What is concurrent engineering in product development?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The strategy of concurrent engineering is becoming increasingly popular in businesses from manufacturers to tech companies, with a more holistic approach transforming every element of a product's lifecycle. By introducing principles such as collaborative planning, multi-team development and simultaneous manufacturing, businesses can drastically increase efficiency. Simultaneous engineering principles speed up the manufacturing process, reduce errors and encourage innovation throughout the workforce. In this article, we look at the definition of concurrent engineering, what the benefits are and how businesses can implement this product development strategy successfully.

What is concurrent engineering?

Concurrent engineering (CE) is a strategy businesses use where design, development and manufacturing processes concur simultaneously. It involves individuals performing tasks concurrently during product development rather than sequentially. This strategy refers to all aspects of a product's lifecycle, from design through to manufacture and launch. This systematic approach to product development can reduce costs, speed up the design process and improve productivity. This method of designing and developing products simultaneously rather than in series can have several advantages for businesses.

The CE framework

This project management approach helps companies design, develop and launch new products more quickly in a competitive market. It uses a variety of techniques to create a seamless environment where team members can work on various stages of the project at the same time. Interactive engineering requires a collaborative, team-based approach. The idea behind this is that different activities can run simultaneously throughout the design and development process, increasing efficiency. It aims to develop the correct products the first time through thorough planning and cross-team collaboration.

What is simultaneous engineering?

Simultaneous engineering and CE are the same concepts. It describes the process of developing products at the same time, for example, in complex manufacturing, software development and automotive manufacturing. There are several different terms for this approach including:

  • simultaneous engineering

  • forward engineering

  • integrated problem solving

  • team approach

  • parallel engineering

  • lifecycle engineering

  • interactive engineering

  • integrated product development

Related: Engineering skills: definition and examples

What's the purpose of simultaneous engineering?

The purpose of simultaneous engineering is to streamline and speed up the product design, manufacture and launch process. Simultaneous engineering developed due to the fragmented approach of project delivery in sequential manufacturing. It often could lead to delays, wasted time and increased project costs due to inefficiencies. CE takes a more holistic approach to product design. A team works together throughout the design process to identify any potential risks, opportunities for innovation or ways to make the process more efficient. A breakdown is available below:

Cross-departmental cooperation

In sequential manufacturing, the product design process can be solely the responsibility of one team, which can lead to issues during the manufacturing process or later on. In contrast, the CE approach means projects often involve teams from various departments. Ideas and inputs from the marketing department can lead to increased product functions, input from the manufacturing team could streamline the design process and input from customers can allow the team to tailor the product more to their users.

Collaborative project planning

During the planning process, the whole team considers every area of the project. Doing this at such an early stage provides opportunities to recognise any savings. Collaborative project planning also highlights any potential issues or constraints which could affect the process. It's a long term business strategy that can transform a business's operations and increase its competitive edge. The team can also ensure all aspects of a project align with the company's goals and strategy. Other important elements of project planning include milestone tracking, information sharing and gathering feedback.

Related: How does project planning work? (With steps and FAQs)

What are the benefits of a CE strategy?

There are several benefits to adopting this strategy. They are common in industries from technology to construction to pharmaceuticals. Once a CE strategy is in place and team members are confident in the process, its advantages include:

Decreasing product development time

This method allows businesses to spot any potential design problems earlier and correct them, which can be far easier at an early stage than during further development. It also means fewer wasted resources on faulty products. By working on multiple stages of a project simultaneously it can reduce the time spent on it by everyone involved and lead to greater skill specialisations.

Related: Complete Guide: What is Product Engineering

Encouraging innovation

One reason many businesses are choosing to implement this methodology is the increased opportunity for innovation. By creating an environment where teams have experience of the entire product design journey, their valuable input can lead to unique solutions. A collaborative culture is key to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving.

Reducing costs

Integrated product development can also reduce costs for a business by streamlining the product development process. Manufacturing simultaneously increases efficiency and can also reduce waste. The process can also reduce staffing costs for businesses and introduce opportunities for automation which could lead to round the clock production.

Improving productivity

The enhanced productivity that parallel engineering brings is one of the main reasons many businesses choose to adopt this strategy. Team members can become more specialised in their tasks, while informed by insights from other areas of the business. By identifying the distinct stages of a process and what potential issues may arrive, the team can correct problems before they even occur.

Reducing time to market

In a fast-paced economy, the ability to reduce a project's duration so it can reach the market quickly is a real advantage. By analysing the market during the planning stage, businesses can create and launch new products far quicker to a higher standard. The completion of several tasks simultaneously leads to a quicker production process.

Competitive advantage

Integrated product development can also lead to a competitive advantage for businesses. By being able to launch products faster and respond directly to customer needs, they can develop their reputation as industry leaders. The process of brainstorming, researching and developing new ideas is a priority in this strategy and this also includes competitor analysis.

Streamlined processes

This approach can also streamline the manufacturing process through techniques such as workflow management and project evaluation. An effective CE strategy can speed up a project development by up to ten times. Experienced manufacturers can suggest new methods or ways to save materials or time.

Implementing a CE strategy

Several factors are crucial to implementing a successful parallel engineering strategy. It's essential that businesses have the necessary computer systems and communication systems and a working environment to facilitate this process. Team members also work collaboratively throughout the process. Early release of information and multi-disciplinary working spaces are also essential. Effective clear communication is crucial for this approach. This also means the facilitation of effective communication through networks, software and information sharing tools. The most important factors include:

Identifying project requirements

One of the most important things when implementing these principles is to identify the project requirements before production starts. The effective use of technology and project management technology can be fundamental to a project's success. Integrated product development requires seamless integration of processes. Whilst team members are in the planning process, it's essential to recognise the right technologies, tools and techniques every state requires. Management support is also vital to the implementation of these principles. By integrating people, processes and technology into the decision-making process, the quality of the product or service also improves.

Important skills for professionals

It may be beneficial for job seekers looking for opportunities in product development and engineering to familiarise themselves with this product engineering methodology. Several skills are vital for this process that candidates can develop. These include:

  • strategic thinking

  • problem-solving

  • teamwork

  • decision making

  • communication

  • critical thinking

  • leadership

  • project management

Developing a collaborative culture

It's important that organisations develop cross-functional teams who have a range of specialist skills and experience throughout the production process. Designers, manufacturers, suppliers and even customers are crucial to a collaborative and informative product design process. A strong teamwork culture at the heart of the strategy can make decision-making, conflict resolution and collaborative working far easier. By all working towards one clear goal, a team becomes more cohesive. Environments optimised for collaborative working can be an asset for businesses when they implement this strategy, such as co-working spaces, meeting rooms and file-sharing facilities.

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

An integrated approach

Several elements are vital to a successful product development process and the way they interact with each other is. When planning a CE strategy it's important to include staff from a variety of departments including:

  • management

  • legal & finance

  • support

  • operations

  • production & manufacturing

  • sales

  • marketing

  • product design

As every element occurs simultaneously, complex projects can take place without waiting for other tasks to occur first. For example, the graphic design team could be designing packaging, while the manufacturing team make parts, while the software team are writing the code. Regular meetings and progress updates can also be useful in this strategy.

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