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Rob Donley

Plexus Corp is a leader in complex electronic product design, manufacturing, supply chain and aftermarket services. As a mechanical engineer at Plexus Corp., it’s my job to create, produce, and test mechanical designs for the products we support and to ensure that customer specifications and regulatory requirements are met. As a Professional MBA student at the Daniels College of Business, I’ve been able to use some of my coursework to showcase some skills outside of the lab (my sole domain for 11 years).

The assignment from Jed Summerton’s Business Data and Analytics class is to provide organizational performance enhancing opportunities by using data-driven techniques, while maintaining alignment to the strategic vision of the company. I worked on two smaller projects before honing in on a major task – one that would help establish and contribute to a foundational business case for the newly formed Zero Defect Design Team.

Over the course of the past year at Plexus, I noticed engineers spending more time going back and fixing old problems. The groans at off-site lunches did not go unnoticed. I decided to investigate.

With the help of three local project managers, I learned that we spend a considerable amount of time fixing past design deficiencies that were preventable. We began to develop a categorized list of common offenders, and called these “design defects.” While these design deficiencies do not translate to ‘defective’ products, they do contribute to cost increases and inefficiencies as they are addressed.

PMBA students Travis Ottoes, Anna McNeeley, Ian Davis and Rob Donley.

Working with past billable accounting data, we estimated that average projects spent at least 5 percent of their allocated budgets fixing problems that arose from the past design deficiencies; when compounded across the number of engineering programs Plexus supports, this has a significant impact to the enterprise. If these costs are taken as a variance, this becomes a big eater of our profit because our project budgets are our main source of revenue.

We repeated the prior surveying and data analysis in our manufacturing business, looking for the same types of offenders. Unassumingly, the results showed that false positive test results drove a large impact to this business area. A false positive test result means that a product was fit for use yet tested as bad when it was sampled. This can happen because a functional test is not selective enough, or perhaps has too tight of acceptance criteria, a defect in the design of the tester. We all realized that we began this journey by investigating hunches in our respective groups, and once we got into the data we identified another monster entirely.

With input from the Director of Quality, the Vice President of Engineering and the leaders in the manufacturing division, the Zero Defect Design Team was born to increase quality of designs and ultimately combat these costs.

Today, the initiative is transitioning through the define, measure, analyze, improve and control cycle to prevent defects in engineering and test designs with the objectives of preventing lost revenue and inaccurate defect costs.  One of the key takeaways this investigation brought to light was the realization that while a design deficiency is indeed costly to fix within the engineering design cycle, the cost of resolution gets significantly compounded as the deficient design makes its way through the product life cycle.

We recognized that expending additional effort to release optimized designs can enable more accurate time-to-market projections which could increase our credability and thus brand value with our customers. Additionally, engineers will likely have better morale on programs when they feel that they will be given time to ‘make it right’ during the enhanced design review process. Obviously, Zero Defect Design is seen as a continuous improvement journey and will never be realized, but the idea of it can be.

Plexus is working to adopt my recommendations resulting from the coursework in the mechanical engineering function, and to deploy some of the processes that I learned to analyze other functions of our business. As the project has grown, we have recognized the value in implementing Zero Defect Design across all of our design functions. I now have visibility to the vice president level of our organization and report on this project to an office outside the walls of my lab. Using this assignment as a tool in my professional setting has been transformational for me.

Jed Summerton

My reason for choosing an MBA program over a terminal technical degree was because I wanted to get out from under fluorescent lights and see more of how an organization works. This assignment has been that catalyst for me was directly applicable to and valuable for the organization I am already in.

Working with enterprise level data in our organization as part of Daniels College of Business coursework has helped me to provide value back to my organization and enterprise and has also made me aware of many processes in our organization that otherwise I would not have exposure to.

Context from Jed Summerton, adjunct faculty in the Department of Business Information and Analytics:
The Daniels MBA programs emphasize “rigor, relevance and results” to help graduates accelerate their careers and deliver high levels of value to their organizations. Students in the Professional MBA program work full time, which enables the course in data and analytics to focus on their current “real world” jobs, using data to improve the performance of their organizations. Over the past four cohorts (87 students), 59 students have had their proposals accepted for implementation, with an estimated benefit totaling over $65 million in the first 12 months. This is possible because students such as Rob have vision and prepare well, engage well and deliver well.

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