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Product and process engineering functions predictably develop a keen interest in rules-based structuring of product B/Ms and routings, espe­cially for products with extreme variations and almost unlimited di­mensional characteristics. Opportunities now emerge for support in flattening B/Ms, removing the proliferation of pseudos and phantoms inherent in top-down structuring for MRP processing. Streamlining the processing of semi-engineered "specials," which consumes inordi­nate engineering cycle time, provides a significant return on configu­ration investment as "logicized" rules develop over time. As more varia­tions are included in automated rules logic, scarce engineering resources can be more effectively applied to new product development (i.e., "in-venting-to-order").

As engineering becomes more familiar with rules-based structur­ing, interest always escalates around interfaces with CAD/CAM func­tionality. New engineering practices begin to evolve with dimensioned components that can be configured and fabricated-to-order, directly to the sales order line-item specifications, without the need for a unique top catalog or lower-level part number identification. Many CAD soft­ware vendors have long ago developed the concept of "regenerative-associative" parametric rendering of drawings on the fly from con­figurator input specifications. These model specifications are configu­rator-driven and applied as CAD feature attribute drivers. They recog­nized significant value in not having to maintain zillions of static B/M tree structures (family table instances)—instead, they chose to regen­erate drawings from a small number of "parametric models." There is a tremendous reduction, therefore, in PDM system complexity, data base storage and maintenance requirements in a mass customization, "regenerate-to-order" environment.

The basic concept of rules-based BURBS engines follows this same approach—don't regenerate the B/M-Rtg structures until they are needed to support a specific configuration for a quote or order. It elimi­nates the need for database storage (and thereby ongoing maintenance) of hard B/M trees. Engineering change effectivities are applied against the rules, not the hard product structure records. Therefore, regenera­tion of all engineering drawings, attendant documentation, and B/M-Rtg structuring can be utilized to recreate service part requirements. The attribute string also becomes the "living representation" of asset management status required to control field upgrade documentation.

Configured componentry drawings and parts lists can now be re­generated as needed for shop instructions and restructured for manu­facturing sequence, station, and cell without additional intervening pseudo part numbering levels. This pseudo leveling has been an un­natural act foisted upon engineering by classical MRP systems that can only explode trees from the top down! It has led to the questionable practice of (re)maintenance of separate engineering and manufactur­ing B/M structuring. Instead, this perceived functionality should be accomplished merely by the use of different routing sorts or "views" of flat configured componentry. Resulting to-order "segmented" fabri­cation, feeder subassembly, and final assembly broadcasted shop in­struction paperwork can be generated directly from the configurator without resorting to manufacturing pseudo part number levels.

As product is shipped and becomes subject to field maintenance or replacement service parts (re)definition, the line-item attribute strings are archived for sales and engineering analysis. Everything anyone wants to know about a line item will reside (or be referenced) in the attribute string, easily accessible with SQL and spreadsheet tool sets. Continuing updates to these archived attribute strings can provide an ongoing history of field repairs and upgrades.

It soon becomes apparent to enterprise management that the rules-based syntax developed for the parametric engineering process, manu­facturing instruction (routings) segmentation, and marketing-oriented tutorial Q/As in the field should be user-friendly enough for consistent use across organizational boundaries. It should migrate to a single set of precise rules-based language syntax that will become the common communication media across the continuum of the entire enterprise. The issue often comes down to which enlightened organizational unit will lead the effort to bring all the functionality together.


Many companies have selected MRP/ERP systems under the assump­tion that sufficient configuration functionality will be included in their standard module offerings. All too often, though, companies choose to initially focus on the implementation of classical financial applications. When they finally get around to manufacturing module implementa­tions, where they actually have to structure option variations in order to load BOM-Rtgs, they then find out too late that they have an under­powered solution. Product configuration requirements should be evalu­ated first when selecting host systems—how can you plan products when you have not yet figured out how you are going to structure them? Additionally, as the ramifications of a changing product and FLOW Focused Factory layout strategy become apparent, it provides an op­portunity to also revisit reengineering activities during the process of implementing product configuration.

As FLOW Focused Factory migration simplification continues to evolve across the plant floor layout, industrial-strength product configu­ration software can supplant much of the previously perceived MRP func­tionality. It is soon realized that only the ERP's item-master inventory accounting and purchasing functionality is required for its support. This functionality can readily be found in less expensive financial-distribu­tion packaged software without the overhead of having to use full MRP/ ERP offerings.

In the meantime, with legacy MRP software and functionally ori­ented plant layouts (figure 4), there is often a transitional need for both forecasted and lot-sized stocking level MRP planning side by side with evolving to-order FLOW Focused Factories. These two strategies can coexist and should be optimized for any ensuing mix. Enlightened ERP vendors will want to offer the utilization of configurator support of real-time ATP/CTP without W1P processing, for the "to-order focused factories" as an additional FLOW module to cover this migration ef­fort. Nevertheless, the need for a common rules-based strategy and syntax, that covers the whole continuum from SFA to SFB (shop floor broadcasting), should be acknowledged as the basis for utilization of product configuration software to properly support the road to mass-customization.

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

Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 01



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