5 Must Have ERP Tools for a Successful Product Launch

ERP tools to ensure a successful product launchOriginal Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in highly-regulated industries like automotive, heavy truck, medical device, defense and aerospace are firmly telling their Tier I or prime suppliers to be launch ready. Safety regulations and end-consumer expectations are driving the OEMs to be very serious about this requirement.

At a recent Original Equipment Supplier Association (OESA) General Motors Town Hall briefing for suppliers, Tony Francavilla, Executive Director – Global Supplier Quality and Development, said that successful suppliers must test early and at full production rates to really discover where the risks are to delivery and quality. He reminded the suppliers that run-at-rate trials before launch will expose issues with equipment, tooling and the regular operators that must be addressed to prevent problems at launch in GM assembly plants.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) recent initiative, The Case for Quality, is emphasizing quality in product and process engineering to assure patient safety, in addition to compliance with regulations. The agency is investing in new analytic tools to monitor medical device manufacturer’s plans, test data, patient experiences as well as long-term outcomes including warranty and complaints.

Suppliers need to know their own manufacturing processes well. End products must be robust and flawless in quality, day one on the market. There is no room for risk, high warranty and unexpected cost.

It is important for suppliers up and down the supply chain to keep several software tools and best practices in mind to assure excellent preparation and launch performance.

How ERP software helps prepare for product launch

To be a successful supplier partner it is critical for manufacturers to have the right enterprise and manufacturing systems that will help them prepare for launching products including identifying new production processes to be able to meet specifications, promised capacity and planned costs on, or before, the promised start of production date.  From my decades of experience as a manufacturing industry leader and program manager, I have identified five ERP features that standout as key to supporting product launch.

1 – Data based estimating and quoting to assure profit

A comprehensive software solution will also provide a historical archive of the quote that is searchable in context to product type, market, customer, and manufacturing process for reporting or just future reference by all team members.

Given that it is usually necessary to bid a multiple of opportunities to win your target number of business awards, it is important that you can pull copies of existing product definitions to base an estimate on with appropriate modifications. To save significant prep time this copy of current product information should be virtually instantaneous which will speed up the creation of the cost estimate for each new Request for Quote (RFQ). This automation should also provide a starting point on purchased material and component costs which can be updated, as needed. Accelerating the estimating process will enable your controller, CFO and sales team adequate time to apply overheads and markup to support target margins and enable submission of complete quotes by due dates.

Using your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) engineering structure which supports current production and costing helps assure anticipation of actual future process issues. It is very useful to estimate products based on detailed bill of material, process routing description and handling the same way that you cost products in normal production.

It is very frustrating to quote and win business only to find out that your original estimate did not take into account some unexpected costs for material, tooling or process operations. Especially when you are stretching to win a new design, material or technology, typical rule-of-thumb or simple spreadsheets can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes.

2 – Document Control System to capture and maintain accurate requirements  

Using a document control system integrated with your engineering, customer, purchasing and program records is invaluable. By using this document repository as your library of official, original documents where revisions are managed with a review and approval workflow tool, you can have valid, controlled copies to link to your master records, in-context so they are never lost or altered. This clarity helps to speed your product development toward launch.

It has been said that until there is clarity, you cannot have effective velocity. For your product development process to be both effective and efficient, your team needs to do their work based on a single version of the truth. In companies that use file folder hierarchies and emails to capture and manage customer requirements, the files are not correlated to each other except by their presence in a given folder. But, email threads can lead to multiple copies and uncontrolled versions of critical files.

3 – CAD model integration with engineering product records to minimize speed set up and transfer to your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system  

Many manufacturers who take the time to build original Bill of Material definition and specifications in a spreadsheet as they are designing the product and/or tooling in CAD will then require the same designers and engineers to take their valuable time on the clerical task of manually entering the same definitions in engineering in their ERP system. This manual transfer can introduce typographical mistakes and omissions due to human error. Automating the flow of this key information, including updates, will save effort and shorten the time to release designs to production and purchasing.

Using integration tools you can link CAD model math data to master product definition data in your ERP’s engineering information. This can be done via a middleware translator or often best done via an embedded add-on to your CAD software.

4 – Program Management tools including Advanced Quality Planning to manage milestones to plan and spend to budget   

To give your technical teams the best opportunity to launch well, look for software systems that provide this integration of transactions with program management tools. This will enable your program managers to invest their time observing trends and identifying solutions, instead of putting in many hours of clerical work to pull together out-of-sync information from phone conversations, loose files and email threads.

While using separate schedule planning, milestone tracking, issues management and budget control software tools is a common practice, there is great efficiency in entering information about your product development and launch management plans and daily activities once in your ERP and then re-using this information over and over for reporting and decision making.

5 – Leverage technology to measure pre-launch process capability and report readiness

As solutions for Manufacturing 4.0 evolve, including use of process data gathered from production equipment controllers and sensors known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it is feasible and practical to use this consistent flow of information in your process validation run-offs to confirm stable capacity and quality.

This instrumentation technology with sensible monitoring analytics and alerts closes the feedback loop to provide you consistent awareness that your processes are running as planned minimizing the risk for unpleasant surprises and costs.

Communicating with your customers using standard methods and forms to capture your results and submit records of your successful preparation for launch it is most effective. Depending on your customer’s industry, it is most efficient to reuse information and data already captured via daily transactions to automatically report in formats very familiar to their specialists.

Some of these file formats are broadly accepted such as Gauge Reliability and Repeatability (Gauge R&R) used to confirm ability to correctly and consistently measure characteristics compared to specifications. Others are very specific to an industry like Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) in transportation/automotive, Device History Record (DHR) for medical devices, and AS9100 First Article Submission in aerospace and defense.

All of these launch support files and documents should be embedded in a comprehensive integrated ERP, Quality and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system to leverage existing data, improve speed of preparation, and assure accuracy.

Final Thoughts

With the right tools and intentionally building these foundational best practices into your product development and launch process, you will give your team the resources needed to consistently meet product launch commitments with excellence.

Ed Potoczak, IQMS Director of Industry Relations, has more than 30 years of experience in the manufacturing industry. Formerly an ERP consultant at the Oakstone Group and Plante Moran, Ed has also held positions as a senior systems engineer for Chrysler, technical sales leader in parts suppliers and general manager for a process equipment builder.