Value engineering - The right material, in the right place, at the right time

By: 
January 22, 1997

Seeking to gain a competitive advantage, OEMs increasingly turn to value engineering to achieve greater productivity and improved cost efficiency, says Jeff Montanye.

Design News: Can value engineering be applied to any industry using plastics parts?

Montanye: Yes, any OEM can benefit from value engineering for materials selection and design. And, because value engineering contributes to significant cost-savings, it can be especially beneficial to manufacturers facing growing global competition, or rebounding from soft market conditions.

Q: What is the goal of value engineering?

A: The goal is to select a material that supplies only the properties required by the application, while making design changes that are virtually invisible to the end user and have no negative impact on part performance. Some people might assume that value engineering is simply a matter of achieving cost control through material selection, but it is more than choosing a cheaper resin. In fact, the actual cost of the resin is only one factor to be considered when conducting a material analysis.

Q: Historically, wasn't value engineering considered by many to be synonymous with "down engineering?"

A: Such thinking led to the misconception that value engineering involved replacing the original material with a less expensive or inferior material. In practice, the new material would be adequate to "get by" in the application, but could potentially compromise product performance. This type of material substitution resulted in inferior end-use products and created the negative attitude toward value engineering that many still perceive today.

Q: How has this changed?

A: Now, value engineering is understood for the true value it brings to an application. It is recognized for emphasizing the use of the right material, at the right price for a given application. And, contrary to traditional thinking, achieving this balance of part performance and material cost can even be accomplished by using a more expensive plastic--as long as the resin helps increase production efficiency, thereby reducing cost.

Due to the competitive nature of some markets, OEMs hesitate to risk changing materials. However, due to recent advances in polymer performance, a look at new material options is merited. By taking a proactive approach to value engineering, manufacturers can now benefit from these material advances.

Q: What are the key benefits of value engineering?

A: Value engineering offers significant benefits to manufacturers in most industries, especially in cost control/reduction and design improvements. These benefits can be attained by determining how to create the best production value for the part. Often, the greatest value is found though material reselection, part re-design, or, better yet, a combination of these two ingredients.

Q: How can value engineering best be approached?

A: Consider using a "stair-step" approach when switching from one resin to another. In this way, the next resin, either up or down the scale of cost/performance, is considered first to better ensure customers' acceptance and satisfaction with the re-engineered product. More significant changes can be made, if needed, by moving into other resin families farther up or down the scale.

Q: What organizational changes are needed to make value engineering work?

A: More often than not, value engineering requires process changes rather than equipment changes. In addition, the skill and knowledge of personnel inside and outside the company should be utilized to investigate all the options. Materials suppliers can provide valuable assistance in the process, from resin selection and cost analysis to troubleshooting and material trials. With proper planning and attention, nearly any OEM can realize the full range of benefits provided by value engineering.

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