1. Why is Duplicate Part Proliferation overlooked?
It is unfortunate to overlook the proliferation of duplicate parts, since eliminating duplicates or near duplicates is an excellent opportunity to improve design and save money.
- Duplicate part proliferation is underappreciated since the costs are not readily apparent nor fully understood.
- Non-existing or inadequate search tools and processes to find appropriate parts and identify duplicate parts complicate the situation.
- Short-term deadlines to complete a design take priority ahead of longer-term cost savings from reducing duplicates.
- The implications of part duplicates create issues spanning multiple departments (and sometimes even multiple business units) including engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing, but because of this, often no single department assumes responsibility for the problem.
- Since the implications of part proliferation are misunderstood and the responsibility is distributed across business units and departments, management is often unaware and unable to implement corrective actions.
Engineers are good at creating parts and they are typically busy updating their design to meet deadlines.
- From the engineer’s perspective pulling a new part number is usually easy, after all part numbers are free. An engineer focuses on the concern at hand, such as completing the design before next design review. Engineers might have an appreciation of how a new part can increase inventory, increase part count, lower quality, decrease purchasing leverage, and etc…. However, those costs are longer term and considerably more abstract than meeting the looming design deadline.
- Engineers are for the most part are happy to reuse existing proven components, but often the task of finding acceptable existing parts takes too much time. Often the required part might be in one of many locations or information about the part might be inconsistent and incomplete. In addition, the search tool might be inadequate to locate and compare similar parts. When the pressure is on and the time required to find a part is greater than the time to create a part, the engineer will inevitably choose simply to create a new part.
After engineering has completed a design and is ready to begin prototyping or manufacture, purchasing receives the design’s Bill of Materials to procure parts.
- Purchasing undoubtedly sees duplicates and is likely familiar with how duplicate parts can reduce quantity counts for purchases and minimize volume-pricing discounts. They are also certainly aware of the processes and challenges required to qualify new vendors of new parts. However, when purchasing receives a BOM, purchasing is inundated with a variety of parts to purchase and they too face time constraints to place orders and meet timelines. Sorting through the BOM and existing inventory to find duplicates is never going to be a priority for the purchasing group.
- There is gulf between engineering and purchasing and the communication is limited, often communication in one directional from engineering to purchasing, so engineering often does not receive much feedback from purchasing about any identified duplicates.
- Making changes to a design is costly for purchasing. Typically, once a BOM goes to purchasing, the design has been released and any changes to a design require a change order. Change orders have substantial costs associated with them, since they require additional engineering review and analysis. A change order also incurs time penalties since it will delay the purchase of components and delay the build of the part. Therefore, a change order to replace a duplicate part adds cost, so it becomes questionable if it is more cost effective to make a change order part or leave the new part in the design.
Manufacturing has likely noticed many duplicates when pulling items from inventory and assembling products and they have probably left scratching their heads wondering why engineering was so shortsighted to use duplicate parts.
- Manufacturing has an intrinsic understanding of the cost of duplicates, since it experiences firsthand pulling duplicate parts from inventory and setting up additional tooling. Additionally, new duplicate parts from unproven vendors with different tooling require additional processes and setup time, introducing variability into the manufacturing and inevitably presenting new issues in quality. Although manufacturing experiences firsthand issues with duplicate parts, manufacturing is unlikely to rectify the problem for similar reasons purchasing is unable to eliminate duplicates.
- Communication between manufacturing and engineering is often not bi-directional and suffers from an “over-the-wall” mentality.
- Manufacturing typically has its own list of issues to contend with and does not need to add to the list by eliminating duplicate parts.
- Uncertainty exists for manufacturing, since it is unclear if an engineer specified a near duplicate part for a specific reason, which is not obvious and often there is insufficient part data to perform an effective component comparison. For example, if the near duplicate part has exact dimensions, but a different indistinguishable coating allowing the part to operate in hostile environments.
- Eliminating duplicates or near duplicate parts requires Change Orders, which require time, which costs money and delays delivery of the product.
5. How to increase awareness about duplicate part proliferation
What can be done to increase awareness about part duplication?
- Understand the variety of ways duplicate parts can increase costs across the entire lifecycle of a product. Educate engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing about the issues and costs associated with duplicate part proliferation.
- Improve communication between engineering, manufacturing, and purchasing. Incorporate purchasing and manufacturing early in the design process and ensure there is effective feedback to engineering about duplicate parts. Identify duplicate parts before releasing a design to avoid the expense of a change order.
- Since the issues of duplicate part proliferation exist over multiple department and divisions, it is often overlooked. Make management aware of the problem and assign responsibility to manage duplicate part proliferation. Some companies have created specific roles (commonly referred to as Component Data Specialist) to manage part proliferation.
- Implement a data governance program to maintain high-quality part data and a New Part Introduction (NPI) process incorporating a review and comparison of existing components before creating a new part.
- Provide tools to effectively classify components and efficiently search and compare existing parts.