Over the past decade the electronics manufacturing industry has had to deal with a variety of challenges - from shrinking profit margins to shorter lead times and increased demand for product personalisation.
The integration of a value engineering strategy offers significant opportunities for electronics manufacturers by enabling them to reduce costs while at the same time maintaining, or even improving, the functionality of their products.
Even when cost-reduction is the main objective, it is always important to give careful consideration to the broader aims of the project to ensure that "best value" is being achieved, both in the short-term and the long-term.
In this blog post we explore the origins and the present day applications of value engineering and how this methodology can deliver benefits for electronics manufacturing both now and in the future.
The origins of value engineering
The original concept of value engineering was one that was born very much out of necessity - beginning in the factories of the American General Electric Company during the Second World War, as manufacturers sought ways to counteract the chronic shortages in availability of component parts, raw materials and labour.
What was desperately needed were substitute materials that could fulfil the same purpose. And what was quickly discovered was that in using these alternative materials, there was also an opportunity to not simply maintain quality and functionality, but to improve upon it.
Today, the principles of value engineering are driven not simply by necessity or circumstance but by a raft of other objectives - whether it's to ensure the adoption of the most efficient manufacturing processes, to find ways to enhance existing products, to eliminate superfluous activities or to secure the best material supply.
Applying the use of 3D computer aided design (CAD) modelling software early on in the product design stage offers the opportunity for design engineers to create realistically rendered versions of 2D drawings that bring a customer's concepts to life.
And in creating these "virtual" products, it is also then possible to conduct a wide variety of keys simulation tests (structural, thermal vibratory testing etc) that provide manufacturers with crucial insight into the potential impacts on the device.
Tolerance issues, such as poorly-fitting machined parts or incorrectly positioned doors, can also be easily spotted and corrected before the build gets underway.
Operating in a virtual world enables manufacturers to benefit from upfront cost savings by removing the need for expensive tooling and the unnecessary purchasing, modifying or scrapping of precious materials during the prototyping stage.
The use of 3D CAD software can also eliminate any ambiguity from the build process by providing an assembly team with enhanced build instructions and an increased level of clarity.
No electronic device is designed to work forever. All manufactured products will have some degree of natural variation and no manufacturing process is one-hundred percent infallible.
With this understanding in mind, the challenge for electronics manufacturers is to be able to accurately predict when, and where, performance or reliability issues are most likely to occur.
Reliability in the broader sense, is linked to the ability of a product to perform its intended function.
But what is equally important is the capacity of that product to fulfil its intended function, without failure, for a specified period of time.
Reliability engineering is a statistical methodology that enables engineers to analyse system design and to identify potential reliability issues as early as possible.
One of the key roles of a reliability engineer is to safeguard the maintainability functionality of a product by monitoring production losses, tracking abnormally high costs and then developing plans to eliminate these problems.
While it's preferable that this work takes place during the conceptual stage of design, it's a type of analysis that can continue across a broad range of manufacturing processes, be it design, materials supply, quality or test.
Global market conditions, new technologies and ongoing time to market pressures are placing immense challenges on electronics manufacturing. While the need to identify cost-saving opportunities is an undeniable priority - maintaining consistent performance, quality and reliability is also key.
Value engineering is a conscious, creative and disciplined process that can reap benefits for OEMs not just at the initial concept and design stage but across a product's entire life-cycle.