New Product Introduction (NPI) projects have become quite complex for Electronics OEMs. While reducing the time to conceptualize, design, prototype and launch a new product, there’s also the drive to reduce overall NPI cycle time. Some smart phone companies are moving towards a launch cycle of six months, which puts pressure on all industry incumbents to introduce high quality products faster than ever. To add additional pressures to NPI, the pandemic triggered a global semiconductor shortage and disrupted supply chains established and made lean over decades.

NPI now needs to go beyond ensuring manufacturability and optimum yield. It needs to take into consideration the supply chain aspects at the very beginning and ever-increasing market demand for high levels of product customization. The product needs to be designed for supply, not just for design and manufacturing compliance. Considering that OEMs rarely introduce a product on their own, it is imperative to consider the role EMS providers play in NPI. What are the challenges they need to address? Considerations include:

  • The right product is being developed
  • The right timing is adhered to
  • The appropriate cost constraints are applied
  • The right BOM is created
  • An effective information flow is adopted and maintained
  • The resultant product/design and process validations are in place

…to ensure that the product launched is not only successful operationally, but is also a commercial victory.

Engage an EMS provider early for optimum speed

A Federal Electronics white paper explores the various stages at which an EMS provider may be brought on board during an NPI project, and whether it is right at the project kick-off stage or much later at the prototyping stage. The key they’ve found is to have an effective communication and feedback loop pertaining to all aspects of the product being developed. The earlier an EMS partner is brought on board, assessing the design and suggesting changes, the better. Considering all things supply chain-related has become essential in a pandemic-affected global supply chain paradigm.

When an EMS partner is engaged in a timely manner and clear information is provided to their project team, it enables the EMS provider to staff the right team, set a proper format and frequency for reporting and most importantly ensure project deliverables remain timely. It becomes extremely critical for OEMs to engage an EMS provider preferably at the very onset of the NPI project. Having the right partner review the design, assess component availability, share feedback on part availability and specifications will help speed up the overall Time to Market (TTM).

Challenges in speeding up NPI

Although an EMS provider may be brought on board early, NPI projects still remain highly complex. Delivering value invariably becomes a challenge even for the most organized OEMs and EMS companies. Let’s understand the challenges faced in successfully executing NPI projects and how they can best be tackled via a MES application, configured specifically to deliver results in the Electronics Assembly industry.

LNS Research in 2019 reported that an NPI process takes almost 25% of the labor for a median manufacturer, and yet 44% of NPIs fail to meet most success criteria. The post also highlighted the major challenges in achieving better NPI results: adhering to a solid process; deploying enterprise-wide; gaining cross-organizational collaboration and building in quality.

NPI is about Process

NPI should not be looked at only from the perspective of delivering a more complex aesthetic, design and/or functionality. Rather, it is a process of delivering a prototype which scores highly on manufacturability, yield and quality. The prototype must be designed for excellence, which is achieved through a validated production process and vetted through supply chain considerations.

MES plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of the NPI process. Right from the time engineering comes up with a viable design; everything should be chronicled in the MES. MES allows for validation and quality to become a part of the development process, rather than in milestones at the end or a stage of a given cycle. For EMS providers with a MES connected to the OEM’s IT infrastructure, every facet of the development is recorded and fed back to the OEM. The ability to access designs, determine parts availability, printability, assembly and quality, while being able to make call outs and change orders, allows a tight development process and can be the difference between success and failure when it comes to NPI.

When connected and deployed at the EMS provider’s side, the MES controls process route modelling among SMT, THT, Assembly and Test processes, BOM/CAD import and validation, defect management and work instruction creation, all of which are essential for a disciplined and well-orchestrated NPI project execution.

NPI should be cross-departmental and enterprise wide

NPI needs to go beyond the traditional engagement of development, R&D and engineering towards a collaborative and cross-functional team. Core members from manufacturing, quality and supply chain should be a part of the NPI project team.

When working with an EMS provider, it is essential for the OEM to have cross-company collaboration between peers at both sides. The MES application deployed can seamlessly connect the two project teams so that feedback from design, engineering and supply chain get captured, contextualized and communicated in real-time. MES enables collaboration both internally and across organizational boundaries. Having this tight collaboration results in faster turnarounds, be it from a design correction, manufacturability, BOM/CAD configuration or design confirmation aspect. The entire NPI project is executed under a single application, which adds agility and resilience to the overall process, as information flows seamlessly and members on the NPI team can share and receive feedback with the right context at the right time.

Technology solutions exist in silos

Most organizations allow functional areas to choose applications to suit their needs which over a period of time. This results in the development of information silos, as individual functions rarely take a holistic process perspective, and cross-application integration is seldom a top priority.

For an EMS provider, the only way to eliminate information silos is to deploy an overarching MES application. A modern MES integrates all enterprise applications, performing NPI tasks from BOM/CAD import to production launch, on a single, integrated platform, allowing the product development cycle to execute in a planned, organized and highly predictable manner. For instance, the MES connects with the PLM, to allow feedback pertaining to design-related changes, assembly instructions or part fit. Any Engineering Change Order (ECO) can not only be executed, but the manufacturing results of the requested change (quality, cost and other KPIs) can fed back to the requisite stakeholders. Unless the PLM is integrated with the MES, data from the edge will be buried in a siloed system and may result in delayed delivery of the prototype.

Broader MES integration with PLM, SCM, QMS and ERP becomes extremely important, given the time sensitive and cost conscious nature of an NPI project. For a shorter TTM, the most essential aspect is that no information that affects the delivery of the prototype gets delayed or missed by the correct stakeholder/s. The MES allows for products to be delivered not just per the specifications, but allows collaboration with the SCM and ERP applications. Engineering and production experts can substitute parts based on availability and have the confidence that production will execute the changes correctly and effectively, with the help of the MES. MES provides a paperless environment through electronic publication over viewer networks assuring correct document versions are deployed on the shop floor.

A handicapped Quality function

Quality, an extremely important function, ideally has a holistic view of the entire NPI process. However, it often loses priority to time and cost considerations.

This is where the MES can enforce Design for Excellence (DFx) and Quality throughout the NPI project, just by the way in which it is configured. The right MES allows for each and every step which constitutes design, process and production functions to be validated, incorporating quality into the very DNA of the process.

With MES oversight in place, data is recorded at each instance of the development process. Defects and failures are reported and corrected with minimal decision lag. Successful executions get recorded for future reference; part and process-related information is also stored. As the PCBs take shape, graduating from a design to a prototype, the MES captures and controls every aspect of the process. This means quality is ever-present and predictability allows for minimum ECOs, driving the TTM to reduce, organically and rapidly.

The MES, through its ability to integrate with other enterprise and operations applications, enables collaboration, communication and heightened responsiveness. The MES allows engineering departments to execute right first-time programs, document control and in-line quality, to better navigate through the design, PCB assembly, inspection and testing cycle. The MES acts as the centralized control infrastructure, which leverages raw manufacturing data through AI/ML and makes it information rich and actionable, thereby reducing TTM and improving specification compliance, manufacturability and yield. 

In the end, it’s the MES that contributes to not only the integrity of the NPI process, but the platform for collaboration, visibility and performance. It’s the engine to speed TTM for NPI.