Archive for February, 2014

Somebody Else’s Problem

Posted on: February 28th, 2014 by admin No Comments

I have to profess before I go too far into this blog, that I am a great fan of book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by the great Douglas Adams.  I remember watching this on public television on the olden days, the special effects were not so grand but everything else about the program was entertaining and engaging.  I have a single book with all of the novels listed below and find that my son enjoys the work so much he bought copies for his friends to read.

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So long, and Thanks for All the Fish
  5. Mostly Harmless
  6. And Another Thing….

Long Lost

When I was younger I especially enjoyed the concept of Somebody Else’s Problem or SEP. I remember using this as a retort to discussions where I failed to see how I was implicated or required to help solve the problem.  There are limitations to intellect is some youths.  To provide a common frame of reference, I provide the citation below:

Somebody Else’s Problem field,

or SEP, is a cheap, easy, and staggeringly useful way of safely protecting something from unwanted eyes. It can run almost indefinitely on a flashlight/9 volt battery, and is able to do so because it utilizes a person’s natural tendency to ignore things they don’t easily accept, like, for example, aliens at a cricket match. Any object around which a S.E.P is applied will cease to be noticed; because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) becomes Somebody Else’s. An object becomes not so much invisible as unnoticed.[1]

I wonder how many projects have suffered from this disorder, which includes the project manager.  When I was a group manager for a verification group I recall recounting the technical details to a project manager about the latest flambé du jour findings in testing.  The eyes glaze over and the discussion invariable goes back to the schedule for the project as if the catastrophe of which I just informed him was no more of a challenge than drinking a glass of water. The problem is the inability to understand the consequences when you first witness the problem does not mean the problem or circumstance goes away. Generally it festers and grows like a cancer contaminating those aspects that here-to-fore were not contaminated.

Long Term Consideration

Consider your projects, the US debt and every other large problem where we cannot get agreement.  If you ask me, this mindset or human limitation is a significant risk to any activity of significance.  


There is nothing wrong with living in the real world and recognizing the limitations of a seemingly endless supply of rose colored glasses.  That color is just as bad as whatever the exact opposite would be.  Where did objectivity go?  Real information – or difficult to comprehend “bad news” does not go away due to our inability to absorb.  Neither does a positive attitude alone solve or resolve the impediment.

[1]’s_Problem_field. [Last Accessed February 26, 2014].

APQP and International Material Data System

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by admin 1 Comment

By Wally Stegall and Jon M Quigley

Collecting and Reporting Material

One approach to collecting and reporting material content is the International Material Data System (IMDS).  IMDS is a computer-based material data system used and funded primarily by automotive OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturer of cars, trucks, heavy vehicles, agricultural equipment, construction equipment, industrial equipment, military vehicles, and other apparatus) although other manufacturers use IMDS to manage environmental care aspects of products.

“The IMDS (International Material Data System) is the automobile industry’s material data system. Initially, it was a joint development of Audi, BMW, Daimler, HP, Ford, Opel, Porsche, VW and Volvo. Further manufacturers have meanwhile joined the community and IMDS has become a global standard used by almost all of the global OEMs. Talks are being held with further manufacturers regarding their participation in IMDS. In IMDS, all materials used for automobile manufacturing are collected, maintained, analyzed and archived. Using the IMDS, it is possible to meet the obligations placed on automobile manufacturers, and thus on their suppliers, by national and international standards, laws and regulations.[1]


In today’s global economy the laws and regulations governing materials used in products is ever changing. One way to stay ahead or at least know where a product stands relative to laws and a regulation is to know the material content of the product from day one.  However, compliance to laws and regulations is not the only reason.  Many believe in being green for its’ own sake.  Monitoring material content is a tangible demonstration of a company’s level of commitment to environmental care and corporate conscience.  Monitoring material also makes it easy for both suppliers and customers to see the product content for their own internal decision making process.  Importantly there are methods and infrastructure to demonstrate a measure of due diligence when it comes to understanding product material composition.


