Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Since the creation of Berlin KraftWorks (BKW) in 2017, there have been several common questions from folks about what we do. In basic terms, we accelerate ideas and mitigate risk relative to manufacturing and product design, and we help companies to develop and maintain competitive advantage in their operations. We combine Professional Supply Chain Management with Professional Engineering in an integrated system approach. To define that better, it seems like a great idea to document some “Frequently Asked Questions” with some information for context.
What is the role of Supply Chain?
I’ll start by qualifying some thoughts about effective Supply Chain Management and its role in the modern world. During my career as a Supply Chain professional, I’ve found that there isn’t really a common perception of what supply chain is, or what its function is in a company. Other common areas such as Finance, Sales, Marketing and Engineering are reasonably well understood, and if you work in one of these areas and someone asks you what you do, you can throw out one of these terms and folks will immediately have some concept of what you do. For me, when I say I’m a “Supply Chain Professional”, the usual response is “what’s that?”
There are a lot of highly skilled professional specializations within Supply Chain, and you may know of some of them: Purchasing, Sourcing, Logistics, Materials, Production and Inventory Management, Warehouse/Distribution Management…there are several more and I won’t dive into all of them here. But it’s only when all these skilled specializations are considered and executed as a whole, integrated system, that you have an effective Supply Chain. The term “Supply Chain” in itself is misleading, since “supply” is just one aspect of many in the system. Value Chain may be a far better term since we’re ultimately talking about the managed integration of several disciplines to generate and deliver value for the customer.
Supply Chain, as an integrated system is everything in-between the common areas of Finance, Sales, Marketing and Engineering. It is the connective tissue that adapts, integrates, synchronizes, validates and executes. Supply Chain is the art and science of getting things done effectively, and it is the system from which information for building competitive advantage in a company’s operations strategy is extracted and verified.
An effective Supply Chain manages the interactions with these other functional areas in an integrated fashion. The best managed Supply Chains are still ultimately limited to the design and manufacturability of the products it exists to produce.
Effective Supply Chain requires integration with Engineering
Supply Chain must be synchronized with Engineering and integrated in a system thinking approach. Neither should be focused strictly on departmental targets, but on the success of the product and its ability to deliver value to the company and its customers. At BKW we have combined Professional Engineering with Professional Supply Chain, and our team understands the system thinking approach to optimize products from first concept all the way to the customer, without disruptive silos that cost time and money. We integrate Supply Chain considerations with every aspect of Engineering in real time, not as separate stages, all of which is focused on supporting our customer’s Business Case. We use this integration to develop intelligence in product designs and operations (which consider quality, manufacturing execution, costs, etc.) that is critical to the success of that product over its intended lifetime.
Our customers are the key ingredient to their own success.
Our integrated system approach builds intelligence in both the product design and our customers’ ability to execute that design effectively…this is a Competitive Advantage and it belongs to our customers. In order to achieve true Competitive Advantage, our customers need to have in-depth knowledge of their product designs, costs, operations strategies and capabilities residing in-house, not with a third party. To make appropriate business decisions and have the agility to respond to ever changing market conditions, companies need to be able to make evidence-based decisions regardless if their product is produced in-house or elsewhere. In fact, this becomes MORE critical if the product is produced elsewhere because a company’s success, ability to adapt, ability to set operations strategies and manage costs, and even their reputation in quality, service and support rest in someone else’s hands.
Therefore, teaching is CORE to what we do. We collaborate with our customers and their suppliers and subcontractors to help them develop their own competitive advantage. We do this by integrating our professionals with our customers’ teams and we provide our customers with the maximum agility possible to respond to their customer’s needs. In today’s business environment, companies who can develop their own competitive advantage will prevail even in challenging times.
BKW makes it quicker and easier for companies to get their products to market, and we help companies to maintain competitive advantage.
How do we do that? Here are the answers to the most popular questions we’ve been asked.
Are you a design firm?
We have authorization from the Professional Engineers of Ontario to complete engineering design work; however, design is only part of our offering. We can help you define and manage design elements of a project and ensure that those elements will consider all factors required for effective execution.
Are you consultants?
We are an Engineering firm consisting of hands-on professionals spanning Supply Chain, Engineering and Operations Strategy. We firmly believe that the only way to provide true value with any business challenge is to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, which is beyond the typical mandate of consulting. After evaluating your current situation and providing recommendations, our team will work with yours to implement new processes and/or design.
Are you a contract manufacturer?
No. However, we can help you to find and evaluate the right contract manufacturers for your specific product and production volume. We help people manage their contract manufacturers to ensure that they can maintain direct control of their operations, products and business reputations with applied education, project management and experience.
Do you send products offshore?
Generally, no. Many companies are unaware of how many products can be produced right here within North America (if not within Ontario) at greater speed and less overall cost than offshore. Canada primarily produces low-volume, high value/complexity products where precision is essential. The resources exist within North America to efficiently and competitively support those products. Local support means increased time to market and lower landed (“all-in”) cost. There are some exceptions, and when those exist, we ensure our customers approach those with the knowledge they need to have a successful outcome.
