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Speeding Time to Market at Motorola

Automating data management puts the ‘rapid’ in front of ‘prototyping’

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 10:47

The first production Model T auto in 1908 ushered in a new era of transportation by shrinking dramatically the time it took for people to move from place to place. Like the Model T, communication technologies such as email, mobile phones, and the Internet are dramatically shrinking the time for information to move across the globe. Witness the phenomenon of tools like YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn, which are allowing consumers to provide instantaneous feedback on their product experience to companies.

This effect can now be seen in the electronics design and manufacturing world as well, where those same social marketing tools can be used by customers to propose new features, provide feedback on current performance, and generally pressure their vendors to deliver product quicker to the specifications they want. This article explores how the two-way radio division at Motorola Solutions is tackling some of these pressures about time to market by increasing employee productivity and making better use of business data.

Faster, cheaper, better

In 1997, the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft landed on Mars and heralded success for NASA’s “faster, better, cheaper” mantra at the time. This mission was performed at lower cost and quicker than previous large-scale efforts like the Viking missions to Mars. Since then, “faster, better, and cheaper” is something that every electronics design and manufacturing business strives for to remain competitive in this world of “light speed” information. No longer can you have a design-to-market strategy of one year for products, which was the norm in 2000. Now that cycle can be fewer than six months, often shrinking to two.

One way companies can decrease their time to market is by improving employee productivity both in the engineering and manufacturing areas. The general metric to measure employee productivity is through revenue/employee, as shown in figure 1, with typical wireless device manufacturers achieving $400,000/employee.

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Figure 1: Productivity chart

As can be seen from figure 1, productivity of U.S. manufacturing workers started to increase exponentially during the early 1980s. This was about the time that information technology began to work its way into the business environment with the rapid adoption of desktop computers and software automation. With this new technology, tasks normally done manually by employees were automated and allowed workers to focus on more value-added activities such as design, collaboration, and problem fixing. As a principal inventor of Six Sigma processes, Motorola has an embedded culture of continuous improvement that includes a focus on improving employee productivity by automating manual tasks and better understanding of its business data. Motorola’s 2-Way Radio Testing Group is improving its productivity and gaining business insights through its prototype and manufacturing test data.

“We’ve got to do more with less”

Motorola Solutions is a leader in providing two-way radio products to enterprise and government organizations globally. These devices are used by firefighters, police, and public safety personnel to communicate mission-critical voice and data. These are complex products with analog, RF, and digital components that require extensive testing at both the R&D prototyping and the manufacturing stage to ensure quality for these demanding end markets.

“Each prototype can run into the thousands of tests and can take days to complete,” notes a test manager at Motorola Solutions in Chicago. “Gathering such test data into a readable format has always been a challenge. We created an internal solution that did the basics and got us what we needed, but the maintenance around the solution was costly for my team. Having engineers come to us to run reports and design feature upgrades was taking up too much of our time. Not only was maintenance an issue, but having my team and engineers manually compile, format, and analyze the data easily accounted for 20 percent of their time.”

Although the return on investment was apparent on improving productivity of his test and engineering team, moving to a solution that would give instant access to the test data and a way to mine the data was an important priority. With a clear vision on how to proceed, an initiative was drawn up to evaluate potential solutions, and IntraStage was brought in to fill the gap.

Rapid prototyping techniques

The central themes the test team in Chicago focused on to improve its productivity and achieve the goal of rapid prototyping were:
• Selecting a data management solution to address resource constraints and obsolescence
• Increased automation of manual tasks done by employees
• Increased ability to mine and analyze critical test data

By moving to a turnkey solution, the test team became more nimble and could focus on improving quality rather than dealing with data management and reporting systems.

The IntraStage software solution provided a path for all. Collecting, aggregating, and storing the test data was the first manual task that was automated by IntraStage. By using software technology that could automatically retrieve test data as it was generated and store it into a centralized database, engineers no longer had to do this (see figure 2).

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Figure 2: Automatic test data collection, centralization, and reporting

By providing a web-based platform for reporting and mining, engineers could now see the data from anywhere and dive deep into the data through pivot-table-based tools and the data-mining interface of IntraStage (see figures 3 and 4).

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Figure 3: Dashboard view of radio testing status. (Click here for larger image.)


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Figure 4: Sample content of a radio report showing an auto-generated chart of frequency response. (Click here for larger image.)

The future

“With the rollout of the IntraStage software at Motorola Solutions, there has been a substantial increase in the number of reports being run by both the test and engineering teams,” says the test manager. “This has been an exciting indication that once you have lowered the barriers to look at the data, you get a lot of new and interesting ways to solve problems.”

As Motorola Solutions continues to look at new ways to improve employee productivity and get a better handle on its test data during the prototype phase, other functional areas like manufacturing may also benefit from these efforts. “Fundamentally, the same core problem exists in manufacturing and development groups as in R&D prototyping: how to reduce the manual effort to get the data and then how to mine it and visualize statistical process control, yield, and trends to improve product quality,” says the manager.

By better managing, mining, and visualizing its test data on real time, Motorola Solutions will continue to innovate and improve its rapid prototyping techniques.


About The Author

IntraStage’s picture


IntraStage Inc. develops and provides quality management software for companies who design and manufacture electronic products. Intrastage provides SPC, Yield, CP, CPK, and test data analytical tools by automating the retrieval, storage, mining, and reporting of R&D, manufacturing, supplier, and field test data. IntraStage software seamlessly integrates test data from different sources and finds quality trends more quickly and accurately.