In the Fall of 1987 Zebra Technologies successfully completed open field EMI testing of a new bar code printer slated for the world market. Engineers figured they would also nail the ESD (electrostatic dissipation) test, which is a requirement for most electronics equipment sold in the European Community (EC). But upon coming into contact with the ESD probe, the printer exploded. Tiny bits of plastic and metal rained down.
The trouble was with a part of the printer Zebra had licensed from another firm, a bar code verifier that presumably already met all EC standards. Unfortunately, the original designers failed to include an insulating window over the LCD display, a practice so fundamental that Zebra's engineers never even thought to question it.
Zebra's experience in designing for the global marketplace is not atypical. Some of the best war stories come from engineers who have had to cope with such things as keeping up with the ever-changing multitude of standards, communicating with partners halfway around the world, and as was the case with Zebra, last-minute surprises. But for every horror story out there, there are at least as many remarkable tales of success, as revealed in this special roundtable discussion headed up by Design News.
Design News: All of you work for companies that design products for a global market. Is this international focus now a given?
Emig/Robert Bosch: It certainly is at our company. All of our customers--who are automobile makers--operate all over the world. And when your customers are everywhere, you have to be, too.
Waldor/FMC: That's true. FMC itself is leaning more toward suppliers that have a global presence. It used to be we were dealing with ten different suppliers in one country. Now, many suppliers are expanding internationally and giving us the support we need. With our machines, harvesting equipment, it's critical that they operate around the clock, seven days a week. We need to have the local parts and support, otherwise we would have a big problem.
Jurkowski/Dukane: The customer base is so inviting, no one can afford to ignore it anymore. The U.S. is such a small piece. Just look at Asia, look at Europe, look at China.
Butzen/Zebra: We make bar code printers, and we're approaching all of our product designs with the global market in mind now. We just released a new printer that might be sold all over the world--to people who speak different languages and have widely varying skills sets. The challenge for us was to design a product that could meet all of these different requirements, because we didn't know in what specific markets it was ultimately going to end up.
DN: Where do you perform your engineering design work for products you plan to sell overseas?
Emig/Robert Bosch: More than 80% of our products are developed outside of the U.S. by design teams located all over the world. We have something like 17 or 18 different design locations.
Drivas/Abbott Labs: We design health care products for an international market and unlike Bosch, most of our research facilities are in the U.S., with the exception of one in England. So nearly all of the engineering and design work is done here. However, when we are developing a product for the international market we will go to that locale to get customer input. If the customer base is in Europe, we'll go to Europe. If the customer base is in South America, we'll go to South America.
Medina/3Com: We actually have to get involved with local markets at the design level because of the widely varying telephone networks. We make modems, and each country has different requirements. We have two permanent design teams located in England and one in France, and then we'll send teams out to other countries.
DN: How do you communicate with design teams overseas, and how frequently are you in contact with them?
Emig/Robert Bosch: It depends very much on what you want to achieve. For one-to-one communication, e-mail and voice mail are the most convenient way to operate. But when you have more than two people involved, video conferencing is the way to go. We have it almost as a standard practice for all products. And twice a year we gather all of the engineers together at a meeting so they can exchange information in person.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: We have two design centers--one in the U.S. and one in Germany. The entire engineering team communicates on a monthly basis using a video conference center, but we also regularly use the Internet, FAX, and overnight mail. I think e-mail is the best, although sometimes it can be a pain because you have to wait for a response. Sometimes, you have to wait pretty much a whole day to get an answer from someone. But it allows you to attach and send files, which is great.
Jurkowski/Dukane: Personally, I think you have to be careful with e-mail because you can't see the person and really don't know what he or she may be thinking. You have to choose your words carefully. But I think once it gets to be more reliable, it will be a really good way to transfer data.
DN: Are any of you transferring CAD files or other design information electronically?
Quinn/HK Systems: Our company, which designs material handling systems, gets involved in a lot of custom work for our customers. In many cases, they will send us a CAD drawing of the layout of their existing building for our design engineers to work with.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: Since we use the same design tools in Germany and in the U.S., we are able to share information between the companies, and the Internet has worked quite well for us. The problem we're facing now is that we're evolving to a new system, and we have to make sure that our German counterparts come along at the same rate as we do.
