Why reuse?


The term reuse is commonly defined as using something again after some special treatment or processing. Today, it has become socially acceptable to reuse many of the things we have created and mass-produced. In fact, in terms of environmental awareness, reuse is seen as a desired method of reducing the depletion of natural resources, including the significant amount of energy required to manufacture new things. Some typical examples of reused items are homes, automobiles, clothing, furniture, books, compact discs and videotapes. Reuse must not be confused with recycle, which generally refers to the extraction of useful material from garbage or waste.

It's a Matter of Planning

So why am I writing about reuse in a technical magazine? The answer is simple: Much of what a company's engineering organization produces can be reused by planning and organizing properly. This can result in increased productivity and dollars saved. The key word here is “planning.” A concise engineering definition of reuse that we use at Delco is the planned creation, development, verification and documentation of standard building blocks that can be leveraged repeatedly and applied quickly to specific customer product requirements.

In most companies today, however, reuse is informal. Reuse building blocks (electrical, mechanical, software, manufacturing, systems, etc.) are usually not common across products. Many different methods are used with minimal planning, strategy and object management. Therefore, the benefits of reuse tend not to be realized company-wide.

Benefits: What are some of these reuse benefits? First of all, if company knowledge is stored and made available enterprise-wide, duplication of engineering efforts on various products can be minimized. Therefore, product development cycle time to the customer is reduced. Also, the amount of materials and components needed within the company is reduced, which simplifies purchasing and material control. Overall quality can be improved by reusing successful designs and processes, and quicker, more accurate customer quotations are possible. In the end, all of these benefits result in lower product development and manufacturing costs.

The Building Blocks

As with any new concept, there are procedural changes that must be made to implement reuse, and this, of course, requires planning. Once you determine the building blocks critical to your products, you must plan their evolution over time. This means to strategize and design building blocks that meet anticipated future customer and internal requirements. While this is not an easy task, useful technology strategies and roadmaps can and must be developed. New building blocks then must be designed to meet cost targets, and be confirmed as functional, buildable and reliable. Only then will they be sought out and used effectively in products.

There are seven major steps to make a reuse strategy succeed:

  • Define required reuse processes, incentives and commitment
  • Plan and develop building blocks in anticipation of need
  • Develop building blocks on schedule
  • Store building blocks in a company-wide library with search/query capability
  • Building blocks must include a thorough applications document
  • Confirm/validate building blocks to actual requirements
  • Design the building blocks with commonly used processes and tools.

There are also hierarchical levels of building blocks. Starting with knowledge as the broadest building block level, it is then important to consider components, subsystems and assembly. You have the greatest opportunity for reuse with knowledge, and the least with assembly. Conversely, the greatest work savings occur at the assembly level. Each company should determine what level of reuse to seek for their particular product mix.

Building blocks also come in families. Examples of these families include system, software, electrical design, mechanical design, manufacturing and test. Each of these families consists of many building blocks. For example, in the manufacturing family, there might be surface mount technology, soldering, package, assembly, labeling, test, plastics, sheet metal and diecast. Elements of a typical building block, like labeling, include label type, label construction, what it will be applied to, application equipment, application method, verification method, reading method and removal method.

The Obstacles: Now, assuming that the concept of reuse has been adopted with building blocks, what is the biggest barrier to success? In my opinion, it's information technology. For a building block to be reused, it must be easily found. In most companies, reuse information resides in various unlinked data systems. These systems must be linked and facilitated by a search/query tool. This tool must be simple and intuitive to use, or else the system will not be used.

In the End

In summary, reuse is a powerful concept. It can save time, reduce cost, improve quality and increase reliability. To be effective long-term, reuse requires a product and design strategy that provides the time for a building block to be designed and confirmed as functional, manufacturable, reliable and cost-effective. All this must be completed before a product's initial application to take advantage of reduced product design times and, thus, be quick to market with new features on multiple products.

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DANIEL K. WARD, manager of advanced electronic packaging, can be contacted at Delphi Delco Electronics Systems, One Corporate Center, P.O. Box 9005, Mail Station: D-16, Kokomo, IN 46904-9005; 765-451-3093; Fax: 765-451-3115; E-mail: [email protected].


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