ESO companies can take the following steps to grow up the value chain through innovation.
Most companies start their journey on process improvements through LEAN/Six-Sigma. This is a time tested method and has been adopted across all sectors. At QuEST, we started the journey in 2006-07. The Six-Sigma concept brought rigor in terms of project definition, setting clear goals/metrics to measure success and executing the project in a disciplined manner. The Six-Sigma concept helped to solve many systemic issues and eliminate them from a process standpoint. The LEAN concepts are more recent in QuEST and have been used to help reduce waste in our processes. Both these techniques have helped QuEST to improve the efficiency of processes in general.
Automation and Knowledge Based Engineering (KBE) is the next route that could be taken by ESO companies to differentiate and innovate. The key feature of Automation is to automate repeated or time consuming manual tasks with the help of scripts, programs and methods so that the manual element is replaced through electronic means. In engineering work, there is always a good scope to introduce automation. A lot of the engineering calculations can be automated; tools can be connected to exchange information (egs. CAD systems can be connected with Simulation systems) and speed up the process of execution.
The key benefits of automation are
KBE on the other hand is a more advanced form of automation. It incorporates various rules in a process and helps the quicker completion of the process because of the in-built knowledge base. KBE is a technology that deals with the capture of knowledge of engineering processes in a software environment. It captures the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a design process. This allows automated analysis of inputs and generation of engineering solutions
KBE has grown significantly in the engineering space because of the inherent rule based technologies. At QuEST, we have used KBE to innovate for our customers. We have built several systems which not only accelerate the design process but also offer alternate design solutions. Such systems take the burden off the customer engineer and give them free time to spend on new product initiatives, evaluate multiple designs, etc,. Another key feature of KBE systems is that it retains knowledge and also transforms them to appropriate rules wherever applicable.
As mentioned in an earlier section, a major hurdle in encouraging innovation is the IP issue. A recent open innovation initiative by an aero engine leader seems to be a good way to overcome the issue. Companies/individuals/universities interested in participating in the program need to register themselves further to which a set of technical challenges would be made available. The parties need to develop a proposal to address the challenge, which if selected, would be funded by the aero engine leader and taken through to completion. Such platforms and forums are an excellent way to encourage ESO companies to innovate without the fear of IP violation.
The other advantage of ESO participating in such initiatives is that the exact needs of the OEM are addressed rather than some assumed needs. As these challenges are also funded, it is an added incentive to the ESO to participate without the fear of funding something which may not be useful. The collaborative nature of the initiative also helps more than one company to participate and hence bring out the best from one and all.
Even as ESOs and OEMs take measured steps down the innovation path, there is a dire need for them to optimize costs. Productivity improvement is a major imperative for many of these organizations. Stay tuned to our next post on how we are consciously implementing productivity improvement at QuEST ultimately passing on the benefits to our customers.