Butzen/Zebra: We're sending CAD files to vendors who make die cast parts for us. It's really streamlined the process for us because we'll send them the solid model and they will tell us right away if there is a problem with something like the location of a parting line. As we get more involved with solid models, we expect it is going to help us with detailed drawings, which are more of an afterthought for us now.
Jurkowski/Dukane: We do the same with our customers. Ford will send us a drawing of an interior door panel, and we'll lay out the machines to map the contours. We will send them the file back, and at that point they might say, "Well we were going to change that next week, so don't do anything just yet." That kind of thing. The ability to communicate electronically is critical today, especially with the larger, international companies. They are all pushing the industry that way.
DN: Just how important is defining the requirements for a product that is to be sold internationally?
Stover/Cummins Engine: I would speculate that the job of gathering the requirements is almost as big as the job of designing the product. Certainly it's a huge undertaking in our case. We make diesel engines that we sell all over the world, and in addition to emissions and noise requirements, there are many local differences. Indian fuel, for example, is different than Asian fuel, which is different than South African fuel. And gases and emissions are regulated in very different ways in different parts of the world. But dealing with standards is not a matter of choice on our part, it's a fixed requirement that we must comply with. So we deal with it.
Drivas/Abbott: I agree that you really have to do you homework upfront in getting input from a regulatory standpoint, but you also need to make sure that it meets your customer's requirements, too. I think one of the biggest pitfalls is to assume that if it works in the U.S., it's good enough for the rest of the world.
Quinn/HK Systems: And what is considered really valuable differs from country to country. In two countries as similar as the U.S. and England, the same product may be viewed very differently. You have to be sensitive to that.
DN: What types of problems have you encountered with international standards?
Stover/Cummins: It's just extremely tough to keep up with local requirements. There are some places, for example, in Europe where diesel engines have to operate more quietly at night. In heavily urbanized areas a lot of construction work is done at that time, so there is a premium on low noise. Requirements like that--which can change substantially and rather rapidly--put a lot of pressure on our product development community to stay on top of things.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: We make large milling machines for a global market and no two markets seem to have the same requirements. We've got machines going into Asia now with environmental requirements that range from -5 to 50C. We've never run into anything like that before, and it's a tremendous challenge keeping up with all of the different standards.
Vanderwiel/Weber: Developing products for a global market is somewhat of a new experience for our company, we haven't been doing it that long. Learning a whole new set of standards has been a real revelation. We've been oriented toward what was going on here domestically with UL, electrical codes, and so on. And now we have to be versed in a whole other language, if you will. We have to put on one hat one day and another hat the next.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: Even when we are in compliance with all the standards, it's not unusual to have the customer's safety people walk through and say "We want this changed and that changed." We spend a lot of time dealing with that issue, trying to anticipate what the safety people are going to come up with.
Quinn/HK: You get surprised. There are times when there is something we think is a real important safety issue, and our customers overseas could care less about it--it's totally irrelevant. Then at other times, they insist on some safety feature for a situation in which there is no recorded occurrence--ever--of an injury.
DN: So how do you manage to stay on top of all of these requirements?
Jurkowski/Dukane: I think the only thing you can do is attempt to keep track of what's going on, whether you do it via the Internet or partners or customers.
Vanderwiel/Weber: Our company decided not to try and do it ourselves. We thought we'd be better off going through a third party, who worked with us initially on CE compliance. They have been a great group to work with, and we are going to be using them on a continuous basis to review our products and make sure we don't get caught by any changes.
Butzen/Zebra: Even though we're a relatively small company, we do have a compliance engineer. Thank goodness, because I don't know what we would do without him. It's his job to stay up-to-date on the latest standards, and he is in constant communication with UL and other agencies. He stays in that loop, and that's his full-time job. Without him, we'd have a nightmare on our hands.
