Team Pro MFG

As the world is becoming increasingly aware of the effects of a consumptive economy on the environment and sustainability forms the core of customer operations, there is a rising need for designing products with an optimum lifecycle

January 2022: During the manufacturing process, the focus should be centred on developing a quality product. The primary objective of product design and engineering must be to make manufacturing easy and controllable enough to achieve the quality goals, explains Shailesh Saraph, EVP & Global Head – ER&D, Tata Technologies, in this exclusive interaction with Niranjan Mudholkar, Editorial Director, Pro MFG Media.

What are the key aspects that the Engineering and Design (E&D) team needs to take into consideration while innovating and during the New Product Development (NPD) process?

The New Product Development (NPD) process has gone through a paradigm shift in the last 2 years with the pandemic acting as a great transformation agent. Launching a successful new product was always a time consuming and investment heavy process and it continues to be so even today. The NPD processes require a great deal of discipline to be exercised throughout the product creation life cycle to make sure that the product addresses that customer requirement – stated or unstated as well as business growth aspirations and successful product launches hit the sweet spot with these two objectives.

Let’s consider the NPD processes in two phases: (i) generating & screening ideas and (ii) developing new products and assessing the different key aspects in each phase. In the Idea Generation phase, which is a creative phase, the key aspects include use of structured tools, such as market & customer trend analysis, SWOT analysis, competitive analysis, or classification of customer focus groups, to identify the ’wow’ factor/s, which could help meet the unfulfilled expectations of the customers. This is the most crucial phase in any product development process as this largely defines the future lifecycle of the product. While the industry trends or customer insights are ‘seen’ and leveraged by all companies competing in the marketplace, what is ‘unseen’ is how the product is designed to meet the existing and future customer requirements in a profitable and sustainable way.

Typically, in this phase, we not only interact with all the customer stakeholders but also do our own industry and end-customer analysis, including prioritization of features that must be priced-in. This helps us to present innovative options to our customers and add value in the screening process for viable product ideas. Another key aspect of this phase is concept development and testing through the Proof of Concept. This aspect is often a good testing ground for what can work and what may not work with the final product. It helps in the decision-making process related to screening and development of the right product. The NPD phase requires a comprehensive analysis of the business case in terms of the market opportunity, cost to market, the NPD lifecycle costs, product fit in the portfolio, brand impact, and sustainability value of the product. In this phase, our role involves conducting a series of workshops with the customer stakeholders to evaluate the key attributes of product features and cost. Our strong teardown and benchmarking capabilities and should-costing processes aid the customer in identifying the desired features and cost parameters to ultimately deliver a product in line with the expectations of the end-user.

The NPD processes include a series of tasks that need to be completed at the right time while meeting the right quality standards. The key element here is the ability to break down the tasks into assignable subtasks and possessing a strong program management framework to track the completion, dependencies, issues, and risks, all of which form an essential part of the development process. We have developed our own methodologies, tools and frameworks to enable sprint-based NPD processes supported by an in-house development risk & issue management tool. The other key prerequisites for development are the product attribute strategy and strong governance around the engineering trade-offs. These are essential to understand the desired product features and attributes.

Today, all responsible organisations are putting sustainability at the centre of everything they do. How is the E&D Team enabling this?

Organizations have realized the need to put sustainability at the centre of everything they do, and this is driving the behaviour at all levels within responsible organizations. As natural resources are limited, the only way to make sure we grow profitably in future is to include Sustainability as the core element of the company’s growth strategy. One of the integral ways by which the Engineering & Design teams can enable this is by considering the entire lifecycle of the product, including its use, maintenance, and eventual disposal, and making sure that the product is designed to have a lower carbon footprint throughout its usage lifecycle.

Materials, which drive the manufacturing processes shortlisted to shape the products, form an integral part of the choices that engineering teams need to make at the product design stage. Stringent regulations in several markets (e.g. EU REACH) are also driving the focus on identification, labelling, recycling, and disposal of materials used in products. Our specialist material engineers are a part of the engineering teams, encouraging use of alternate, recyclable, and environment-friendly materials wherever possible. The dominant manufacturing processes so far have been subtractive in nature; however, this is increasingly being challenged with the advent of 3D printing. 3D printing is an environment-friendly process, which allows the design and development of complex products with minimal material wastage and lesser energy consumption. Tata Technologies, which has always been at the forefront of environmental sustainability, has struck strategic alliances with various 3D printer manufacturers. These collaborations are enabling our E&D team to engage with customers on the development of next-generation products, which will leverage a sustainability-focused manufacturing process.