Some companies that employ an Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) approach in their product development may be contractually required to use IMDS MDS as part of their Production Part Approval Process (PPAP).  This applies to automotive companies and their suppliers.  Specifically there are 19 documents defined by AIAG that constitute the PPAP and those documents are[2]:

  1. Part submission warrant (PSW)
  2. Design records/drawings
  3. Engineering change documents
  4. Design Failure Mode Effects Analysis (DFMEA)
  5. Process flow diagram
  6. Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (PFMEA)
  7. Dimensional results
  8. Material/Performance test results
  9. Initial process study
  10. MSA studies
  11. Qualified laboratory documentation
  12. Pre-launch control plan
  13. Process control plan
  14. Appearance approval report
  15. Bulk material checklist
  16. Product sample
  17. Master sample
  18. Checking aids
  19. Customer specific requirements

APQP PPAP references IMDS in Appendix A- Completion of the PART Submission Warrant (PSW) Material Reporting section although other formats are allowed.  We provide the view of the entire warrant and a snap shot of this section of the PSW below[3]:


Part Submission Warrant (APQP PPAP) example

Part Submission Warrant (APQP PPAP) example

Figure 1 Part Submission Warrant and IMDS

It is clear that the entire warrant addresses much more than the material content as it qualifies the part.  In fact, the part submission warrant is a component (or better still the culmination) of the PPAP as evidence of engineering design record and therefore is associated with configuration and change management.

Does this sound expensive? It does not have to be although material content reporting requires integration into the product life cycle from start to legacy.  Products that are already in production can also be documented.

The Approach

Material reporting starts at the top level of a Bill of Materials. As an example an embedded product is typically made up of a, Printed Circuit Board, solder, resistors, connectors, labels, enclosure and many other individual top level components.

Each of the Components will be broken down to its sub components. As an example a connector could have a shroud, a terminal, a gasket etc.

The individual component of the connector is next broken down by its sub components. As an example the terminal used in a connector is made up of a copper alloy and a plating material.

Once you have drilled down to the lowest level of the component the base materials are detailed. As an example the copper alloy could be composed of cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nickel, phosphorus, tin, zinc, and misc. not to declare. (Note: There is a percentage that cannot be exceeded of miscellaneous material not to declare proprietary materials and those materials must not be on the prohibited list.) Additionally each material would have to be broken down by its weight and percentage of the copper alloy of a terminal. A tolerance would also have to be provided for each material.

A company can request the data from the supplier’s compliancy manager from a webpage, call the supplier directly, or look up a contact in the IMDS data base.

Suppliers and OEM may make the data available to the public domain or in response to request.

Material Content data may be entered into the IMDS Data base directly by a supplier or in manually from the following: an IPC 1752 format, Joint Industry Standard format (JEDEC), simple spread sheet, suppliers lab report, or on a suppliers print.

Report Examples

Conflict Minerals

“The term “conflict minerals” is used to describe certain minerals such as gold, wolframite, casserite, columbite-tantalite and their derivative metals, which include tin, tungsten, and tantalum that are mined in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) or its adjoining countries.[4]

Some material restrictions originate from other than contamination of the environment sources, as in the case of the above material list.  In this instance, the aim is political as the mining practices are a source of financial gain for militias responsible for considerable violence in the region.  Cut the funding; reduce the ability to fund the violence.  For the United States these controls are part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection-Act passed in 2010.


“The intent of GADSL is to become the company specific list for declaration of parts composition within the automotive industry. It provides a definitive list of substances requiring declaration with the target to minimize individual requirements and ensure cost-effective management of declaration practice along the complex supply chain. The scope is to cover declarable substances in the flow of information relevant to parts and materials supplied throughout the automotive value chain, from production to the end of life phase. The GADSL only covers substances that are expected to be present in a material or part that remains in the vehicle or part at point of sale[5].”

The Global Automotive Declarable Substance List (GADSL) is the result of automotive industry and petrochemical industry collaboration. The goal is to understand the materials used in the industry that are part of the sold vehicle to the customer.  The intent is to easily exchange information within the supply chain about the materials used.[6]

An MDS can be made public for search on the IMDS data base, the information can be posted on a web page, or it can be maintained solely between the supplier and customer.