Medina/3Com: I'm a regulatory engineer and so it's my job to make sure that the products we make comply with all of the safety standards and electromagnetic compatibility issues. As far as the Europeans are concerned, the various countries are pretty unified as to what they require. But when you are going around the world to different areas, say to Asia or Latin America, it's difficult to find out what is required and what is significant.
Interpreting the standards, which are often presented in the form of recommendations, is probably one of the biggest hurdles we face. We ran into trouble recently in Asia, where they are using a lot of the same standards that the European community uses. But we could not just assume that since our product complied with the EC standards that we were okay, because the Asian market actually requires some additional testing.
Butzen/Zebra: Testing is one of the big challenges for us. In my experience, it's very difficult for the electrical engineers to know how the product will do in the EMI open field testing. Many times what will happen is we think we've got the design nailed, and the test engineers will come back with aluminum foil all over the prototype and they are saying, "Now what do we do?"
DN: Do you think these tougher standards are putting U.S. firms at a disadvantage?
Medina/3Com: Companies everywhere have to meet the same requirements, so I don't think there is any unfairness as far as meeting the requirements. A lot of U.S. companies just never prepared for it and on January 1, 1996, the deadline date for the EC requirements to go into effect, a lot of people were caught off guard.
Butzen/Zebra: I think Medina hit the nail on the head. If you have time to think and plan upfront, you can figure out ways to meet the requirements. We knew we were going to have problems with EMI on the last new product I was involved with, so we designed this big die casting closure with a die cast cover. The whole thing is a metal shell. In the past we probably would have used plastic.
DN: We're talking about some of the challenges in designing for a global market, but one problem I haven't heard mentioned yet is metric versus English units. Is this an issue?
Stover/Cummins: Our customers are actually demanding a metric product now. We haven't quite gotten to the point where we are talking about kilowatts rather than horsepower, but dimensionally at least, our products have been metric for 20 years. The areas where we have the most trouble, oddly, are points where we have to interface with other components in the system, particularly SAE to ISO interfaces. It's never quite as pure as we would like it to be.
Waldor/FMC: We've done both, and we've also had problems especially when we try to manufacture the same product both in Europe and the U.S. When you get into sheet steel and tubing it's expensive to buy metric sizes in the states so we buy English. What we do when a drawing done in Europe calls for metric is buy the closest size we can and hopefully the design is thought through enough so we don't get a significant tolerance buildup.
DN: Let's shift gears here and talk about what you look for in a supplier.
Stover/Cummins Engine: It's really pretty simple. We look for the characteristics of a good partner, which includes the technical capability, the production capability, and the capacity to do the work both technically from an engineering standpoint and from a production standpoint. We look for the willingness to share the engineering costs, and on our latest products we estimate that as much as 40% or even more of the engineering content of the product is contributed by suppliers as part of their concurrent engineering relationship with us.
Waldor/FMC: We're looking for suppliers that have the technical depth to contribute materially to the engineering on a new product.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: We work with suppliers who will sit down with us and talk about long term product development, who are willing to deal with the problems we run into on some of the special machines and develop special solutions. We look at where we're at and where we want to be in terms of a long term strategy. Then we look at their product development and determine whether there is a match and whether they can satisfy our needs in the future.
DN: How do you evaluate the technical capability of a supplier?
Butzen/Zebra: We recently developed a new platform series, and we went out and looked at suppliers. We evaluated teams of engineers and their quality people because we wanted to see what kind of parts they were making. It was also critical that these suppliers would utilize our CAD drawings, because we could see benefits on that end. In the end, you really have to go out and look.
Drivas/Abbott: We have a quality assurance group whose sole job is to evaluate potential suppliers. They look for quality systems, as well as the control of design and manufacturing information like drawing specs, order requirements, and engineering changes. They look for systems for incoming materials and systems that are used in manufacturing like process inspection and quality control records. I'm just briefly going over some of the things they do, but essentially they want to make sure the company is a keeper of good records.
DN: Do you require CE marking on all of your components?
