Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Multi-faceted Engineering

Part of the engineering team's function in these early stages at Local Motors involves something more than just design and development engineering. Certainly, the design of the prototype is the more glamorous of our tasks as engineers. Although not looked upon with as much envy, one of the other major aspects of being a vehicle engineer at Local Motors is equally as important in our success:

Manufacturing Engineering

At this stage in the game, most of our days involve the former, but it's necessary to keep in mind from the get-go that we're not in the business of DESIGNING one-off prototype vehicles, but rather, MANUFACTURING vehicles for production. The development process of that single prototype is a means to an "end" that is manufacturing vehicles over a sustained period of time.

Therefore, everything that goes into the prototype has to be designed/manufactured with the notion that each part will not be the only one of its kind. Since there will be several hundreds and maybe even thousands (this is one of many topics within manufacturing engineering that I will dedicate a post to at a later date - that of limiting SKU's - since this is one of our main goals at Local Motors) of parts used to build each vehicle we need a way to track the part numbers, suppliers, costs, minimum order quantities, quantity per car etc. of each part to allow the manufacturing process to operate smoothly in an effort to run as close to a "Just In Time" manufacturing principle, which was first introduced by the great Henry Ford, who in my mind and the mind of many others is the father of modern production and manufacturing.

As a result, we've spent a small amount of time out of each day to research MRP systems that will work best for Local Motors as we transition not only from development to production, but from facility to facility. To date, the best options seem to be the web-based systems which will allow not only our suppliers, but our various Local Motors facilities to view a common Bill of Materials and other reporting documents at anytime, anywhere. Two examples of such software, Infor and OpenPro could be very viable options since the software has the ability to be automated and customized for small to medium businesses. Also, since the software is web-based, it is generally less expensive than some other options where you have to purchase a hard copy of the software and install it - this is another winning aspect of web-based software for us since we do plan to have multiple locations...the IT guys will love this!

As we get closer to production, we will take a much closer look at the available systems, but again, we feel that it's necessary to do some preliminary research so we can begin to compile our information in the correct manner so that the transition from development to production and from facility to facility is as seamless as possible.

As the saying goes, "The devil is in the details," which is probably why the manufacturing facet of engineering is the less glamorous part of our jobs, but requires a great deal of attention to the smallest of details and can ultimately determine the success or failure of all of the design work that was done up front to get to the production phase.


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