Proprietary Information

Proprietary information is always a concern so we add one cautionary word of advice. Use the mechanisms for handling proprietary information.  Before publishing an MDS publicly in the system or to a customer make sure IP has been considered in the presentation.  It’s the material content and traceability that is important.  A manufacture of electronic modules does not need to disclose the actual BOM in the MDS.  It is not necessary to curtail the use of the tool due to any proprietary part concerns.

As noted above an MDS can be made public for search on the IMDS data base, the information can be posted on a web page, or it can be maintained in confidence between a supplier and a customer.   This is again important to remember when setting up a system for material content reporting since the customer may not want IMDS information public.  When, how, and to who needs to be controlled depending on the nuance of commercial relationships.


The International Material Data System (IMDS)

  • IMDS is free.
  • Data for a product can be assembled from suppliers directly loaded MDS. It can also be manually loaded from the other formats that suppliers may choose to share data.
  • Detail data base tools for analysis.
  • Data base references many of the global rules and regulations.

Reports can be generated and transferred to other report formats.  IMDS MDS are expected to be correct and maintained. There can be serious legal and finical repercussions if a company is found not to be in material compliance by a government or regulatory.

IMDS may help with identifying materials defined in US Conflict Minerals Law.

References and Additional Resources


Conflict and Team Growth

Posted on: February 26th, 2014 by admin No Comments

Sources of Conflict

There are challenges aplenty awaiting project managers when it comes to gathering a collection of individuals assigned to eventually become a team and produce the organization’s objective as defined by the project.  The business mantra of doing more with less – often less time and certainly less resources (and available talent) do not help this situation. The latter, the availability and focus of talent are a significant reason for the success of agile methodologies – in my humble opinion. I have seen the difference in project execution when you have a dedicated set of talent and resources against organizations objectives.  To bring the team to this level of efficacy we will need to shepherd them toward a group that acts more like a team rather than a collection of individuals. In this regard a project manager will act like a coach.  However, there will be no guarantee of success regarding the conversion of individuals to a team.  The transition from individuals to self-directed (or with project management direction) work team to obtain the best from the talent is our ultimate objective. In that way we have “buy-in” to the project and deliveries from the team.

Available Talent and Growth

Another area of concern, based upon experience, is the availability of talent and skills.  My experience suggests we tend to employ the same set of people, our top talent as it were, in our most complicated projects.  From a risk point of view, our project looks to reduce the risks due to this uncertainty. However this comes at a cost in the development of our entire team to the higher level of performance.  Consider the test group that keeps the same main player engaged but does not provide the same opportunity for growth (and yes failure is a form of growth).  We do not improve our entire test department capability but when the key player leaves then we are scrambling to develop other talent to meet our project demands.


Whether the groups are co-located or disperse, ultimately your end desire is to have them perform as a team.  There is considerable more difficulty (based upon experience) to making that happen in a team that is disperse – but it is no impossible. We can consider co-location temporarily. We can set up discussions at regular intervals and in such a way that all are required to contribute.  This can be facilitated via our communications plans. Keeping meetings down to a minimum but making those you do have produce results is important. Online collaboration is much better than it has been in the past.  There are numerous tools.   For example, I have co-authored more than 7 books and scores of magazine articles and never have I been in the same state as the co-author.  Distance is not that big of a risk – it is more the mindset that is important.

Some key characteristics of a team are[1]:

  1. Strong team identity: having a team name and the rest of the organization knows of the team
  2. Uniqueness: feeling like “we are extraordinary”
  3. Commitment: feeling ownership in the project – that is buy in
  4. Competency: acknowledging team competencies and
  5. Fun: creating a fun-loving environment

Ultimately it is the project manager that must keep the team from suffering the impact of destructive conflict. Conflict itself is not a bad thing.  Conflict can move us from no solution to an improved state – a better solution – a better product and better performance.  Conflict can help us avoid some risks also. However, that conflict must be harnessed. Often the conflict is left to fester, constructive use eludes us and we erode our team’s ability to perform and in fact any chance our collection of individuals will become a team.


