Integrating product development to achieve borderless R&D and manufacturing

2012/10/1    source: e-works

For years, Compal Communications, a mobile phone original design manufacturer, has provided high-quality products and excellent services to meet the needs of famous brands. The company has a strong research and development (R&D) team and comprehensive mobile phone capabilities.
A mobile phone ODM adopts standard processes
To meet the needs of an expanding business and a more diverse product suite, Compal Communications decided to implement a product lifecycle management (PLM) system to strengthen the efficiency and flexibility of interdepartmental cooperation. This project plan was proposed by the Information Technology (IT) department to build up a common development platform via a new system and to help internal users facing the problem of high work complexity and the need for business integration.

In the past, when the IT department wanted to initiate new applications, it asked R&D engineers to have the application forms signed by their supervisors as soon as possible. This manual approval process was time-consuming and involved extra and irregular steps. It could save more time and effort and achieve better results by using an electronic process. The success of the electronic process in the IT department caught the interest of the R&D department while redesigning its process.

After carefully assessing three PLM solutions, Compal Communications chose Teamcenter® software from Siemens PLM Software. One of the ways Teamcenter stood out among competitive offerings was the establishment of a consultation team by Siemens PLM Software and its partner, APIC, to support the test phase, providing technical excellence and fostering a strong spirit of teamwork.

“As an ODM (original design manufacturer), Compal Communications needs to respond to the customers’ requested product changes,” says Wang Miao-Yen, the director of the IT department. “Compared to the other PLM systems in the market, Teamcenter is much more flexible. It allows developers to make more customized designs, which is very helpful to us.”

Synchronized engineering data changes, borderless R&D and manufacturing
For Compal Communications, the initial benefit of Teamcenter is the synchronized update of engineering data in both the R&D and production departments. “In the past, when the R&D center changed any of the design data, the factory had to download the data upon receiving a notice, but errors might then take place.” says Ni Hsiu-Ho, manager of the Engineering Document Center. “If the R&D center changed the design or material data and the production site failed to learn about the changes in a timely manner, errors would occur. This would lead to business losses, because the customers might cancel the orders or return the goods.

“Using Teamcenter, updating engineering data becomes an automatic process. Any engineering data change, the factory is informed via e-mail. There is no longer an information gap between our R&D center in Taiwan and the factory in mainland China.”

The direct benefit brought about by this kind of “borderless change” was the significant improvement of production accuracy. The success of using Teamcenter further encouraged the R&D center to proactively express its needs, and to promote the use of the PLM platform.

Another way Compal Communications uses PLM is to synchronize import of updated data into its manufacturing execution system (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Li Yusheng, manager of the IT Department, describes the PLM system as the engine of the company’s product data: “Today, bill of materials (BOM) data are imported in both MES and ERP, unlike the past, when we imported the data in ERP first and then transferred it to MES. This new process greatly reduces the errors experienced during data transfer.”

In addition, with the increasing prevalence of green supply chains, Compal Communications also integrates the “Green Product Management System” (GPMS) with the PLM technology. Integrating the two systems enables the automatic recording of materials selection, processing, packaging and other aspects of green-based product information. For example, if materials purchased from suppliers do not comply with an environmental standard, a real-time warning is issued. This reduces the type of losses experienced in the past when finished products found to be substandard were returned for rework.

“While playing the pivotal role in the green supply chain, we have a responsibility to disclose the green information to both customers and suppliers at the same time and as soon as possible,” says Miao-Yen. She points out that, by using the integrated GPMS/PLM solution, Compal Communications has become a more significant player in the green supply chain.

A strong project team, a successful start
To successfully implement the PLM system, Compal Communications set up a project team consisting of middle-level and senior managers led by Eric Peng, senior vice president at Compal Communications. Peng was to report the overall project cost to the general manager who was responsible for the success of the project.

“The right staff is very important at this stage,” says Miao-Yen. “We selected managers with practical integration experience and a proven track record to ensure project success.”

The project team at that time (2009) included five key members: Lin Che-Fu, director of the Process Development Division; Ni Hsiu-Ho, manager of the Engineering Document Center; Chien Chao-Hsiang, special assistant of the General Manager Office; Wang Miao-Yen, director of the IT Department; and Li Yusheng, manager of the IT Department.

Compal Communications did its homework before PLM was initiated. The company spent about six months collecting relevant business processes and learning the features of Teamcenter to determine which processes could follow the standard module and which parts needed to be separately developed and customized.

“As with any new IT project, the faster it is used, the better,” says Wang Miao-Yen. “It does no good to make users wait for a long time. From the core features of Teamcenter, we knew the system could be used on the Compal Communications’ process.”

During company’s meetings on business processes, IT personnel were assigned to write meeting minutes. This allowed external consultants to concentrate on product design and prepare training materials. Plus, the IT staff was able to rapidly familiarize themselves with the details of business processes, thus shortening the time of technical handover after product launch.

Miao-Yen rhetorically inquires, “If we rely too much on external consultants, how can we proceed at the end of the project? PLM talent is scarce in the market, so a company that cultivates its own talents can succeed in the long run. I am very pleased to see that our IT team has achieved this.”

Core users + IT users = better cooperation and better performance
As a best practice for PLM system launch and use, core users and the IT team report to their supervisors at the end of each stage. Miao-Yen notes: “We do not allow consultants to report directly to supervisors. Even in the training process, it is the core users and the IT team who serve as the primary knowledge resource. The consultants are there to assist the trainers in expediting system implementation and use.”

To continually improve operations, one year after PLM system implementation, key users have kept collecting input and discussing ways to design more efficient processes for a better development platform.

Peng concludes, “The PLM system helps us not only achieve the goal of borderless R&D and manufacturing, it also helps reduce the cost of communication among global teams. We can quickly make the best decision by integrating information and workflow. We can also identify the key points for improvement to enhance the overall efficiency by checking the historical data on a regular basis.”
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