The benefits and challenges of outsourcing your system architecting

The world of high-tech machine builders is extremely competitive. Their success is exceedingly dependent on their ability to realize quality, cost effectiveness and short lead times in bringing new technology to series production. Outsourcing system architecting can contribute significantly in achieving that. ‘NTS has demonstrated that fact now in a number of cases’, states Rens van den Braber of NTS division Development & Engineering. ‘At the same time this level of co-operation is not without its limitations and challenges. The potential added value depends on various factors such as the strategy and type of organization of the customer. Moreover, it stands or falls with mutual understanding, openness and trust.’

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NTS is a strongly vertically integrated first-tier supplier with a global presence. It is a one stop shop in development and engineering, component manufacturing and assembly for machine builders in the global high complexity, low volume and high levels of product diversity markets. Rens has been working as a System Architect at the NTS Campus in Eindhoven for over five years now. His working domain spans all processes that encompass the activities to define, develop and produce a new or improved product for his customers.

Different perspectives

‘As a System Architect I focus on new systems development; the conversion of functionality, technical requirements and interfaces in a concrete and verifiable design. Next to that I am involved in translating this design into qualitative and cost-efficient production, which factually requires the same competences. And all of this is never easy in the high-tech industry. No matter the type of business - a multinational, a midsized company or start-up - the technology is complex and the need for a short time to market always creates an enormous pressure. But there are also differences between OEM’s from a perspective of outsourcing development and engineering. In practice large OEM’s contract first-tiers still mainly to bring designs to series production. In such a case NTS steps in to advice the customer about optimizing the design for manufacturability and assembly. We subsequently take the lead in introducing the new design into our manufacturing organization. For the most complex new modules, a System Architect supports this introduction by reviewing the translation of the module’s functions to requirements and the development of the tooling required for the product qualification. Smaller companies however - who typically have a new technology and idea, but not the means nor expertise to rapidly create a machine - usually also use our capabilities and experience that are required to develop a new system from scratch with industrial quality.

Adding knowledge and experience

Outsourcing system architecture - instead of doing it yourself - is all about achieving more with less, for example by saving on lead time or costs to growing into an organization that actually produces systems. The actual benefits however, states Rens, vary and are dependent on the role NTS is asked to play.

‘When customers develop complete systems themselves, our responsibility normally lies firstly in building to specifications. This comes with great benefits for them. They are adding a skilled development team to their own activities and tap into the vast capabilities of our organization - including relevant knowledge and experience in competences such as cleanliness, dynamics, system automation and design for manufacturing and assembly. In doing so they can rely on our proven track record in making the steps from design to verification and high-quality series production. Furthermore, because NTS is a vertically integrated one stop shop, they are able to reduce risks and total cost of ownership. For OEM’s who concentrate on technology development, working with NTS as a co-developer of opto-mechatronical modules, bases and frames offers additional benefits. It saves them investments in their own development and production organizations. Moreover, they do not have to share their attention between operational and organizational activities on one hand, and development and marketing on the other. And, because this form of partnership involves a strong strategic integration and the execution of agreed product roadmaps, we can improve their competitive edge by achieving higher quality in less time, reducing costs, increasing performance and enable local manufacturing in one of our sites around the globe while our customer is not involved in managing all required operations’

Limit risks and maximize results

Rens acknowledges that outsourcing development and engineering also has its limitations. For instance, when it comes to building to specifications, producing cutting edge high-tech systems doesn’t allow to set requirements for stand alone modules in stone in the early stages. The process has to be fluid to maximize results; a one-directional classical approach is not feasible anymore so NTS needs to be enabled to think along with the customer. This means that the System Architect from NTS has to be allowed to look over the boundaries that are created by requirements and interfaces. And partnering up in strategic development can only lead to a positive outcome when the supplier understands the core module technology, applications and market of the OEM. Therefore it requires trust, open communication about technical and commercial roadmaps and a long-term commitment.

Organizing an optimal process

This all impacts system architecting at NTS in various ways’, says Rens. ‘In my job you have to be able to understand the complex physics and designs of the products of customers, discuss requirements and interfaces and come up with sane solutions and alternatives. Simultaneously there is an importance in contributing to the balance between risk profiles - the uncertainty on technical feasibility and workmanship - time to market and commercial agreements. Next to that my work for example entails proposing system architecture that enables the integration of technological, market and business strategy of customers, and engineering requirements for sub systems and interfaces to the customer’s core technology. At the same time it's not all about technology, but also about organizing an optimal process. That means working closely together with customers, our project and sales managers, and playing my part in our multidisciplinary new product introduction teams into series production is key. And all those dimensions makes working at NTS very rewarding for me, especially when I see an idea being transformed in a concrete and successful product and customers flourish.’

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