[1] Kim H Pries and Jon M Quigley, (2009). Project Management of Complex and Embedded Systems. 1st ed. New York: CRC Press. Page 29

Risk and Probability

Posted on: February 21st, 2014 by admin No Comments

A discussion of risk would not be completed without a discussion of probability and severity.  When we are looking at risky event, we are in essence establishing or assessing the probability of some undesired event coming to fruition.  However, even our desired events, for example the completion of a task on the critical path at a certain time, have an associated probability.  Contingent upon our estimating methods that risk probability can be quite high.  If we have used some historical data specific to that task then perhaps we already know the possible range of distribution for that specific task.  If our duration estimates fall within that range, we can perform some evaluation on the probability of successfully achieving that date.  What about when we generate a date from expert opinion? What about when we need the task to take a certain length due to the end delivery date of the project?  In those cases, the later especially so, we may just injected some additional measure of risk into the project.

Risk Probability

Those three methods of estimating, perhaps, do not have the same risk probability, the specific risk being the late delivery of the task to the schedule.  Historical data is measured and provides us with some risk mitigation. We know it can happen the way it has happened in the past.  The expert opinion is probably not as sure as a measured set over time. We rely upon the expert’s knowledge and past experience, we trust they are not jaded or wear overly rose colored glasses.  The last version, we make the duration up due to our stakeholder’s desired project introduction date, the level of risk is much higher.

There is risk associated with how we arrive at the decision.

There is risk associated with how we arrive at the decision.


Risk Compounding

Often not considered are the compounding implications of risks.  Consider the flip of a coin; you can pick heads or tails. The probability of picking the correct outcome from the flip would be one-in-two or 50%.  Let us extend that further by considering we must predict two flips of the coin.  The possibility of correctly selecting the orientation of the flips is now down to one-in-four or 25%.  This translates to project management as well. If we have two depending objectives or activities we can assess the probability of each coming to realization.  Knowing or theorizing that probability, we are then able to calculate the probability of the two cascading events producing something we deem acceptable.  For example, consider two depending tasks, upon completion of task A, we will start and complete task B.  We have considered the successful completion of these tasks to be 90% probable.  The probability of these two tasks ending in the desired state is 81% or the product of the two independent probabilities.  Just these two actions brought our near A grade down to a C.

Risk Abounds

Risk applies to all of the tasks we take on in a project, to include our schedule. Sufficient number of those line items in your schedule with less than 100% predictability means the end schedule can be seriously compromised. The truth is, predicting the schedule as many executives and project managers believe possible – is not really possible.  We are not talking about routine activities as “operations” can become, but project activities.  There will always be risks and the risks and these will always compound.  Things are considerably less certain than we believe or plan.  This is just one of the topics covered in our up coming PMI event on risk management.

Root Cause and Quality and Process Improvement

Posted on: February 20th, 2014 by admin 1 Comment

Survival of the fittest is not just a biological concern.  Our business must constantly adapt to external stimuli and find better, quicker ways of performing our work.  One way to accomplish this growth is through actions sometimes referred to as project post mortem, or an after action report.  We have a plethora of tools of which we can avail to understand what happened, and why.  We will briefly discuss a couple of those techniques below.

  • 8 Discipline Problem Solving
  • A3 Problem Solving

Like many things, the origins for this form of problem solving can be found in the United States Department of Defense standards, specifically, “MIL-STD 1520 Corrective Action and Disposition System for Nonconforming Material”.  The purpose of the standard is to:

  • Reduce waste
  • Eliminate recurring problems
  • Improve efficiency (manufacturing but there are other areas as well)
  • Promote a culture of quality and productivity improvements

The 8 Discipline

All of the Root Cause and Process Improvement activities have a theme, associated with the Shewart Cycle (Plan, Do, Check Act), so named for the American physicist and engineer sometimes known as the father of statistical quality control. The 8 Discipline format is one used by quality engineers in the automotive industry for years.  Below find the specific headings for the 8D or 8 Discipline document. The example below is provided from the LinkedIn Group TRIZ and Innovation from Michael Carter.

