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Avoid Manufacturing Disasters = Avoid Million Dollar Mistakes (Page 2 of 5)

The engineering mistakes that come with large price tags often make the news; however, the reality is that engineering disasters can strike anywhere. From bridges to buildings, airplanes to trains, engineering and manufacturing industries create today’s world. One bad file translation, one overlooked design revision or one unchecked design can derail a production schedule and potentially cause irreparable harm.


Human error and design flaws are commonly cited as top causes of past engineering disasters13. In analyzing past disasters for lessons learned, communication failure14 and inadequate checks and balances15 are top reasons these issues exist. That is, poor communication and inadequate processes to ensure proper validation are the core origin behind human error and design flaws, sometimes leading to engineering disasters. Noted in the Vanderbilt University study, “The inability to share important information that is timely and accurate is a common denominator in every case we reviewed16.” In conjunction with poor communication, processes “…involved a lack of checks in the design and implementation of whatever failed17.”


Avoid These Four Threats


Avoiding future engineering disasters is a crucial objective. Learning from the past to create better processes today can not only avoid the more serious million dollar mistakes but can also aid in maintaining production schedules, budgets and success rates while minimizing waste and lost revenue. Pulling from these case studies, Four Threats to Manufacturing On-Time and On-Budget are:


  1. Data Lost in Translation
  2. Excessive and Unchecked Changes
  3. Wrong Parts and Missed Deadlines
  4. After-the-Fact Errors

Threat 1: Data Lost in Translation


As technology continues to permeate everyday life, “computer-aided (CA) technologies play an increasingly important role in modern industrial practices18.” In addition to “neutral” CAD file formats, each computer aided technology (analysis, machining, simulation) includes its own list of proprietary data file formats. Prominently noted, “Integration and interoperability issues are still unsolved19.” Moreover, 75% of large design issues are attributed to data exchange, “directly related to differing CAD versions or systems, file formats and conversions carried out20.” Design data exchange is commonplace with 42% of users exchanging 100 or more files a month – 5 designs each business day21. Compounding the CAD data exchange issues, poor quality file translations result in enormous time and energy spent reworking design data22. Approximately 1 in 5 imported CAD models still contain errors that need to be manually fixed before they are usable23. In a week, about 1 out of 7 engineers spend over 24 hours fixing design data24. Approximately 49% of engineers spend at least half a day per week repairing design data; half of engineers work overtime or on the weekend reworking geometry25.


Data translation and geometry reworking creates potential for data loss and errors. In turn, data loss and errors can result in a series of consequences. While the least serious repercussions from data loss could be re-tooling or project delays, more serious consequences also occur, costing millions of dollars, and, in some cases, irrecoverable damage.
“Two manufacturers cannot collaborate if the systems in one cannot process the data in the other26.” The Mars Climate Orbiter was “lost in translation27,” literally describing its disintegration in space from the Metric-English data loss. Data loss cost Airbus $6 billion dollars due to CAD software version discrepancies28. Within the multiple CAD software environment, the exchange of design data is critical as “…product models can only be applied effectively if data can be exchanged and/or shared freely…29”


Threat 2: Excessive and Unchecked Changes


Regional Express Train didn’t think twice about the station dimensions they were given by SNCF; the cost of failing to validate their data was $68 million, the additional cost to update the older stations30. The Hubble Telescope was 2 microns out of tolerance; failing to adequately compare the manufactured part to the original design cost $1.6 billion31. In the midst of enormous pressure to get products out on schedule, opportunities for error increase due to excessive and unchecked changes and data.
Approximately 44% of CAD users experience excessive, unanticipated changes throughout the product development cycle32. Almost 38% of users experienced dramatic or multiple last-minute changes to product definition33. Even in a high-profile expensive project like the Mars Climate Orbiter, engineers failed to check mathematic basics, units of measure34. High-pressure, last-minute and unchecked changes could exponentially add to wasted material, scrap material and valuable time loss. In the worst case scenario, unchecked changes and data results in project failure.

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