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Improve Design Engineering Process
A few years ago, I was assigned a project to “improve the throughput of a
design engineering process for a manufacturing company with multiple
plants and products.” e company’s product was mega-yachts and its
focus was on delivering product in a much shorter time than their com-
petitors, ensuring superb quality, and controlling their costs. e company
had experienced a high level of growth from a single-plant, entrepreneur-
ial operation to a multi-plant environment. As with any young company,
there was a tremendous amount of talented people with high levels of
product and process knowledge. However, going from a single- to a multi-
plant environment creates a demand for additional skills, and they were
struggling with that. e absence of standardization from plant to plant in
data, information, approaches, and product was generating a lot of extra
work, and a lot of it on the engineering function.
It is not uncommon for it to take more than three years for a customer to
take delivery of a mega-yacht, so being able to deliver a mega-yacht in twelve
to eighteen months is quite a competitive advantage. However, customers
who spend millions of dollars to purchase a product are demanding when it
comes to product features and customization. e process of understand-
ing what a customer wants, synthesizing it into design features, and ensur-
ing production capacity and t within current production and timelines
tied to other customer delivery dates is a challenge. Taking it a step fur-
ther, all changes and agreements must be managed with strict adherence to
the sales contract between the customer and the company. is area of the
business is tenuous at best; but on the other hand, mastering the ability to
quickly design and meet customer desires is literally required in this mar-
ket. And these goals are right in line with the goals of Lean.
Leading improvement in a high-volume design engineering department
is not for the meek. e design engineering (DE) function develops new
180  •  Relentless Improvement: True Stories of Lean Transformation
product; however, the majority of the demand on DE is driven by both
customer and internal product change. Generally speaking, the main
superstructure from boat to boat within a model stays the same. However,
there is a great deal of customer customization in the joinery or interior
components, such as cabinetry, wall panels, ceiling arrangement, and a
whole host of other areas. Each boat will have a unique lighting plan and
usually a customer-selected array of audio-visual and navigational equip-
ment. Rearranging rooms and/or areas on the outside of the yacht provide
design challenges for the structural engineering team. On one boat, an
owner may want a heli-pad and a fueling station for his helicopter. A sub-
marine is not out of the question. Actually, very little if anything is out
of the question, as money is really not a concern for customers who buy
mega-yachts. So, if they want it, the engineers can design it.
Engineering was responsible for delivering a plan set to production
for the construction of each yacht. e plan set consists of drawings of
the standard items that generally do not change from boat to boat, and
drawings to support any customer-driven change or any standard draw-
ings requiring modication due to customer change. e average plan set
contained more than 1,000 multiple-page drawings. Engineering was also
responsible for ensuring compliance with regulations and certain outside
certication standards such as the American Bureau of Shipping, or the
Cayman Island registry. Design was accomplished primarily in three-
dimensional modeling soware, with some work being done in Auto-
CAD and some surface modeling soware.
At the start of the project, the stated issues were:
• Documentation provided to production contained excess inaccuracies
• Documentation provided to production was incomplete and insuf-
cient
• Documentation was provided late to production
Initial actions (rst week):
• Created a mapping event planning sheet: Excel®
spreadsheet with
many tabs
• Created a planning calendar
• Set and communicated a date for a process mapping event thirty-ve
days out
• Arranged place to conduct the mapping event: company aircra hangar

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