Process and Quality Improvement via Diligence

Example of 8 Discipline form


The A3

The A3 method of problem solving associated with Toyota.  The name A3 comes from the corresponding European paper size (roughly 11.7 x 16.5 inches).  The paper size makes the difference.  If you wish to perform like Toyota, you should copy how they perform their work precisely.  By the way, that was a joke.  You can see a common theme in the 8D and the A3 processes.

Quality improves as we understand what went wrong in the process.

Quality improves as we understand what went wrong in the process.

However, good tools do not drive our organization improvement and ultimately we need the engagement of our talent.  Sometimes this exploration into what went wrong can produce additional harm.  Consider this comment from a person as our organization attempts to find the source of the problem and ultimately the improvement actions.

“I don’t have time for a “witch” hunt.   If we had sufficient and competent workers completing the details from the beginning; and continuous progress throughout, you wouldn’t need a meeting to discuss PROCESS. The process is a guideline – I bet nobody follows it!!!”

Wow – huh!  Seems like this person has been into the root cause breach one too many times.  Seriously, these evaluations can lead to some defensive behaviors as we see in the sanitized excerpt above. The root of such responses may be in previous excursions down the root cause road which were “witch hunts” and not the exposition of why we see the malady.  The problem is the work must happen to improve our work results and disseminate the learning associated with the root cause analysis work.  The documentation helps, but the learning accomplished by the exploration helps drive the point.  It is the difference between reading a recipe and backing a cake.  You gain some understanding by reading but you learn the nuances by exploring and doing.

To improve efficiency and quality it is incumbent upon us to constantly review the way we work. When we see the symptom, a performance we do not want, it is prudent to investigate and take some actions to redress.  This is part of our organization improvements.

The Benefits of Check Lists

Posted on: February 19th, 2014 by admin No Comments

Check lists are a time honored way of keeping track of breaking down an objective and monitoring progress.  There are a number of benefits to using check lists.  Check lists should not be confused with a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).  A WBS is a form of a check list of all of the tasks required to produce the product or project objective. Ultimately a check list is an ordered list evoking us to take action to achieve some goal or objective.  Check lists can be used as gate review criterion for stage gate forms of project management. We then are able to prepare for the review meeting with some confidence in the objectives for that phase being achieved (or not) but we know.

Check Lists and Recycling

Recycling check lists are helpful in streamlining subsequent iterations. Instead of generating an entirely new check list, we use one we have already produced saving time.  This is especially helpful when there is a consistency of steps in achieving the project ends.

There is a downside of recycling our check lists.  Consider the situation where we have forgotten key tasks in our checklist and we go to use that same check list in a subsequent, similar project.  Unless we have presence of mind to update we will likely miss the same things we missed in the previous checklist.  If we are the only owner of the check list, it is possible for us to manage the list on our own – noticing that we missed something. However, when a check list is used by many people in the organization, the lessons learned from prior projects may not be introduced in a way that updates all uses of the checklist.  Additionally, checklists can be relatively singular of purpose – in other words, one check list is used in one project incarnation but change the project and we change the tasks to achieve the project objective.  That can require updating of the check list to reflect the new objectives and differences.

Check List Limitations

Limits of checklists come when we treat the list as the definitive assessment even though we are missing many details about each list item.  We end up boiling our entire process down to a checkbox mentality.  Consider our WBS. Not only do we have the list itself, but to ensure we meet the objective of the specific listed item we have a WBS Dictionary to provide an objective definition of success.

The value of the check list, perhaps, is proportional to the knowledge of the owner on the topic and the details (what constitutes success) of each item in the list.  The inability to objectively assess whether the check list aspect has been met will reduce the veracity of the check list.  Once we start adding details of what embodies success, we start to move away from a check list and toward something more akin to a specification or detailed document.

