Industry 4.0 asked us to imagine a world where a schematic revision could immediately adjust production at your suppliers’ facilities — or at least one where drawings weren’t hidden somewhere in a squeaky file cabinet.
Years later, this promise feels unfulfilled for many manufacturers when it comes to version control. Especially in terms of small parts like custom cables, manufacturers change designs and hope for the best. Some don’t trust that their design changes have been applied properly until they see the next batch of cables firsthand.
When you send your supplier a revised drawing and ask that they start producing V 1.3 instead of V 1.2, there’s no magic wand that applies every necessary change to that supplier’s processes immediately. And in the case of most version control processes, human error complicates matters at every step.
Since we guarantee 100% functional cables to our customers, lackluster version control was never an option. Over time, we’ve built a system that manufacturers trust to protect the integrity of their products and the efficiency of their supply chain. This article tells the story of that system’s development and how it functions today.
Firstly, what happens if your product is already on the manufacturing floor’s order sheet? The person receiving your revision will need to stop assemblers from producing your cable.
Then, what cascading changes need to be accounted for? Revising a design takes a lot more than swapping out drawings and giving a thumbs-up to assemblers.
For instance, if wire length changes, then the cut list will need updating. Sometimes a revision alters the bill of materials (BOM). Then some changes to the BOM necessitate changes to tooling or assembly instructions. In other cases, testing procedures need to change.
Finally, are there processes in place to verify the changes that have been made? If the part makes it to your production line, and the fault is discovered during the assembly of your product, there’s an additional time cost, with a production line focused on troubleshooting bad parts.
And some changes aren’t visible at all — they only affect cable performance. If you redesigned the cable to provide a more trustworthy signal but receive the old version, you could send bad product to your customers or struggle with high scrap rates.
No matter when the error is identified, it creates project management headaches. Your supplier shouldn’t be shipping you headaches.
Plus, it’s likely that your supply chain is already struggling to keep up with your production speed. If a clunky revision process adds delays from your supplier, it will put you under even more pressure.
So version control needs to provide accuracy and trustworthiness. But it also can’t take weeks — your production line shouldn’t sit empty while your supplier ambles around double- and triple-checking documents by hand or verifying design changes in meetings.
Fifteen or so years ago, version control at Multi-Tek was an inconvenient, worrisome work in progress. We leaned on diligent folks across multiple teams passing messages, exchanging documents on the shop floor, maybe even pointing fingers on rare occasion.
Today, our system removes the largest error risks associated with cable assembly version control and makes the process simple for our team. Simple enough that it hardly intrudes on production at all.
Its success draws from two characteristics: It is network-based and proprietary.
For us, better version control always meant less file cabinets, copy machines and hurried conversations on the shop floor. These manual processes are tedious, but, more crucially, they allow for mistakes.
But building a network-based system to combat this requires a lot of investment. We outfitted every assembly station on Multi-Tek’s manufacturing floor with a digital interface, for the operator to view relevant cable design info or detailed assembly instructions.
An interconnected system like this takes more than hardware, though. We also needed software — a program to run this system in accordance with our process.
We determined quickly that the software on the market was not going to work for us. We wanted something that we could own, bolster and edit as we pleased. Something that fit our process like well-worn jeans.
To do this, we needed to appoint a systems manager. Rather than hiring an outside developer with no understanding of our manufacturing process, we chose to promote someone from within… Enter Cody Verdoorn.
Cody started at Multi-Tek as an assembler and learned every aspect of our business. That put him in a perfect position to lead this project, so we helped him train in software development and gave him the keys to the plane. We named the plane “CableTracker,” and we’ve leaned on it for version control and supply chain management ever since.
And building this plane while we flew it was the point. Any time an assembler, engineer or production supervisor sensed a need from the program, they could ask Cody for it. We still make updates to the program frequently, as we respond to different types of production requests and encounter new problems.
The system is built on checklists used before quoting, first article building or volume production.
When you send design revisions to Multi-Tek, an engineer “unlocks” the cable’s checklists in our system, so that he can make necessary changes to the design. Once these are “unlocked,” the cable is no longer “verified” and removed from production lists.
Once appropriate changes are made to the design, the engineer “locks” the relevant documents. The design can’t change any further — and it becomes eligible for a first article build. Once a first article is approved, our quality control manager changes the checklist status from “locked” to “verified,” meaning the cable (with updated and approved design) is once again eligible for production.
On a static design, all elements of these checklists remain “verified,” meaning the design is approved and production-ready. Nobody can accidentally edit the design while it is “verified.”
And the system responds to new inputs exactly how we need it to.
If we change a terminal on the BOM, and the system recognizes a familiar part, then it will assign the appropriate tool. If the part is new to the system, the engineer will be prompted to assign a tool before locking the BOM. This allows us to identify circumstances where we need new tooling as quickly as possible.
Similar checks happen everywhere in the program. They make version control seamless and trustworthy.
If you have products that undergo multiple revisions in a year (or even monthly), and you can’t trust your cable supplier’s version control processes, you’re leaving yourself open to risk.
Look for a supplier that is built to work with you now — not only when your design is settled. Multi-Tek’s commitment to robust version control has helped companies breeze through product development and scale effectively.
To talk to an expert about your application or our capabilities, just reach out. We love to talk shop and specs.
We’ll provide you with a fast quote (standard time is three days, can be as quick as same-day) and recommend manufacturability improvements.
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