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Ramp Readiness Indicators for Product Development October 3, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Product design, Quality.
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Sometimes you have little or no control over the launch date for a new product because of customer commitments or competitive market pressure. You have to fill your product fulfillment pipeline to the channel, and it can be costly to delay the start of the production ramp until you’ve finished tweaking the design and everything is running perfectly at the factory. Regardless of whether the start-of-ramp is flexible or not, it’s important to assess ramp readiness and address any issues while there’s still time, before the stress of meeting delivery quotas and schedules.

A lot of people seem to think of ramp readiness as checking things off a to-do list, verifying that manufacturing processes are in-place and ready to build products. Are the shop MRP systems aligned with the bill-of-materials? Is the production line balanced to meet capacity requirements? Are all the work stations and process steps equipped with the necessary tools? Are work instructions published and approved, and operators trained? Are part suppliers delivering according to the appropriate JIT schedules?

Those are good and important things to know, but if you want to avoid quality problems and delivery interruptions after ramp, then you need to know much more.

1. Is the product design stable? Early prototype builds should provide feedback to improve the design, and in the ideal world, the design is complete and stable before the final prototype build. In the real world, that doesn’t mean the design can’t be changed, but the bar needs to be higher as the ramp date approaches, requiring more review and higher-level approval, or else there won’t be enough time to make the necessary changes in production. Indicators here include the trend in design change requests, the completeness of the BOM (including final, approved drawings showing all critical-to-function and critical-to-assembly dimensions and other requirements), and the percent of defects found during prototype builds that are attributed to design issues. The design is an input to the production process, and a design that’s still changing after ramp will surely cause trouble.

2. Are the factory processes capable and stable? Some people like to look at production yields and test results during prototype builds as a sign of readiness, and the defects found during these builds will certainly guide improvements in the design or the manufacturing processes. However, prototype builds volumes are always small and provide limited insight about what will happen after the ramp. Process capability means the suppliers and the factory can produce products that are in-spec, but you also need to identify and manage the sources of variability that affect process stability. Are the critical dimensions of all parts in-spec and meeting Cpk requirements? Are critical production processes operating within SPC control limits? Has a GRR analysis been completed for all tools, jigs, and fixtures? Are process documents under change control? Have all pre-ramp waivers been addressed, resolved, and closed?

Ramp readiness requires more than checking items off a list. It requires attention to design, supply chain, and production process readiness to prevent costly quality hiccups when you can least afford it.

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1. Starting a Product Development Team « Managing in the 2000s - November 12, 2012

[…] criteria. I’ve written about lifecycle considerations in earlier posts (see for example Ramp Readiness Indicators for Product Development). Of course standard project management processes such as early stakeholder alignment, issue […]


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