Our vision is to Engineer a Better World. Our strategy and operations reinforce our commitment towards this vision by planning for a world that is better for our customers as we collaborate with them to develop products that are lighter, safer and have lower tailpipe emissions as well deliver better experience to their end customers. Our aim is a world that is better for our people as they get an opportunity to work in a sustainable environment and innovate next-gen products, a world that is better for our environment as we accelerate our focus on design and development of electric vehicles and adopt sustainable solutions for our operation, and a world that is better for the community at large as we undertake skill development and community development initiatives to support our key communities. Our E&D team is working with customers on building light-weighting solutions using aluminium or carbon-fibre composites as well as other innovative solutions that drive energy efficiency to a higher level. In fact, as part of a recent project requirement, our engineering team developed an Electric Vehicle (EV) with the lowest lightweight index. Besides, we also work with several other global OEMs to introduce various products in the EV space by developing innovative solutions that make the use of EVs easier, thereby contributing to emission reductions and creation of more sustainable products.

As the world is becoming increasingly aware of the effects of a consumptive economy on the environment and sustainability forms the core of customer operations, there is a rising need for designing products with an optimum lifecycle. The E&D teams will have to design and engineer products that come equipped with capabilities enabling disassembly and servicing, upgrades, and recyclability. Advances in material science, manufacturing processes, and design techniques are converging rapidly to make this a reality.

Manufacturing success is always driven by quality and productivity. What role does the E&D Team play in ensuring quality as well as productivity?

Products are becoming increasingly feature-rich and, thus, complex to design, engineer, and manufacture in accordance with the quality standards demanded by discerning customers. The success of any product depends on its customer appeal, which clearly depends on whether the product quality meets or surpasses the customer expectations. During the manufacturing process, the focus should be centred on developing a quality product. The primary objective of product design and engineering must be to make manufacturing easy and controllable enough to achieve the quality goals.

While the objective is clear, it’s not a simple task to achieve. Today, the complexity of products dictates that, in the concept and design phase itself, the E&D team understands and plans the manufacturing of the product. Design for manufacture, design for assembly, and design for serviceability are considerations, which must be incorporated in the NPD processes right from the beginning.

At Tata Technologies, the design and engineering teams are backed by experienced specialists and skilled experts who understand materials, manufacturing processes, and the trade-offs between the product features and modifications required to make manufacturing simpler and more productive. Using digital manufacturing capabilities, such as digital mock-ups, assembly walkthroughs, dynamic sectioning, etc., throughout the design and engineering lifecycle of the product, the E&D teams ensure that manufacturing issues are identified and addressed upfront in the product development cycle itself. As fits, finish, and tolerancing play a major role in ensuring the development of quality products, the E&D team uses techniques such as Dimensional Variation Analysis (DVA) to ensure that the potential assembly problems are duly addressed beforehand.

The E&D team gathers insights related to the manufacturing processes using various digital and manufacturing engineering techniques to understand material flow and assembly processes as well as to simulate what-if scenarios, unit, and assembly station layouts and assembly lines. These insights are used to optimize the manufacturing processes and improve the productivity and efficiency prior to setting-up the physical infrastructure. The expertise can also be used in brownfield situations to quickly modify assembly lines to manufacture new products in the same infrastructure with minimum transition time.

The role of E&D is being constantly redefined as products are getting more complex and customer expectations keep on increasing. With the advent of new technologies such as IOT and AI/ML, the E&D team can leverage digital technology to build closed loop systems, which are continuously improving the NPD standards of manufacturing. These technologies also offer predictive analytics to improve the productivity output of the manufacturing infrastructure as well as to gather crucial insights, which can be incorporated in the design and engineering of next generation products to further improve quality, thus creating a very positive spiral.