Peter Heuss, P.Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Prototype seems to be one of the most misused words in manufacturing. An early working example of a concept is often referred to as a prototype; however, a prototype is actually the final design on which the manufacturing is patterned, the last design before you start to manufacture in volume. From Webster’s dictionary “a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction”.
This early conceptual design is a proof of concept and is a totally necessary step to show that an idea is valid, determine if there is sales interest, and to test engineering ideas. Too often though, we see companies come up with a conceptual design, build a proof of concept and believe that the design is done and that they are ready to take the idea to production.
Conceptual design is very much a creative activity and creativity cannot always be rushed. However, if the requirements of the product are well understood, knowing who the stakeholders are and what constraints must be met, conceptual design can avoid many issues. Creativity, however, does not negate good planning. Lean principles can still be used to plan and efficiently execute conceptual design.
A good proof of concept needs to test if the potential product merits development. It will likely help determine how the final product will look, what features are required, and how they all fit together. It’s a learning step to help specify the product. There could many iterations, and it will focus on defining and confirming the requirements, but not on how it will be built.
The final proof of concept should define the product requirements. The next step is to understand how to turn it into a product, something that can be built in volume repeatedly. Prototype design will take that conceptual design and figure out: how best to fabricate custom parts; what purchased components are suitable, available and at what cost; and how to assemble, package, ship and service the product. The necessities of cost and schedule will often dictate how much of the proof of concept design has to be modified. The final product will likely be a set of compromises from what was envisioned to what is practical.
Both steps are essential. Both steps require different skill sets and input from different stakeholders. They both take time to do properly. So, it’s natural to want to skip some or all of the process, especially in a young company where budgets are tight. Every idea needs to be fully defined and vetted to ensure it meets the business needs. It’s the prototype that defines the final configuration and how that idea can be built and sold - and how profitable it will be.
As applied to organizational improvement, system thinking is grounded in the following fundamental principles:
System thinking takes a birds-eye view of how the firm is employing the resources it has invested in in delivering value to its customers. System thinking posits that a firm’s resources do not operate independently, but work together in an interconnected and interdependent fashion, not unlike the musicians in a world class symphony. System thinking focuses on aligning and synchronizing the flow of activities among and between each resource as they collaboratively work together to create and deliver ever-increasing customer value.
When should we use a system thinking approach?
Any organization interested in improving its operational and financial performance should employ system thinking. System thinking is a different way of viewing and thinking about how your organization creates value for the customers that buy your products and/or services. In a business environment, system thinking focuses on delighting the customer by significantly improving flow in the value creation stream in your firm.
The focus on customer value creation distinguishes system thinking from conventional cost-driven management approach. Simply stated, cost-driven management breaks down the organization into its individual resources, products and services, then focuses on driving down or optimizing the cost of each resource in isolation. Unfortunately, this approach not only results in sub-optimal system performance but also ignores the only part of the system which generates cash inflows and future growth, the customer.
System thinking as a best practice focuses on aligning and synchronizing the activities of all resources in a system. In the process, waste is eliminated, lead times are shortened, labour is freed up, capacity is released, costs are reduced, operational and financial performance is improved, and the firm becomes increasingly competitive. This approach will also effectively reduce a firm’s carbon footprint by reducing the production of greenhouse gases through the elimination of wasteful non-value adding practices.
Organizations are constantly facing new challenges, and the future is unknowable. The current pandemic adds additional layers of complexity and volatility into an already challenging hypercompetitive marketplace. As a manager or business owner it can be overwhelmingly difficult to determine what the next step should be for your business in this increasingly complex environment. System thinking helps clarify and simplify the way forward.
If your organization is struggling with any of the following issues, system thinking can help.
BKW’s Business Alignment Program
BKW can help you resolve the challenges you are facing, and help you insulate your firm from the myriad of complex challenges you are faced with every day. Our Business Alignment Program based in system thinking is a proven approach. It will help you to identify hidden opportunities, release untapped capacity, and improve your business’ resiliency.
If you are a small to medium sized manufacturing firm and anything you’ve read above resonates with you, we can help and would like to hear from you. Please click the link below to provide us with some preliminary information and BKW team member will contact you to discuss how we can help. Click here to contact the BKW team.
Press Release - Berlin KraftWorks Inc. Selected to Support Manufacturing and Supply Chain Execution for LyteHorse Labs
Kitchener, ON - September 24, 2020 - Berlin KraftWorks Inc. (BKW) is pleased to announce our partnership with LyteHorse Labs. BKW has been selected to support the engineering and supply chain management to take the LyteHorse Labs Electric Performance Vehicle (EPV) to market.
LyteHorse was created by two brothers, Allen Bonk & Brad Bonk. It began its life as a stand-on golf vehicle and has evolved into an all-wheel drive performance vehicle that can not only carry people, but their equipment as well. The efficient design is powerful as well as versatile making it effective in a wide range of industries and terrain.
“We are thrilled to be working with the LyteHorse team,” said Matt Weller, CEO of Berlin KraftWorks Inc. “With this project we have been able to complete design and supply chain work simultaneously making the EPV manufacturable right out of the gate with a supply chain specifically tailored to LyteHorse’s product and volume needs.”
“The BKW team has brought the experience and skill to take our innovative idea and translate it into a product that can be manufactured at scale,” said Allen Bonk, CEO of LyteHorse Labs. “They work as part of our team and deliver the data back in a measurable form, empowering us to stay in control of our design and supply chain decisions.”
BKW has been working with LyteHorse Labs to design the EPV for manufacturing and supply chain. LyteHorse has completed their 7th prototype and are gearing up for a series of trials before completing the final design for manufacturing. “The LyteHorse team is committed to creating a high-quality product for their customers. By aligning supply chain and engineering, not only have they reduced cost, but also the time it will take to get the EPVs out to market. We are excited to see them in action,” said Matt Weller.
About Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Berlin KraftWorks Inc. makes it quicker and easier for companies to get their products to market. By aligning supply chain and engineering our hands-on solutions integrate into the entire process from design, through supply chain, to the end user. For more information visit www.berlinkw.ca
About LyteHorse Labs
LyteHorse Labs’ mission is to build innovative electric performance vehicles that ensure a sustainably greener earth and create a radical user experience. For more information visit www.lytehorse.com