Do you have supply partners for various requirements?
Our team at BKW has cultivated many relationships across multiple industries over our decades of experience, however we do not default to these as a “one size fits all” approach with a pre-built supply chain and partners already in place. Instead, we build supply chains suited to your specific business level, volume and product needs, and we build this with you collaboratively. This also allows us to work with your existing partners and suppliers. We believe our customers should remain in full control of their projects and we enable that with applied education, supplier selection and evaluations to empower educated strategic decision making for our customers.
What industry are you focused on?
We support multiple manufacturing industries. We have experience in automotive, defence, medical, electronics/tech, industrial automation and equipment manufacturing and batch/process manufacturing (for example, food products) to name just a few. The essential rules of design, engineering and supply chain and how they need to integrate to be effective, apply across industries.
Who are your customers?
We work with anyone who manufactures (or intends to manufacture) a physical product. Most often these are SME’s – Small and Medium Enterprises. We exist to help companies do more with what they have and build their competitive advantage.
We work with Contract Manufacturers (CM’s), and Service Providers to help them improve their own operations, and to help them work with their own customers by assisting those companies to develop effective requirements, specifications and manufacturable designs that exceed the core skills of any particular CM.
We work with Investors and Stakeholders to provide risk mitigation, and to develop structured and measurable strategies and execution support to get products to production.
Do you offer stand-alone training?
Yes. We can provide this for any company that simply wants training for some aspect of their engineering or supply chain. When ever possible, we tailor this training to their specific product(s) or needs as applied learning.
Can you support products that are already in production?
Yes. We optimize existing products where supply chain, market or economic conditions have changed from the original intent and we bring those products back to effective production. We also provide support to optimize existing operations for those products. As with all our services, we do this with a system approach governed by the requirements of the Business Case.
We already have contract manufacturers and/or a design firm. Can you work with them?
Yes. We help manage contract manufacturers and third-party relationships, and we collaborate with those firms to ensure a balance of integration across internal and external resources that aligns with the business objectives of our customers. We help our customers to remain in control of their own products, costs and operations.
Peter Heuss, P. Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
To be successful and profitable (to meet the needs of the business) every product is a collaboration of multiple groups. As an engineer, in the past I’ve been as guilty as most at jumping into a new design assuming I understand all the requirements. After all, I’m smart, I can design it. But then later I’ve had to rework designs because I’ve missed a critical feature, misunderstood a requirement, picked a component that wasn’t supportable, etc.
I believe that one of the most important elements of a successful product is typically ignored or overlooked. Good design cannot happen if the designers don’t understand everything the product must deliver, how it must deliver it, how it affects other groups, the target cost, and timelines. But the design isn’t the only critical element in bringing a product to market. Parts must be sourced, purchased and delivered, other parts need to be fabricated, then assembled, tested, packaged, stored, delivered to the customer, and often serviced. Everyone involved, in all of those steps needs to understand what the intent is, what the limits are, and what to do if something doesn’t meet those intents.
The design specification is the one document that should capture all of that information.
If you Google product specification you will find lots of examples discussing a product design specification (PDS) or product requirements document (PRD) as it applies to a software product. These same documents are even more important for a multi-disciplinary product. There are more teams involved in the successful implementation; hence more need for clear and thorough sharing of all the requirements.
I have always combined the PDS and PRD, but regardless if there’s one document or many, they should be referenced and organized in one place where all the required information can be clearly documented and accessed.
The product spec starts with the business case. After all, we’re trying to make something someone wants to buy and we want to sell it at a profit so that the company can continue and grow. The business case should outline what functions the product must have, who it will be sold to, where it will be sold, in what volumes, and at what cost.
Obviously, if one document is going to include everything required by all parties, it can’t be created and completed day one. It will continue to evolve as the details are developed. Industrial design will take marketing data and develop form and function, engineering will take the functional requirements and the industrial design and develop the detailed designs, supply chain will work with engineering to source materials and help plan production, manufacturing will take the designs and bills of material and plan assembly etc.
A typical comment is that there’s not enough time to write a spec or that we already know what we want and there’s no need for a spec. At a recent manufacturing peer to peer group meeting we were discussing a design specification for a relatively simple automotive part. The spec had multiple revisions and had grown to approximately 60 pages. Someone in the group piped up and said every one of those revisions was a lesson learned.
A thorough specification that is used, maintained and reviewed by all stakeholders will help plan more efficiently, avoid problems, achieve business objectives, and almost always reduce the overall time and cost of product development.
In future blogs I will explore how to use the design spec to plan efficient and effective conceptual and detailed design, custom part fabrication, assembly, testing and quality control.
An important hint – knowing how the spec will be used will make writing one much simpler and quicker.