Communications Plans

Posted on: February 18th, 2014 by admin No Comments

What are we trying to accomplish with a communications plan?  Effective project management is the efficient achieving of an organization’s objectives.  To do that, we have to keep our project team informed and working toward the target.  That includes our project sponsor and other stakeholders.  Ultimately our plan should be able to quickly answer the questions:

  1. Who needs information? Who is responsible for delivery of specific information?
  2. What information including format?
  3. When are updates required?
  4. Where will relevant information be stored?
  5. Why is the information required?
  6. How will the information be communicated (formal, informal, document, meetings)

As part of the scope of the project, we must understand what is important about the project to each of these stakeholders.  This is the “who” for the communications plan.  We then must find metrics or measurements that portend the success of those stakeholder objectives.  These metrics will be the “what” we will communicate to the team and will be part of the plan.

Our communications plan will also identify the frequency and level of formality of communications intra-team and extra-team as well as the method or mechanisms of that communications. We may have formal monthly project meetings with the key stakeholders. We may choose report via power point or word document via email, or perhaps we have cloud space or shared drive for the information.  If there are exceptions for information handling (security) we will also define those

Often missing in the communications plan (from experience) is the escalation process for the project.  Project populated by people invariably will come to some disagreements. The disagreements may be from within the project team or as a function of organizational structures (matrix organization).  The source does not matter.  Quick resolution of impasses are required, rather than paroxysm of panic to keep the project moving and on schedule. That is not to say we should escalate immediately. Conflict can help us arrive at better decisions and ultimately a better direction. However, unresolved conflict and languishing decisions puts the project at risk of achieving the delivery and cost objectives as we stand around arguing our positions and burn through our slack.  To resolve these loggerheads, we create an escalation section of the communications plan.  We will define how we want to move the conflict up to the level of management where resolution is possible.

As with all project plans, we must have the ability to alter as we learn more through the work of the project. Things change, and we must account for those changes in a way to ensure the rest of the team understands and is working toward those change objectives or within those change parameters.  As such, our communications plan falls to our change management and configuration management controls.

The Project Manager, Line Management and Risk

Posted on: February 17th, 2014 by admin No Comments

We have a running discussion with some project managers and line managers on the topic of responsibility.  The organization structure is matrix (weak) with seeming aspirations to strong matrix.  The project managers attempting to drive the project are frequently confronted with the line management saying – “it is our responsibility”, or “trust us to deliver”.

So how does a project manager keep the project running according to “plan” if they are not privy to that “plan” or are monitoring key metrics that enable some sort of objective prediction? The answer- they will not be able to.  Matrix organization has come with some difficulties often discussed in terms of the individual project participant (or as some say combatant).  We see numerous articles of the impact of leadership split responsibility on the project team, as the line manager says one thing, and the project manager says another. The turmoil sadly does not really end with the project team members but also extends to the project manager and the line managers.  Differences in direction or risk assessments between the line manager and the project manager can cause great turmoil in the project and stress on the both of these organizations.  Leaving these discrepancies unresolved and visible may aggravate the project team.  Resolving these differences with a collaborative mind is important to maintaining momentum in the project and with the project team.


Consider this story about a global company.  We have a project manager in charge of a team to deliver a new product for the local market.  The project manager and team determine the initial concept for the design and delivery of the product.  After a period, the line management responsible for the delivery decides to move the product to a globally oriented product as part of the functional organization material and interoperability objectives. This move includes impacts to the manufacturing of the product. The new proposal, beside from significant alterations to the fit, include the fact that the selected supplier does not have manufacturing capability on the local content – which is a requirement from the company. Now, this project has just acquired the scope and risks associated with creating a new manufacturing facility on the local continent.  These decisions (changes) are non-trivial and are not solely the purview of the line management.  The changes proposed in this case, have implications on risk, project scope, probability of success and estimated delivery date, a date that the rest of the organization including executives have accepted.

Spending a little more time identifying the key objectives of the project and objectives of the line organization could have prevented this mix up.  This important target or goal of the functional or line organization should have been part of the exposition of the original project objectives.

