Why ‘Connectedness’ is Critical to Product Development-Part 1 (Mercury Marine)

Companies make significant investments when they approve a product idea for development. Employee, capital, and facility resources are devoted to transforming the idea into reality. There is also a lot of information associated with that product program to manage.

Along the journey to start a production, program teams are routinely asked some simple questions by the program sponsors: How much will it cost to produce? What does it weigh? Is it better than our competitor’s? Will it be profitable?

How efficiently a program team can answer these questions will determine the project duration, the product’s market success, and to some extent, its quality.

To manage the information to help answer these questions, companies invest in systems like CAD, PDM, PLM, and ERP.

Typically, if an organization has implemented PDM, the value of organized design data is understood. The evolution of PDM to PLM allows for management of the design data, plus much of the cross-functional information surrounding the design content throughout its lifecycle. These concepts are not new.

In addition to managing information to deliver the product to market, an organization also needs to innovate for its long-term viability. To innovate, people need to communicate, which enables collaboration that sparks the innovation.

The gap is in how to connect the people, processes, and systems to most effectively enable innovation through business intelligence.


This is the first part of a two-article series in how Mercury Marine’s PLM team has worked with the cross-functional business to help create a connected community that enables innovation through a variety of strategic touch points.

The first article will focus on establishing a standard product definition within the PDM environment. This helps provide a consistent design structure to PLM and enables its role in providing the connected community within as users start communicating and collaborating. Much of this work has culminated in several successful solutions and process-methodologies that will be described within this article.

As often happens, a galvanizing event occurred within the business to help provide the catalyst for the change necessary to push these connected solutions from prototype to global user acceptance.

In this case, a clean-sheet engine design was required to remain competitive in certain horsepower ranges. Recognizing that a potential downturn was on the horizon, Mercury’s management agreed this development program must result in a modern, cost-competitive engine available for sale in near future.

“During the engine’s development lifecycle, the company was forced to reduce its workforce due to the downturn, placing even more pressure on the organization to get the program ready for market,” noted John Bayless, director of program management for Mercury Marine. “To help manage these challenges, the organization turned to the PLM team to provide a path forward.”

As the PLM strategy evolved, it became critical that Mercury’s CAD processes maximize data reuse opportunities downstream. For example, a Large Assembly Management (LAM) methodology allows designers to create standard product structure for new development programs. These structures establish an engineering bill of material structure based on design functional partitions, which is also how the engineering team is organized. By aligning the personnel with a consistent bill of material structure, the team achieves the following benefits:

• Designers can open large assembly structures within ProE and Teamcenter

• Downstream users outside of engineering can perform at a higher level because they know where to consistently find parts based on the product structure

• Team members can efficiently consume accurate, 3D virtual versions of products using JT lightweight viewable files. These virtual product representations are used by tech publications, manufacturing, procurement, and program managers to more efficiently and effectively communicate information about a program or perform work faster and more accurately.


“The new product program teams have benefited tremendously from these PLM practices,” emphasized Bayless. “One of the most beneficial aspects of this PLM strategy has been the early involvement of cross-functional contributors in new product programs.”

For a new program, the design team starts with a product structure based on the large assembly management template mentioned earlier. Then the designers start populating the structure with part numbers for proposed new parts, as well as adding all the existing parts they believe are required at that time.

This is where PLM helps enable cross-functional collaboration. The standard large assembly management methodology based on the functional partitioning provides a consistent product structure across all development programs to drive standardization.

“Having a common BOM management technique allows for consistent downstream consumption of the product bill to enable standard program management dashboards and foster an environment for cross-functional collaboration,” stated Bayless. “Cross-functional participation in weekly product reviews, along with easily accessed data management by all program team stakeholders are keys to our success.”

“Effective product data management provides program teams with the foundation for improvements with product costing, change management, part reuse, and configuration control,” stated Lenny Grosh, PLM program manager for Mercury Marine.

For example, product data management within Teamcenter allows users to know product configurations throughout a program’s lifecycle. For example, designers can lock down product structure at each of our major development milestones such as CV, DV, and PV. This provides the ability to compare build structures as the program matures.

Product data management in Teamcenter also provides a single location for the cross-functional product development community to collaborate and exchange information. This enables downstream collaboration by enforcing standardization in both data structure and processes that ultimately allows Mercury Marine to introduce more complex products to market faster with a smaller workforce.

Because products are not just a collection of independent parts, they are connected systems intended to channel energy using the paths and mechanisms designed by the engineers.

“To achieve the highest level of system refinement customers expect requires collaboration from everyone involved in the new product development community,” emphasized Bayless.

Another example of a connection is how our change management system in Teamcenter works closely with our part reuse strategy. There is a step to screen common parts during the drawing sign-off workflow, so someone can review a proposed common part design before it is accepted and classified.

“Our classification gatekeeper has final say in whether a new part can be admitted into the Teamcenter Classification database,” mentioned Nate Hering, document controller for Mercury Marine.

Part reuse has many product program benefits for Mercury Marine. For example, every new fastener adds complexity to the procurement, quality, and manufacturing operations for the following reasons:

• Costs to stock, procure, and validate new components

• Lost opportunity to improve the purchasing power of a component from increased volume

“Most important, the time spent re-creating an existing or similar part for lack of knowledge is time not spent refining an all-new design,” noted Bayless. “Wasting time on recreating common parts also takes time away from attending to product craftsmanship, which are the design details that really make a difference to the customer.”

For example, Mercury recently launched an 8.2L inboard/sterndrive engine – the only catalyzed big block gas sterndrive on the market. It was created in record time by making use of existing parts from a similar product from the Racing division. Leveraging existing brackets and fasteners was key to staying on timeline and budget.


The program was $100 under cost target, 10 hp above performance target, and part reuse was more than 60 percent. There were also craftsmanship goals assigned to the project, and having an efficient product management and part reuse strategy really help the team focus on what is important to customers.

These are some reasons why ‘connectedness’ is so important.

Next quarter, Part 2 of the series focuses on connected systems deployed by the PLM team to help manage product cost, foster cross-functional collaboration, and provide efficiencies for program teams to meet or exceed program targets.

Mercury PLM Services Unique Perspective

Our differing approach concentrates on understanding your process as a must for success. A process-centric approach requires businesses to review and question existing work streams to understand “why,” “what,” and “how” work should be done to establish efficient cross-functional work flows that are consistent, repeatable and scalable for growth.

We also offer a unique perspective for helping organizations considering a Product Lifecycle Management implementation because we view PLM from a manufacturing business user’s vantage point since we live and breathe it daily.

Because we work in a dynamic, global product-development environment that supports a worldwide manufacturing footprint, we have a user’s perspective that helps drive results and realize improvements. Several of our experts also have been deeply involved with our ISO 9000 certification effort, as well as configuration management, and engineering document-management practices. Mercury PLM Services is a Siemens Zone SI Partner.

About Nat Workman

Nat Workman benefits from 15 years of experience consulting, leading cross-functional teams, and architecting application solutions. His background includes technical writing, application development, Lean process improvement, training, and project management. He has developed process improvement and technical solutions for sales, marketing, manufacturing, publications, and supply chain functions at numerous OEMs. In PLM, he has led worldwide implementations at both Mercury Marine and for external clients, as well as speaking at numerous industry conferences and webinars while serving as the team’s marketing representative.


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