Jurkowski/Dukane: Sometimes we have to because of the requirements of the CE regulation.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: We decided that we would incorporate all CE components whenever possible. Obviously, there are some things you can't buy that are CE compliant. But overall, this gives us a much better position
Drivas/Abbott: I think the bottom line is that we are requiring the same from our suppliers that we are being required to do.
DN: Do you require your vendors to be ISO 9000 certified?
Jurkowski/Dukane: IS0 9000 doesn't guarantee a quality product, but it goes a long way in saying that at least the company has got something on the ball. At least you know they have procedures that they are supposedly following. You can't use it as the only criteria, but I think you can use it as a good starting point. About 60% of the vendors we work with are ISO 9000 compliant.
Butzen/Zebra: We have some vendors we have partnered with for years and years who are very small and either haven't overcome the inertia obtained or the resources to become certified. The flip side to dealing with a small company, however, is that they may not have the support worldwide. So you're stuck if your machine goes down. In that respect, sometimes you can't always use products from a small company if you want to be a global manufacturer.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: I agree. We need the support around the world because we're putting our machines into virtually any country, so we need the infrastructure there in terms of spare parts, repair facilities, and so forth. The other thing we like is that larger companies have the staying power to meet our problems, and they can support us. The other driving factor is the customer itself. He may insist on certain equipment for his machine, and we are obligated to provide that. In other words, if we are putting a machine tool in Japan, the customer may require Japanese components.
Emig/Robert Bosch: Since we produce product in different locations, we look for suppliers who are active in all of those locations. So for us a local supplier is a major requirement.
DN: How important is product quality to you in selecting a supplier for a global design?
Jurkowski/Dukane: I don't think there's a person out there who would say that quality isn't important. We measure product quality in terms of defects and value. We don't always buy the most expensive product, we buy the product that best meets the requirement. We won't buy gold-plated connectors if silver-plated ones do the job.
Stover/Cummins Engine: From our standpoint, consistency is very, very important. We need to know that 100% of the time we are getting products that meet our specification. Our ultimate objective would be to ship cold engines rather than hot engines, essentially products that have been verified through quality systems and require only a few simple checks during the assembly process, rather than rigorous testing at the end.
Vanderwiel/Weber: Another aspect of quality is how fast a supplier can meet our delivery schedules. We work very closely with our vendors trying to prep them for what we are going to do. We tell them about our production runs, and make sure that we can either get releases of the product or the whole shipment on time so that we can meet our assembly schedules.
Stover/Cummins Engine: Delivery is very, very important to us, too. Most of our suppliers ship to the line, so when the order comes in it goes right to production. That's becoming a more common practice now. But that makes us very dependent, of course, on the whole logistics trail between the second and third tier suppliers and us.
DN: So in the end, where are we going with global design? Is the ultimate goal to have a single product that can be sold anywhere in the world?
Stover/Cummins: We have some special problems in that regard because at Cummins we deal with a product that is an emissions source. In the end, we try to commonize the product as much as we can between markets, but there are always some tweaks required to make a U.S. product acceptable in Europe and so forth. It is very difficult for us to create what we would call a global product because of the need to optimize it for local markets. The hardware tends to be the same, but the controls, calibration, and so forth must be different.
Vanderwiel/Weber Marking: With our latest product introduction, we decided against having what we would call a universal design--a product that we could market anywhere. We had to defer from that ideal for the moment in order to get the product to market as quickly as we could. So in some cases we have to deal with two sets of components, which divides our assembly process and creates all kinds of wonderful log jams.
Butzen/Zebra: We do have a universal design for our bar code printer, and although we've run into some minor issues with motors and things, we've had no real problems. But as these guys will tell you, it's not always easy. For our particular product, we've been able to pull it off, maybe in part because we try to do all our emissions testing as early as we can. Also, we are in an information technology category, where the standards are pretty straightforward.
Jurkowski/Dukane: Our latest ultrasonic welding machine was designed in the 1992-94 time frame, and we knew going into it that we were going to design it for the global marketplace. The advantage of knowing what you're doing upfront is that you can pick the components you need. You can get the testing done early and find out where you're going to have trouble before it's too late.
