From the sidelines, project management might seem like an easy job. You just have to oversee others’ work. In reality, it requires certain experience and know-how to juggle between everything going on. Finding the optimal solution can be challenging.
Project management triangle is a pretty well-known concept. In short, it states that an equilibrium point between cost, speed and quality is unattainable. Is it rather a myth or a fact?
Balancing those three sure is a difficult task. A good university education or experience of judging from the sidelines is not enough to succeed at it. At first, mistakes are inevitable. The basis for progress is the ability to learn from these mishaps. The first lesson is careful planning.
You achieve nothing without thorough planning. It is important to bear in mind that just generating ideas does not equal planning. Planning takes those ideas and makes them work for a common goal. But first you have to pinpoint the difficulties within the project to find the right path. In manufacturing, the difficulty comes from balancing time, speed and quality.
Those, in turn, are comprised of a sub-set of interconnected factors. Let’s identify the key points together to make planning clearer and easier.
Assuring a quick service in manufacturing comprises different aspects. The first is input. The project management process starts with it. What do the clients want? How do they want it? Where do they want it? Although your client may not have a clear vision yet, gather as much info as possible. The inputs give you a rough idea of the time required to provide a satisfying result.
The second component of speed is design. This is one of the key points with many connections – a lot depends on it. A good engineering design may require more time from the engineering team but will eventually repay it many-fold in different ways:
- Saves time by avoiding setbacks at later stages
- Saves time and money through optimising the construction
- Spares money through suitable material usage
The last component is production. Each step in production takes time. The first is finding a supplier for materials. Not everything is always readily available. Next is cutting and bending. Do you have the right equipment for doing it all or should you outsource parts of it? Who can you trust? The same goes for welding. The final steps are assembling and packaging. If everything is done correctly so far, these should not pose any further problems.
Production does not allow much flexibility. The last stretch is almost always a little hurried without time to spare. But one mistake can prolong that time from 3 days to 6. Of course, a lot depends on the workshop team. But their work is largely determined by what has been done previously.
Often times the success of your project is determined by its final cost. Where does the price derive from? Let’s take a look.
The most obvious answer is parts. Your construction is made of different parts and each of them has a production cost which depends on the manufacturer and the type of metal used. This is how it is often seen. Let’s try another angle.
There is a better way to optimise costs. The culprit behind a hefty price-tag is often a customer who does not find enough time for his engineers to work out an optimal design. It is way easier to cut the costs in the drawing room, if you have a capable team.
Why is choosing the cheapest manufacturer a bad idea? There is a reason for a manufacturer to offer low prices. Lower prices usually mean lower quality. Of course, taking risks is a part of project management. At times, your usual partners cannot offer competitive prices or lead times and you have to turn elsewhere. Finding someone trustworthy is not always easy.
The second price point is labour costs. This applies to both your employees as well as to the employees of your outsourcing partner. A common misconception is hiring people for little money and saving through that. There is no real value in choosing cheap workforce.
One good engineer or welder, who admittedly requires a better pay, can justify the costs better than hiring a plethora of amateurs. Ingenuity is not laying around for free. But having knowledge on your team can help to reduce your overall expenses through better solutions.
The final element is infrastructure. Your production facilities have to support the workers. Illogical layouts and uninformed workers result in lessened efficiency. Everything should be readily available and near working spaces. Having a know-it-all supervisor who directs his workers towards tools is an old-fashioned way. The headless employee who spends half of the day wandering around the warehouse is wasting time and money. And the fault does not lie with him.
The first bit in quality is know-how. It applies to both your and your partner’s engineering/production team. A project manager has to find good people who know what they are designing, while keeping production methods in mind. The manufacturing must have competent production engineers who understand the needs and how each material should be handled.
Mechanical properties of materials matter when laser cutting, bending or welding them. The people responsible for those operations need to be aware of the specifics of materials and production methods to assure a good quality.
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After that comes capabilities. We are strictly speaking about the machinery here. Many engineering companies have production equipment in-house. Should you outsource a part of the production, if your possibilities are limited? Yes. The focus should be on final quality. Forcing your design to conform to the available resources gets you a worse end product.
Energy is then spent on designing something that you can manufacture. The more constraints you add yourself, the more difficult it is to reach an optimal solution. Engineers should focus on working out a suitable solution for the client, not in-house manufacturing.
As a final point, we include diligence. Diligent employees may be hard to find but every team should include people who have an eye for details. It needs extra effort that can only be asked of motivated employees. A good way for doing this is showing trust. Giving responsibility nurtures people’s diligence naturally.
A place that requires extra attention is standard compliance. ISO standards may have many nuances to them and rigorous following might be difficult. But attentive employees know their way around these important documents to make sure you comply with all the rules. When an audit is done, you will cheer for having employees who notice and care.
Balancing cost, speed and quality
The general opinion is that getting the best in every aspect of manufacturing is impossible. This common knowledge may ring true but we are of the belief that it is possible to get very near to maximising them all.
Every one of those project management parts comprises of sub-units, as we explained. Breaking it down to smaller chunks may help with optimising your workflow. It clears the picture and the black box disappears. Inputs are clearly correlated to the outcome.
As said before, it all requires planning. You may devise a plan that takes all the aforementioned details into account. But how to make it all work?
The key is communication. It seems so obvious to the people who are used to open communication. At the same time, there are many companies where things do not work like that. Every department is seen as a separate unit and it feels like sharing the available info only hazes the picture and breaks the focus.
We are sure that sharing information is focal to success. There is no need to overwhelm each employee with all the details. But don’t get to the other end of the spectrum. Seeing others as just cogs and keeping them in the dark is a matter of the past.
If the project manager is open, others are as well. Active feedback helps the manager to make necessary changes in time to avoid struggles later.
Everyone working on a project should be aware of:
- The customer’s needs
- Project focus points
- Progress in project
- Who is on the team
- His responsibilities
How do we fit in?
Fractory’s purpose is to aid communication in the manufacturing industry. We want to help you get one step closer to the intersection of the three components – speed, cost and quality.
Engineers use our online manufacturing tool to check the cost of parts in the designing process. Comparing different solutions gives them an edge. Our automated price quotations give engineers a better feel for overall design. It illustrates how every change affects the final price. An extra laser cutting operation may not cost much but reduces the weight of a construction. This allows for lighter supporting structures. Shedding a millimetre or two of thickness can, on the other hand, have a great impact on monetary expenses.
We want to help you with speeding up your processes. Some e-mails take you nowhere and time is wasted. Our system knows when good manufacturers have free capacity. Everybody has busier periods that results in rejections to the customer. Busy times are not industry-wide. While one company has their hands full, another may be sitting idly. We connect you.
Finally, we do not choose manufacturers based on size. Someone with a laser cutter and a good operator can be more than qualified to do a great job, even though they may not be usually competing for your orders.
The common denominator for all our partners is quality. Having tested a variety of laser cutting services, we know what to look for. It is possible to find available quality production for good value. You just have to know about their availability.