The exchange of product data between original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their supply chain partners is one of the most important processes in manufacturing. The initial handoff of design data to suppliers for prototyping is often the first time a product design takes on real life, not to mention when the stakes of product development begin to rise.
When a product is in high volume production, an error in the product documentation that is handed off to a supplier (what we call a “build package”) can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in scrap, rework and downtime as well as millions in lost sales. What is even more troublesome is that a build package doesn’t even have to be wrong to cause problems—a supplier can miss a key detail, fail to understand the scope of a change, or just build to an obsolete revision of the package. When this happens, assigning blame doesn’t make up for lost sales.
Since the ultimate goal of build package exchange is effective communication, it’s worth considering how cloud tools can improve the communication process and help catch communication problems before they become too costly.
How the cloud can offer greater visibility into supplier behavior
Cloud-based tools have the ability to facilitate the seamless transfer of product data from its original source into a build package, and dramatically improve how OEMs communicate critical product data to their suppliers.
This kind of change is already happening in the software industry. Cloud-based tools like Marketo and Google Analytics have revolutionized marketing communication by providing marketers with purpose-built tools that collect concrete data on prospective customer behavior and interests. These tools let marketers immediately see how customers respond to a new campaign or message and allow them to identify and fix problems before losing their audience. Cloud marketing tools have dramatically reduced wasted effort and failed campaigns—the scrap, rework and downtime of the marketing world.
In the same way, cloud product data exchange tools give OEMs better insight into supplier behavior—which build packages have been received, whether they have been opened and when they were last viewed. If you sent a critical change to a key supplier and no one looked at it, wouldn’t you want to know?
How the cloud can prevent costly supplier miscommunications
A build package must be complete, readily understood, and up-to-date in order to be effective. But because it’s difficult to assemble build packages with ad hoc tools, OEMs often provide incomplete or inaccurate data to suppliers—maybe a little too often than we care to admit. And because it's labor intensive to review incoming build packages for discrepancies before starting production, suppliers often put blind faith in their OEMs to send all the information they need. When both sides start working to correct and clarify information, the process can quickly devolve into a flurry of hard-to-track revisions and miscommunications.
With the cloud, an OEM can view the same data in the same format as its supplier, so both sides can quickly spot data gaps and inconsistencies. And because a build package is in the cloud rather than on someone’s desktop, it’s simple to integrate corrections with redlining and thereby avoid ambiguity about the latest data for a particular build.
Cloud-based tools may even enable suppliers to use a single tool to not only view and share build packages, but also to filter and send portions of packages downstream to subcontractors. With this capability, OEMs will be able to communicate updates all the way down the supply chain quickly and easily.
We’ve seen cloud-based tools transform communication in other industries and domains—why not manufacturing?