A Strategy for Better Test Equipment Management

DN Staff

June 4, 2011

5 Min Read
A Strategy for Better Test Equipment Management

Design is often an iterative process of trying something,testing, modifying and testing again. In this environment, particularly forcompanies supplying the aerospace and defense industries, it's critical to havean asset management system that can quickly adapt to changing schedules andchanging technical demands.

But too often, the management of test equipment consists ofsoftware solutions imposed from above or ad hoc processes that vary bydepartment.

These approaches rarely stick. They're piecemeal solutions,addressing only symptoms and not the cultural causes at the root of theproblem. As a result, typical test equipment utilization rates run between 6and 20 percent. That's a lot of equipment sitting idle on shelves, in drawersand elsewhere. This low utilization effectively prevents management from beingable to invest in the newer and better technology that engineeringorganizations often need to get their jobs done.

It's clear that the realm of test equipment management is ripefor innovation and performance improvement. What's needed is a morecomprehensive approach involving not just processes and software, but also allthe people who will make test equipment management work right at your company.

By managing their test equipment assets in this more holisticfashion, numerous companies have increased utilization by a factor of four.Perhaps most importantly, they've also dramatically reduced the lead time forengineers seeking specific pieces of test equipment, and the equipment they gethas far greater capability than what they used to get.

Behind The Numbers

When you're dealing with $100 million or more worth oftest equipment, as is common in aerospace and defense product development, ithelps to have an accurate picture of how that equipment is being used, whereit's housed and whether it's enough to meet future demand.

But a deep dive into the data about your equipment is only thebeginning of an effective solution. The crux of the challenge, after all, isthe lack of faith engineers have in the management of the equipment. Thestockpiling that results is what exacerbates low utilization. This tactic,while it may appear to work in the short term, limits your company's capacityto afford more technologically capable equipment and ultimately thwartsinnovation and speed.

How do you change those habits and drive lasting, meaningfulchange? Both accountability and incentive, two concepts often missing from testequipment management initiatives, will be crucial.

To eliminate the hoarding of equipment and other behaviors thatprevent success, a holistic solution must identify, measure and encouragechange. You'll need a system that pinpoints where process breakdowns occur andfacilitates dialog to address the problems promptly and directly - thusinjecting trust into the new processes.

Meanwhile, effective test equipment management must alsoincorporate practices aimed at producing and maintaining strategic alignment -continually evaluating the satisfaction of all employees, creating communicationsthat spur action in support of the new approach, and finally institutionalizingthese improvements through ongoing measurement, analysis and adaptation.

Making The PersuasiveArgument

Don't underestimate the need for investing in the culture-focusedaspects discussed above. Otherwise, an incomplete solution inevitably will fadeaway, failing to provide the lasting changes need to do your job better.However, a more comprehensive approach requires the buy-in of people fromacross the organization to succeed.

That audience includes financial managers. Be sure to give themthe full picture of the costs at stake. Often, objectives focus myopically ontotal bottom-line dollars saved, overlooking the myriad costs that comprise thetotal and directly impact the engineer's ability to do his job.

Time is your scarcest resource as an engineer. If an assetmanagement solution costs an engineer time or distracts them in a way thatprevents a schedule from being met or an innovation from occurring, then thatsolution has done more harm than good.

The more complete the solution, the more quickly and fully it candeliver results in these areas that grab the attention of financial managers.

One major multinational aerospace company, for example, producedsavings of more than $10 million in the first year using its new test equipmentmanagement system. These savings were achieved through reductions in testequipment purchases and the labor associated with tracking maintaining andmanaging these assets.

Another element of that company's solution that made thetransition easier was a phased rollout. They launched and tested the solutionat one location, then implemented it throughout the company. People throughoutthe company aligned behind the changes because they'd already seen the resultsin action. Engineers soon embraced the program and became advocates becausethey could more easily and quickly get the test equipment they needed.

As the new system matures, having accountability and incentivestructures in place will be even more important to lasting success. So, too,will be ongoing communications with all the engineers who will make yourprogram work. Leaders of a test equipment management initiative mustcontinuously share a vision for the changes and the crucial role each personmust play in its success.

When you understand what drives financial performance on anincome statement, you can quickly come to the conclusion that you must doeverything you can to increase revenues. And in this domain, that means gettingnew products through development. Asset management has to keep costs low andleverage the infrastructure so that more people and resources can be devoted toadditional product development to grow revenues faster.

In this way, it will not only help eliminate the time-wastingsearch for equipment and make getting tests done easier for you and your fellowengineers, but it will also dramatically improve the future prospects for yourjob and your company.

Paul McNamara is founder and CEO of The Sente Group, anational services provider that helps leaders in aerospace and defense improvebusiness performance in their test environments.

For more information, go to http://www.sentegroup.com.

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