Product lifecycle management: Suretank’s sure bet

Posted on 11 Mar 2013

Don’t accept traditional options for solving quality control issues in a growing company says David Keeley, engineering manager at container manufacturer Suretank. You may find changing the way you look at cost centres will present more effective solutions.

“Suretank is a rapidly growing company. In 2012 our business grew by 36% and in 2013 we are projecting growth of a further 25%.

Our success over the past decade has enabled us to invest in overseas manufacturing operations through a combination of acquisitions and joint ventures. We’re now a truly global company with manufacturing capabilities in Ireland, the UK, Poland, Thailand, China, Brazil and the USA.

Growing pains

“The success of the company and the resulting growth presents Suretank with some big challenges as a manufacturing organisation. The transition to becoming a global company must be coupled with a strategy to enable the change without impacting negatively on the quality of our products and the services we already provide to customers.

“This necessitates becoming leaner and we are rapidly moving from a practice-based culture to a more streamlined process-based one. While the former culture served our customers well when we were a smaller company, the latter is required to sustain growth with accompanied continuous performance improvement.

“We found that in 2012 almost 70% of the total cost resulted from issues that would not be solved by employing PDM [product data management]”  David Keeley, Engineering Manager, Suretank.

Quality control

“Suretank’s growth has put, and is putting demands on every functional area within the organisation. There is an emphasis on eliminating incidents of poor product quality while also enabling all employees to become more efficient in their day to day activities. It’s a huge challenge and it is the responsibility of the Suretank technical management team to put in place a strategy that not only facilitates both, but can also be rolled out easily to the entire Suretank group worldwide. From a basic viewpoint one could say that poor product quality is a symptom of one of two things:

  • Something has gone wrong in the processing of the physical product itself from manufacturing to delivery
  • There are problems with the quality of the product definition data (drawings, technical specifications, bills of materials and other process outputs)

“In trying to eliminate problems related to the latter scenario, the solution that immediately comes to mind is PDM (Product Data Management).

PDM applications manage the CAD documentation and EBOM (Engineering Bills of Materials) data and most applications also have visualisation, collaboration, configuration management and engineering change management capabilities. They are excellent at improving the quality of engineering documentation and generate efficiencies around the creation, searching, modification and consumption of engineering data. Design quality is also improved by facilitating standardisation, increased part re-use and enabling robust revision control.

“It follows, therefore, that implementing a PDM solution at Suretank should be the place to start in helping us meet our objectives. Indeed in my experience, this is exactly where most manufacturing organisations that have problems similar to Suretank’s would start.

Beyond product data – the real cost centres

“However, focussing on improving product data management may well be leaving bigger areas of inefficiency and cost untouched in the design to manufacture process.

It became obvious that this was true at Suretank when investigating the costs of poor quality at that were attributed to ‘poor engineering documentation’. We found that, in 2012, almost 70% of the total cost resulted from issues that would not be solved by employing PDM.

“The ‘big ticket’ items were all related to problems with the management of product-related information between enterprise functions throughout the lifecycle of individual contracts. Examples include:

  • Customer requirements were incorrectly communicated from sales to engineering
  • Quality issues were not effectively communicated to the responsible engineer during the design process
  • A customer change was not communicated to the correct person
  • An engineer was not made aware of a customer preference
  • Information related to a previous similar contract could not be found or was incorrect
  • Not all contract stakeholders were aware of the most recent project delivery schedule

“While these issues ultimately manifested themselves in drawings, bills of materials and other documents, a PDM system would not have stopped them from occurring. The issues were caused by poor information management and would not have been addressed by using the kind of document management, bills of material and visualisation functionality offered by PDM.

To gain control of these costhungry issues, we realised a PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) solution was required. Such systems provide management capabilities for product-related information and processes across the entire enterprise and beyond.”

optimising the strategy for change
optimising the strategy for change

Matching requirement with budget and resource

“Suretank needed a PLM solution that was affordable, scalable, easily set up and maintained – we could afford no expensive system administration – and easily rolled out to all global sites. It was also important that the PLM application could be easily integrated with a PDM application at a later date.

After a short evaluation process we selected the only solution we could find on the market that met our requirements – Autodesk PLM 360.

“It is affordable. It allows us to employ a ‘PLM first strategy’. It is scalable, and its cloud infrastructure means that it requires no system maintenance. It is available immediately and can be easily rolled out to all global Suretank sites. Furthermore, when we were evaluating PLM 360, Autodesk provided us with a fully functioning PLM system within hours of requesting it for a three month trial free of charge. This allowed Suretank to practically consider its investment at no risk and no cost.

Early days

Suretank is at the beginning of its PLM implementation – a process which will be managed in its entirety by just two of our mechanical engineers.

“As a cloud-based system, PLM 360 functionality is deployed through modular ‘apps’ which we can select for implementation as we need them.

In February 2013 we went live with our first app – a problem reporting tool that allows users at all Suretank sites to report issues that need to be resolved. Later we’ll use this information to automatically spawn NCRs, ECOs, Tasks, and Audits – all within PLM 360.

In March we plan to introduce apps that will manage customer product configurations right through the contract lifecycle with integrated change management. This will ensure that we’re always meeting our customer’s most up-to-date requirements.

We’ve got a PLM roadmap in place for the next six months. Beyond that we’re going to develop the application depending on business needs. We’re confident that once we start getting the rest of Suretank using PLM 360 they’ll be as excited about it as we are.”