Systems Integration Considerations

Because Configurators are a new form of product defini­tion, the relationship to Product Data Management (PDM) systems is a consideration for companies implementing PDM systems. PDM systems are recognized as an appro­priate means to achieve enterprise-wide management of the entire product data life cycle. (7) According to Hewlett-Packard, PDM systems consist of four components: elec­tronic vault, process capture, process management, and data capture and management. The author recognizes that a PDM system should support product options. The config­ured order Bill of Material needs to be maintained in the electronic vault over the entire product life cycle. The process management component of a PDM system must then manage the configuration downstream to the execu­tion functions of an MRP II system. This capability will be particularly important for companies who need to coordi­nate graphical product data in the cycle. For companies needing to manage field service activities, the order Bill will need to be reconciled to all future engineering change releases.

Concurrent Engineering (CE) shortens product develop­ment time to market and lowers development and manu­facturing costs by ensuring the accuracy and stability of product data before release to production. A front-end Configurator that can provide both a Bill of Material and a Bill of Process (routings, graphical work instructions, etc.) can be a useful tool for those involved in the CE process. In conjunction with the capabilities of some CAD packages, the rules of the Configurator should help validate that a released product is manufacturable, maintainable, meets or exceeds quality requirements and is delivered within the lowest possible cost. Released engineering data for a part that is manufacturable and maintainable also reduces the need for internally-generated engineering changes. Fur­thermore, proper initial creation of the rules is important to ease on-going maintenance of the rules. The best case for the integration of CE with Configurators is to cite manufac­turing companies offering catalog options and variations that can be sold—but can't be built!

In the Engineer-to-Order company it is common to find a proliferation of part numbers because of the past inability to quickly retrieve part information. Therefore, the related improvement strategies of parts standardization, Group Technology, modular product design and producibility re­views might be considered as an integral part of the implementation of a Configurator.

Furthermore, to address the needs of the customer-driven
market, manufacturing must be flexible, implementing such well-recognized tactical measures as reduced lot sizes, cellular manufacturing and cultural techniques such as empowerment and flattening the organization struc­ture. In the rapid-paced atmosphere of Mass Customization, improved organization communication will be mandatory.

Systems design should also address order entry scheduling confirmation. In the past, "Available-to-Promise" logic of MRP II systems focused on just the highest levels of the product structure. In the time compressed environment of the 90's, the analysis at order entry time must take into account all levels of the product structure and on-line, real-time. Unfortunately, most MRP II packages are weak on fast simulation processing. With the growth of "fast MRP" point solution packages, this restriction is being overcome. "Fast MRP" packages use high speed processing algo­rithms and work station power to simulate material and capacity planning within minutes.

In addition, finite scheduling methodologies are becoming more common; interfacing the order entry process with detail scheduling confirmation now becomes feasible. With over forty packages in this category, as well as "fast MRP" point solutions, the tools are becoming available to fully integrate configured order entry with other enterprise functions.


The growing body of industry experience in the implemen­tation of Configurators suggests two key guidelines for successful application:

1. Creation of a new vision of customer service not bound by the restrictions of current company systems and culture; and,

2. Rethinking of the company's manufacturing strategy to support the new service vision.

A properly implemented Configurator system adds sub­stantial value to the order fulfillment cycle by creating an order Bill for a unique product that is saleable, buildable, and supportable. The integration of Configurators with various enterprise systems and technologies leverages product data to its fullest extent. Clearly, an accurately configured order will reduce or eliminate rework and overhead, and shorten cycle times for the manufacturing and logistics operations. Configurator systems will become a key element of the Information Technology solution to support the Mass Customization concept.

For balance of this article, click on the below link:

Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 01


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