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Skipping the prototype phase, a new trend in product development?

Corné van de Voort
Key Account Manager
More articles by Corné van de Voort

‘Mission possible’ through FMEA

Sometimes the impossible is possible. We recently took part in a product development project in the Eindhoven region where the lead time was so short that there was no time for the prototype phase. Mission impossible?

Together with the other suppliers, we proved them wrong! In this article, I will tell you how we brought this assignment to a successful conclusion and what an important role the FMEA model played. This approach was such a tremendous success that I am convinced we will see more of it in the future — and not just in this region.

Mission impossible?

The deadline was extremely tight, but market conditions left this client in the semi-conductor industry no other choice. A new product had to come onto the market urgently. For this reason, the client urged its suppliers to do the same. We are all used to time pressure in this region, but such a short lead time was unprecedented. The only way to meet the deadline was to cancel the prototype phase. While that phase is of crucial importance in product development! This trial and error phase is the ideal time to test your design and correct any errors. A devilish dilemma. Nevertheless, all parties decided to go for it. Crazy, you might think. Unless you are well prepared in the design phase.

Key to success: solid FMEA project

That is exactly what we did. In consultation, we decided to replace the prototype phase with an FMEA prior to the design phase. The term ‘FMEA’ stands for ‘Failure Mode and Effects Analysis’ and is in fact a systematic risk analysis of the design of a product. You map out the risks step by step and then take steps to minimise or prevent them.

Design ‘first time right’

With my project team, I examined every element of the logistics process. At each step, we asked ourselves in detail what could go wrong and how we could prevent or limit that risk. We constantly discussed our findings with the client. With this knowledge in our possession, we started the design phase. We succeeded in getting the design right first time, just like all the other suppliers in this project. It was a great piece of teamwork that we achieved together!

Major impact on the organisation

Such an extremely short lead time in product development demands a great deal from all involved. Both the client and the supplier have to set up a team of specialists who are fully dedicated to this project. Because this preparatory FMEA phase is incredibly intensive and hectic as well. A project like this has an enormous impact on the entire organisation, including the client’s organisation. You can only get it done together.

Tips if you want to replace the prototype phase with an FMEA

The accelerated launch of new products will certainly become more common in the future. So make sure you are prepared for that. I can give you a few tips on how to best set up your organisation for this.

• Focus: dedicated project team
Set up a dedicated project team and put the right people in place: stress-resistant, flexible, dedicated. Decisive but with an eye for detail, seven-mile boots are of no use in such a project. Because every detail must be right, ‘first time right’ is the assignment. In a short period of time, this team has to perform like clockwork; this project requires complete focus.

• Commitment internally and externally
A project like this relies on commitment. Both within the organisation and with the client. Continuous consultation is required, and you must check every milestone. Make sure that all those involved recognise the importance of the project and respect the deadlines. Start the project together with the client to get everyone on the same page and finish it together too.

• Tight management
Make sure you have a good project leader at the helm, who ensures that you keep your foot on the pedal. Who, like a spider in a web, knows how to keep an overview and maintain calm, but at the same time keeps a firm grip on the reins and dares to take decisive action. Who knows how to guard the deadlines without making concessions to the quality requirements.

• Feasible planning
In order to get the commitment of all parties, the planning, however tight, must of course be feasible in the end. Otherwise, such a project has no chance of success.

A challenge, but surely also an opportunity

Is this blog a licence for clients to demand extremely short lead times from suppliers? Certainly not. Such an extreme project demands a lot from the organisation, including the client. So this should definitely not be seen as the new ‘business as usual’.

Now that we have proven in the region that it can be done, I expect that we will certainly see this happen more often. If you manage to get such a project off the ground, you can make a real difference as a company.

What I have learned as a project leader is how powerful the FMEA model is. I expect that in the future we will spend more and more time on the phase before product development. The FMEA will play an increasingly important role. In addition, early involvement is becoming more significant as well. Clients are going to collaborate with their suppliers earlier on in the process in order to get product development done. A very good development if you ask me.

Curious how FMEA can help you with your ‘mission impossible’?

Get in touch with us! We will be happy to look into the possibility of skipping the prototype phase and delivering a suitable end product in the short term. Please leave your question in the contact form below. Do you want an immediate answer? Then call us and you will get one of our packaging experts on the phone!

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