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Simultaneous Engineering/Concurrent Engineering

Product and service development consists of the movement of a product or service idea from concept through to market availability. This process involves a number of distinct phases and has traditionally been viewed as a linear process involving individual, predetermined steps, each of which required completion before subsequent stages could begin.

The sequential approach is held to have several advantages.

  1. The distinct stages make the process easy to manage and control since each stage is predetermined and can be reviewed.
  2. Uncertainty is reduced before the next phase begins, since the information received 'downstream' is complete and 'signed off'.
  3. The approach makes best use of the expertise available in each function, since each 'department' focuses on a limited number of tasks and engineers or designers can participate on a number of projects simultaneously.

However, this approach has its drawbacks. The separation of expertise can result in problems. Products may be difficult to make, since manufacturing expertise only enters the process once the design has been finalised. They may be inappropriate for customers because of the separation of design from marketing and they may be slow to reach the market since each preceding stage must be complete before the next can begin.

An alternative approach is to consider these various stages as overlapping, co-operative and iterative.

Simultaneous engineering, concurrent engineering, forward engineering, integrated problem solving, parallel engineering, team approach, and lifecycle engineering are some of the terms that have been applied to this over-lapping and integration of design, development, prototyping and manufacturing. This overlapping and integration reduces total development time.

Typically:

  • downstream activities receive resources prior to completion, but after the start, of the upstream task;
  • formerly successive tasks are instead undertaken in parallel, as information and sometimes technology is transferred at each interface.

The concept is very simple. Execution is more difficult. To be successful, simultaneous engineering must be underpinned by:

  • the early release of information
  • effective computer system and organisational integration
  • appropriate shared analytical methods and tools
  • multifunctional/multidisciplinary team-based working

For a list of references, see http://www.johnstark.com/pb47.html

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