The Impact of Integration on Design, Development, Operations and Delivery

Looking inward to improve efficiencies at ‘home’ is a key foundational starting-point for achieving game-changing success in technology. But, just how challenging is it to make changes to deep-rooted systems and practices with an eye for the end game?

Forward-thinking tech companies like Molex must always be in the business of making things easier and better for their partners and customers throughout the supply chain. Continuous improvement is what sets them apart from their competition and gives them a critical edge. By conceiving ways to incorporate and integrate innovation across real-life factory scenarios, they effectively elevate the overall picture for everyone throughout the design and manufacturing chain. Having one’s own house in order, though, is arguably table stakes for driving success with partners and customers, and Molex’s forward-thinking pilot facility in Zhuhai, China serves as both a top-down and bottoms-up illustration of how cohesive integration throughout a design and manufacturing facility can bring tangible benefits to a company.

Put simply, systemic alignment of people, processes and systems forms the backbone of a company’s potential success. By implementing and promoting greater efficiency, from initial design concepts through to manufacturing and delivery across potentially challenging supply chains, an integrated strategy results in an enhancement of both the customer and employee experience. Integrating, or fusing, a company’s often long-established and sometimes disconnected practices require significant strategic investment, but the result is added value at every level, from the customer to the factory floor. Often, this requires a fundamental transformation of manufacturing, operations, and beyond. But such a rework is exactly the ‘pain’ that is needed to move forward in the long term; one step back to move two steps forward, as it were.

How? Automation plays a significant role; the strategic use of automation promises to eliminate mundane, manual methods and optimize the connectivity and efficiency of production systems based on digital transformation where performance data is the fundamental asset. This reduces two forms of waste. First, time and materials and second, allowing employees to focus more on value-added tasks.​​​​​​​ The creation of value – whether customer or employee or company stakeholder – is crucial.

Even though many industry players have been applying digital technologies in manufacturing for many years, with new software, industrial PCs, and embedded systems, such as System-on-Module (SOM), many are used in combination with inefficient manual methods.

Let’s take data integration as one compelling example. Typically, to successfully share data between systems, an employee is specifically tasked with exporting the data, optimizing it, and then re-importing it. Compared to its automated counterpart, this type of human intervention and oversight can introduce delays, latencies and errors. At Molex, our engineering team is working to disrupt that challenging hybrid model with true digital efficiency.

Through an integrated plan enabled by seamless integration of automation, testing and other key elements, the potential rewards are many. Faster time-to-market, reduced waste, and operational speed as well as cost efficiencies, greater accuracy, and efficient new product introduction (NPI) are a few of the most compelling outcomes.

The combination of transformative, integrated capabilities and dynamic leadership requires industry “trail blazers” who are confident they have the wherewithal to lead the market and create new value. Molex’s facility in Zhuhai, China, is a proving ground for just this philosophy, in preparation for a subsequent global roll-out across all global plants. Historically, Molex’s Zhuhai operation has benefited greatly from the home-grown Manufacturing Execution System (MES) experience and expertise brought by the acquisition of Oplink Communications in 2014, and this legacy forms a critical foundation for the company’s integrated solutions strategy.

Data as the fundamental driver of value

Much of our world is going through a digital transformation.  Data is being used to transform and improve our lifestyles and society at a rapid pace. Through an integrated approach, leading industry players are taking advanced steps to find greater value in the actions, insights and rapid execution that can be accomplished through data handled at tremendously high speeds.

For example, manufacturing-process data can be analyzed in very close to real time, in turn allowing for fast intervention when there are issues in the design-to-manufacturing-to-supply workflow. Further, immediate actions can be taken to address quality defects, rather than waiting to fix those defects manually after it’s too late.   

This capability cuts minutes, hours, and sometimes even days of reaction time while also reducing waste, and it transforms operations by introducing unprecedented operational efficiencies and ways of working for employees. And the best part? It’s measurable. Companies will be able to measure the value created by achieving cost savings when quality issues are identified much earlier in the design-innovation-manufacturing-time-to-market flow.

Indeed, by maximizing the value generated from the data produced by engineering and manufacturing processes, we can substantially improve our ways of working for the benefit of both employees and customers. Customers will see positive changes in engineering design innovation, delivery, and quality, while manufacturers will save time and resources and ensure employees are more fulfilled in their roles.  In Zhuhai, for example, data from cutting-edge planning and scheduling technology enables data-driven decisions to be made seamlessly. The value of data is evident where the facility leader can optimize operations and make decisions locally to benefit the end-customer while leveraging global standards, tools and common processes that create flexibility within the framework.

Quality as the operational driver

This is just one example. Let’s look at cost reductions related to quality issues. A foundational goal in manufacturing, the vision should be to move from ‘reactive’ (current state) to ‘predictive and prescriptive’ (future state) to drive cost savings. As Molex evolves to this vision, knowledge sharing sessions, exploring “virtual training” and aligning digital learning as critical tools in the strategic shift are driving positive outcomes through up-skilling, all while accommodating different learning styles.

Transformational efforts such as these allow Molex engineering and design centers and plants to achieve performance levels that may have been difficult to achieve in the past. These changes will ultimately speed time-to-market, drive faster and more predictable design requirements and delivery deadlines, and meet quality requirements overall. 

Zhuhai as a case in point

The move from concept to real-life implementation for systematic improvement of Manufacturing and Operations is well underway in Zhuhai. Viewed as the logical choice for this pilot, based on its size, complexity and integrated solutions expertise, Molex’s Zhuhai pilot operation will be deployed in different carefully planned waves. Currently, the company is preparing for a User Acceptance Test (UAT) event scheduled to begin this month. Upon successful completion of the UAT, the pilot will kick off in April with the staff fully trained before go-live.

The Zhuhai team, especially engineers and planners, are excited to work with a highly capable system that they conceived and built as a collective team. And they are rightfully proud of the foundation built here. Rather than derail the solutions integration philosophy during Covid-19, the local deployment teams have collaborated remotely with their global colleagues by utilizing a number of powerful tools to overcome the lack of face-to-face contact. Perseverance through adversity has been an additional lesson that somehow befits the overall cooperative philosophy that underpins this integrated solutions strategy.

Vice President of Engineering and Manufacturing Technology