We can find the compromises by identifying important project objectives, attributes, and metrics that ensure we met those attributes and objectives.  The team can objectively assess the ideas against this prioritized attributes. The risks associated with these ideas likewise assessed collectively helping to identify the action we should take.  Open discourse and resolution of misgivings are the approaches required to maintain team hygiene, find resolution and make progress.  Coercion or forcing the perspective of either the line management or the project management does not maintain the team morale.  Coercion couched in cooperation and compromise is still coercion. Neither should we hide the facts to get our way.  If the line function has a way to achieve the project objectives, it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate the approach and have it stand up to critique.  We can then identify metrics that will confirm or refute the hypothesis. We will discuss some of these examples in our event next month.

Estimating Duration, Slack and Risk

Posted on: February 16th, 2014 by admin 2 Comments

My work experience informs me that the loss of slack is a big risk to projects. Without this wiggle room, we reduce our probability of success. Projects scheduled out to the last available date just do not work. The reality is these are not manufacturing or routine tasks and jobs. Even the rather routine tasks within the project have variation. One of the tools sometimes used for estimating duration of task is the PERT analysis. This technique attempts to force a normal distribution for three estimates for a task. We will use the Pessimistic, Optimistic, and Most Likely estimates to understand something about the range of distribution. Check out that technique. A better technique still can be Wide Band Delphi or the much more succinct Agile variant Planning Poker and proportional estimating.

Crashing, throwing resources at the project seldom result in the desired results. Our costs will go up, and the quality and deliveries still compromised. Hiring on new people or moving people to the project takes time and those already in the project must take time to get the new comers up to speed.

Imposed dates are interesting. There are times when time or duration is hand down from on high for valid reasons. However, just because someone says the need is at that date, does not mean it is possible to achieve that date. Consider this analogy. I walk into work and tell everybody that I want to take a day trip to Mars. I want the trip to take 2 hours to get there and 2 hours back. I will walk around on the surface for 4 hours and be back in time for dinner. There, I have asked for it. How likely will it be there tomorrow when I go into work? It is not likely, not probably, not possible. Here is where communication and expectation management enters the picture. It is important for the project manager to articulate what is at risk, what may be possible, and what is not likely. Mincing words or couching our meaning not wishing to deliver “bad” news is not helpful. In fact, anything we do that delays the conversation has two problems. First, we are losing time on finding a real solution. Secondly, we set the project sponsor expectations that the goal or objective is achievable. I have seen many project managers’ say things similar to “we will do our best” when the entire team knows there was no possibility of success as defined by the variables at hand.

3D Printers in Aerospace

Posted on: February 15th, 2014 by admin No Comments

By Kim Robertson and  Jon M Quigley

When you think of product design and development what comes first to mind? Is it an understanding of our business objectives (scope) followed by functional decomposition of requirements and allocating them to various systems and subsystems to achieve that objective? Is it design to manufacture with designers, facility and work center collaboration to assure cost savings through coordinated and producible designs? Or is it early and iterative design validation prior to manufacture? However you view it additive technologies can play a major role in not only better designs but less expensive manufacturing that is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance.

“I believe we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough in design for manufacturing in being able to take something from the concept of something from your mind and translate that into a 3D object and really intuitively on the computer and then take that virtual 3D object and to be able to make it real just by printing it. It’s going to revolutionize design for manufacturing in the 21st century.” Elon Musk.

The idea of being able to rapidly generate a prototype to validate solution through a construct of the proposed functionality, interfaces and best case design solutions was unheard of a decade ago. It is becoming the norm along with modified preliminary test to destruct (Highly Accelerated Life Testing or HALT) evaluations with a shortened test parameters based on wear parameters for differences on material properties (e.g. making a prototype of one material to validate testing parameters for another before final production and test. Additionally high quality prototyped in recyclable wax deposited in half thousandths layers using printers like the Solidscape’s R66 Plus can be made for visual evaluation and improvement prior to casting of a final product in titanium.

Once reserved to the fringes of Aerospace in small development labs the results of 3D prototyping are translating into the printing of 3D parts in aerospace applications. December 2013 saw the introduction of 3D printed components created on a BAE Tornado fighter, GE Aviation’s LEAP engine will use 3D parts, and NASA announced the successful development of a 3D printed rocket engine component. Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, and GNK aerospace are also investing in additive manufacturing of finished products.