Medina/3Com: It's certainly easier to design a product from scratch for a global market than try to redesign an existing product. I worked at a lab testing a lot of products that companies were trying to redesign so they would be CE compliant. It was a nightmare for some of them, because they really could not change the design much and it wound up costing them a lot more than they had expected.
Osborn/Ingersoll Milling: Personally, I think that a single product for the entire world is the ideal, but it is probably not going to happen in my industry in my lifetime. Hopefully, someone, someday will come up with a universal standard that makes life easy again.
Company: Dukane Corp., St. Charles, IL
Product: Dukane Millennium DPC Ultrasonic Welding System
Description: Ultrasonic welder for thermoplastic and metal welding assembly
Location of Design Team: St. Charles, IL
International markets sold in: Europe, Near East, Far East, and Australia
International standards met: Europe CE, UL
Keys to success:
- Worldwide auto ranging universal voltage imput
- Constant amplitude control via line voltage regulation
- Power factor correction (green effect) reduction of power usage by 25-30%
- Multi-lingual process control menu
Company: Ingersoll Milling Machine, Rockford, IL.
Product: High Velocity(reg) Machine
Description: For-axis CNC machining module with 50 hp, 20,000 rpm, 10,000 rpm spindle. Feed rates 0-76 m/min.
Location of design team: Rockford, IL
Design Team Leader: Tom Lindem Sr., VP Technology
International markets sold in: Japan, India Germany, France and Mexico
International standards met: C.E. Certified, VDI-3423 for machine availability
Keys to Success:
- Successful application of hydrostatic/hydrodynamic spindle bearings
- Application of linear motor drives for X,Y,Z axes
- Achieving a rigid design on a strict weight budget through FEM and solid modeling design tools
- Elimination of high maintenance items such as ballscrews, gearboxes, and clutches
Company: Robert Bosch Corp., Automotive Group, Farmington Hills, MI
Product: ABS 5.3 (Antilock Braking System)
Description: ABS 5.3 is a 4-channel Antilock Braking Systems designed specifically for passenger cars. Bosch was the world's first supplier to use microhybrid technology for ABS technology with this product.
Location of Design Team: Germany, Japan, U.S.
Design team leader: Dr. K. Mueller, Department Manager
International markets sold in: Europe, NAFTA, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Korea
International standards met: Worldwide exchangeability of components and components have same dimensions externally and common interface
Keys to success:
- Early establishment of an international team to set and achieve design goals
- Same specs and test methods worldwide
Company: Zebra Technologies, Vernon Hills, IL
Product: Z Series(TM) Printer
Description: Bar code printer with an entirely modular configuration
Location of design team: Vernon Hills, IL
Design team leaders: Ken Ullenius, Mechanical Engineer-Project leader James Butzen, Mechanical Engineer-Lead mechanical engineer Kerri Thomas, Senior Product Manager-Team Leader
International Markets sold in: More than 75 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Latin America
International standards met: UL 1950, CE mark of compliance, CUL Multilingual documentation is available in 12 languages
Keys to success:
- An intuitive design whereby any user can operate the printer without extensive training
- A modular design
- Outstanding price/performance without sacrificing durability
The roundtable participants
Reiner Emig VP of Engineering Automotive Group Robert Bosch Corp.Automatic braking systems
Nick A. Drivas Project Leader Abbott Laboratories Medical diagnostics equipment
Jim Butzen Senior Mechanical Engineer Zebra Technologies Bar code printers
William Jurkowski Custom Engineering Manager Dukane Ultrasonics Ultrasonic welding, AV equipment, Materials handling
Gustavo Medina Regulatory Engineer 3Com Modems, Video cards
Dan J. Quinn VP-International Business HK Systems Material handling equipment/systems
Tom Stover Executive Director, Engineering Advanced Heavy Duty Engines Cummins Engine Co.Diesel engines
John Osborn Manager-Engineering, Heavy Machines Ingersoll Miiling Machine Machine tools
Steve Waldor Project Engineer FMC Corp. Agricultural equipment
Jim Vanderwiel Manager-Manufacturing Engineering Weber Marking Systems Label print/apply systems