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eMagin’s Secrets to Product Development Success

We were pleased to have eMagin’s Director of Quality Assurance, Christine Pompa, share her experiences, challenges, and opportunities managing quality and continuous improvement with Arena’s Scott Reedy, Senior Director of Marketing at Arena. Christine and her team at eMagin moved to an automated system for product lifecycle management (PLM) to tackle these challenges and to improve their product release processes.

SCOTT: Hi, Christine. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Tell me about your company and what you find exciting about your product and technology.

CHRISTINE: eMagin manufactures OLED (organic LED) micro-displays that can be made amazingly small—down to the size of a postage stamp. Our customers can create virtual reality head-mounted displays that are used in military products supporting ground soldiers, 3D simulations, and training for aviation, as well as medical imaging devices and other commercial products.

SCOTT: Why did eMagin decide to move from manual systems to an automated PLM solution for product design and development?

CHRISTINE: Our biggest issue before implementing our PLM solution was our lack of confidence in the accuracy of our data. The manual system allowed people to save files anywhere they wanted. There was always a risk of not knowing whether you had the latest and most accurate information, such as when looking at a drawing, bill of materials (BOM), work instruction, etc. As a small, growing company, it was a challenge to prevent multiple versions of the same item from being used throughout our operations.

SCOTT: Were there any challenges from a document control perspective?

CHRISTINE: Dealing with document control, it was challenging to hunt people down to get them to review and approve changes. It was very time consuming to get reviewers to sign off on engineering changes. We needed the ability to automate the review and approval process.

SCOTT: Have you seen any process improvements since implementing PLM?

CHRISTINE: Yes. As you can imagine, the time to review and approve changes post-Arena has significantly decreased. What used to take about a week can get done in a few days. We can react to the needs of our business in a much more efficient manner. Our procurement team now knows where the latest drawings, documents, and BOMs are, and there is no guessing or having to go ask someone where to get the documentation needed to send to our vendors. All of our departments recognize the advantages of knowing where all documentation resides. To find information using searches rather than having to comb through folders is a substantial time saver. Information now gets to the right people when they need it.

SCOTT: How has PLM improved your engineering change process?

CHRISTINE: When a change is submitted for approval, all approvers get notified automatically via email. We can limit or add people to comment and have optional approvals, if needed, depending on the change we are to process. We have a change administrator that handles all of the ECOs. It is very easy to run reports to see how many changes are awaiting approvals and helps us stay on top of getting changes processed in a timely manner.

SCOTT: Was any custom programming needed?

CHRISTINE: No. It was easy to configure and very user friendly. I could refine our workflow to be unique to our needs and do so very quickly without the need for any specialized coding.

SCOTT: Beyond managing complex product information, are there any types of compliance initiatives where PLM has helped?

CHRISTINE: We work with many companies that expect ISO 9001 compliance. Arena Training documents our training program really well. Our external auditors are very impressed with the training plans and the records that are kept. Our next goal is to go live with training reassessments and implement quizzes. It’s a tremendous benefit to have one place to keep all of our information—again, without relying on spreadsheets and forms.

SCOTT: How has PLM helped simplify audit preparation?

CHRISTINE: In my opinion, it is beneficial to implement a PLM system before considering ISO 9001 certification in order to allow us to build our documentation system in a manner that helps us during audits. For instance, prior to Arena, it was difficult and frustrating to look through paper books to find a procedure or, worse, hunt through folders and subfolders trying to locate a work instruction to show an auditor. It made it seem like we didn’t know our own operations!  Now, I simply enter a quick search to find what I need.

SCOTT: It’s been great talking with you today. Before we wrap up, what final advice would you give to your peers who may be considering a move to PLM?

CHRISTINE: It’s been my pleasure. I would probably start by saying the biggest advantage of using a PLM system is that it moves your business toward a more disciplined mindset. As your business grows, PLM can help you standardize your processes and increase data accuracy. Secondly, you really need to take the time to understand your business processes. I gained a better understanding of our processes when I was implementing Arena PLM. And, by taking time to understand all of our processes, it allowed me to set up more efficient processes in Arena PLM. The smarter you make your system (by leveraging different categories and attributes), the easier it will be to find the right information at the right time. We were able to customize our system to suit our specific needs. And, you do not have to have a computer degree to set it up and implement it. Honestly, my feeling is that if I can do it, anyone can!

SCOTT: Thanks again, Christine. It’s great to hear how Arena PLM has helped streamline your development and release processes. Let me close with this thought for our readers. If you’re looking for better ways to drive new product development processes and get high-quality products to market, then consider how eMagin’s processes have improved. And, if you’re using manual systems or tools that weren’t purpose-built for product development, then let us know how we can help.