Parts courtesy of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Photo by Kim Robertson

Parts courtesy of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Photo by Kim Robertson


Several obvious advantages of the 3D capability soon become obvious. With additive processes costly materials like Titanium are utilized in only the quantities required (adjusted for finish). In a production environment prototyping of designs that would not be possible, consume many hours or would be cost prohibitive using standard manufacturing methodologies can be explored. In the field product improvements can be scanned, prototyped and more rigorously tested prior to being incorporated into the product line.  One of the problems with earlier prototypes is their ability to stand up to the sort of tests that the final product would experience. For example, nobody would place a stereo lithography part on a vehicle and expect it to survive vehicle durability and reliability testing.  Those concerns are reduced through 3D printing.

The greatest challenge is for designers in aerospace to rethink what is possible outside of traditional manufacturing methods and available tools. In many cases the need for complex fixtures and tooling to aid complex assembly and welding operations are eliminated reducing costs and design time. Let’s put this into perspective. Rapid prototyping in 2012 was estimated as a $2.2B industry. On 10/14/2013 Chris Fox of stated a business insider quoted Goldman Sachs as saying 3D printing is “one of eight technologies that are going to creatively destroy how we do business.”

Let’s see how in a single scenario of 3D capabilities play out in a few aerospace related activities. Assume that you have just received a contract to produce replacement parts for a product with faulty or non-existent design data packets. The customer can provide a copy of each part from inventory but due to concern about material fatigue wishes your company to re-evaluate the part and beef up the design to eliminate the problem. Under normal PD&D operations critical parts data is obtained in your dimensional lab and provided to the designer. Once the design is captured improvements can be explored that mitigate the customer’s concern and production and test can start.

3D scanners now exist that allow you to generate a refined cloud model of the part for export to your cad system or directly to a 3D printer. The various aspects of the model can be manipulated to increase thicknesses in higher stress portions of the design and a rapid prototype can be printed to assure critical interfaces have been maintained and the part does not interfere with other components in the airframe.  Once the design is validated distributed manufacturing in the form of mobile 3D printing and finishing operations are co-located with the customer’s logistics operations allowing print on demand to meet critical inventory needs while other part replacements come on line. Once inventory has been established and retrofit operations completed the 3D model is archived and a print on demand relationship is established with the company.

If this sounds far-fetched let’s turn to another industry requiring precision 3D additive capabilities. Align Technologies was founded in 1997 and received FDA clearance in 1998 and introduced their Invisiline orthodontic process in 2000. Alignment trays are printed using an additive process. In addition Align Technologies acquired Cadent Holding, Inc. and their iTero and iOC intra-oral open architecture scanning systems allowing compatibility with laboratory based CAD/CAM milling systems as well as over 1,200 dental labs. Their more than 1.5 Million patient base was built on the existing 3D capabilities of the time.

The printing of a 285 µm model of a racecar and a 75 µm model of the St. Stephen’s cathedral using two photon technology by the Vienna University of Technology Austria in March 2012 show what may soon be possible. Printers with half-thousandth resolution in wax and 0.004 resolution in other materials are commercially available now. Yet such capabilities are in their infancy. The technology was unknown until 1984 and not readily available until the 2000’s. What remains is not so much a decision of if such technology holds promise as one of how your product design and development teams can best benefit from it. In an integrated design, test evaluation, and refinement environment multiple defined builds of moderate size and constant critique are now possible allowing for readily available reviews of the product. In addition, risks are reduced by developing superset releases wherein each subset remains relatively untouched. Most defects reside in the new portion (the previously developed part of the product is now a subset and proven defect-free).  Should the previous iteration contain unresolved defects, the opportunity exists between these iterations to correct these defects.  Frequent critical reviews utilized to guide design and to find faults along with frequent testing facilitates quality growth and reliability growth and data from which we can assess the product readiness level before final release to production.  All of which is expedited through our 3D printer capabilities.

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