Value. A word that has been cheapened after slapping it on one too many store brand product labels, one too many coupon books.
As a result, “value engineering” is often misinterpreted as synonymous with cost cutting, when in reality there is much more to it.
The main goal of value engineering is to improve overall product quality by evaluating its function, while maintaining high performance and reliability. When done well, it increases efficiency, results in a less replicable product design, and yes, also reduces costs.
Image Credit: me and the sysop via Flickr
Below are a few actionable steps you can take to bring more value to your engineering approach:
Step 1: Form a Team
Recommend the creation of an interdepartmental team, drawing from various divisions of the business that affect costs, such as procurement, production and engineering. Taking a holistic approach to understanding every cost that goes into the design and engineering of a product will help you achieve optimal functionality at a minimal cost per unit.
Once you have a team together, you can start to focus on a product or product family.
Step 2: Research & Brainstorm
After you’ve assembled your team, identify a product that’s a good candidate for a redesign, and start brainstorming. A great way to kickoff the brainstorming process is to pose questions such as:
- Can we reevaluate the design of the part or product?
- Can we reduce the weight of the product? Is an alternative material either lighter or stronger, enabling us to drop gauge?
- Can we reduce the amount of parts? Is there an opportunity to combine parts?
- Can we make the product easier to manufacture? Easier to assemble?
- Can we reduce the number of secondary operations needed to manufacture the product?
Your metal fabrication partner is another source of ideas during the research and brainstorming phase. An outsourced fabrication vendor not only strengthens your cross-functional team, but also can provide conceptual engineering expertise.
Once the brainstorming session is complete, you’ll want to move onto the research phase. Researching alternative solutions could result in decreasing secondary operations, consolidating parts and reducing overall weight.
Step 3: Redesign
Once you have brainstormed ideas, posed a series of questions internally and done the proper amount of research, it is time to start redesigning.
Eliminate unnecessary aspects of a product that increase costs and cause design complexity. By taking the time to reevaluate a product, you can start to remove unnecessary material and associated costs.
As was the case for ARF’s work with Little Giant Ladders, ARF negotiated with the aluminum producer to get Little Giant exclusive access to the one-of-a-kind alloy. No ladder producer in the world could ever use this material in the ladder industry.
(To learn more, read The Little Giant Case Study.)
By investing in creativity and innovation early in the process, engineers have the opportunity to design a version of a product that is unlike any other.
Step 4: Create and Test Prototypes
Build initial prototypes that can be evaluated in order to identify additional opportunities to improve value. Once models and prototypes are built, you can start to identify what functions should be tested.
Based on stress and real-load testing results, look for opportunities to simplify the design for operational use. Once production begins and the system is fielded, it becomes much more expensive to make these kinds of changes.
Value engineering is not only about cutting costs. It’s about bringing value to a project without sacrificing functionality, performance, reliability, safety and quality. When you start taking a value-add approach to your projects, you further differentiate yourself from your competition.
For more practical strategies, tips and technologies that can help you achieve greater productivity and design efficiency, download: