Abstract technology

Inside the Shotgun Marriage of Design and Supply Chain Processes

April 20th, 2015

For 20 years, consultants (I among them) have attempted to wed product companies’ Design functions to the Supply-Chain side of the business. We’ve educated executives about achieving cost savings and faster-time-to-market through having designers work closely with supply-chain professionals — early in design cycles — on the availability and reliability of parts and materials. “The old practice of ‘throwing the design over the wall to manufacturing’ is over,” we’d implore.

In all of those years, many executives have casually listened, and some have actually strategically aligned the two functions. These days, however, permanently joining Design and Supply Chain is a necessity owing to customers’ increasing demands for environmental and worker responsibility, along with numerous countries’ regulations enforcing them. Product Designers have no choice but to engage Supply Chain to ensure that products are hazardous-substance free, supply-chain workers are treated fairly, and products are responsibly recycled.

The necessary relationship between Design and Supply Chain became clear at last month’s hands-on workshop in sustainable product design, hosted by electronics design and manufacturing services company Creation Technologies in Silicon Valley. I led the teams — comprising Creation’s and their customers’ designers, supply-chain managers, and manufacturing engineerings — in two Design-for-Environment (DfE) activities.

In the first activity, the teams disassembled common electronic products to analyze how design and material decisions could have been made jointly for highest-value upgrades, reuse, and recycling. Clearly, the companies that produced these common products left money on the table by failing to follow simple yet strategic Design-for-Environment principles that would have resulted in post-customer value.

The second activity required the designers and supply-chain team members to jointly develop a way for presenters to share visuals with their audiences, using as many design-for-environment principles as they can. The teams succeeded in this exercise by overcoming their tendencies to first “design stuff” then “buy materials” to make products; instead they creatively leveraged existing products and materials with smarter interfaces, through engaged teamwork.

The humor that is nearly always present in Design-for-Environment workshops forges bonds between designers and supply-chain team members — further fostering teamwork. When during the disassembly exercise teams resort to using a hammer to separate materials, team members laugh at how little thought is given to “design for economic end-of-life” (product teams disassembling their own products laugh even harder when reaching for the hammer). When the principle of de-materialization is introduced, nervous laughter can be heard from hardware design engineers wondering if their professions will become obsolete; the supply-chain folks assure them that design engineers with Design-for-Environment training and solid supply-chain partnerships will have the highest survival rates.

Designers, don’t go it alone. Work closely with your Supply-Chain colleagues for ever more. It’s good for business, people, and the environment. Plus, you might even enjoy the partnership.

See the full article at GreenBiz, and a slide show of the workshop at EBN.


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