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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Decentralising R&D to allow innovation 02-12

Decentralising R&D to allow innovation

Tableware specialist ARC International began with a single site culture, but chose to spread its production locations. Today, its design offices are situated in different markets in order to better serve local consumer needs. Design and collaboration tools are vital in ensuring the effectiveness of this setup.

ARC International is a business that had based all of its development in a huge manufacturing site in northern France, for sales across 160 countries. But in recent years the group has moved away from French production alone in favour of manufacturing sites in the countries where we want to sell our goods, principally emerging countries. We have built factories in China, United Arab Emirates, the United States and Russia.

Local manufacturing to win in emerging markets

Opening production sites in our large markets was only the first stage, because consumer tastes are markedly different across the markets we serve. We sell very different products in western Europe compared to China or the UAE. Our approach is to support manufacturing sites in mastering product design, and we work with consumers to develop our innovation in these markets, to strengthen our brands and to minimise the time needed to take products to market.

Our research and development was initially very centralised. We wanted to change this in order to succeed in the other markets. Our plan was split into two stages: firstly we introduced a single CAD design system for the whole group, and secondly we added a management system that would allow each country to design products appropriate to the local market.

Products and tools on the same platform

Our design platform is used for glass products but also for any accessories such as our case for the Purebox, a storage box with a clear plastic cover. In addition, the platform is used to develop a whole number of items, including tools and moulds, and all of the elements in the product lifecycle are centralised in the same environment. This system replaces our ageing management technology - we had been running specialised and bespoke systems accumulated over the years since 1989. We moved to an off-the-shelf system in 2004 to cover 95 design workstations globally.

Before these changes, we had approximately 200,000 design files. It's worth noting that, when designing new products, we would find design elements right across each of these files. Each new file had to be found and connected, and linked to other files. The idea was to keep all of the links between new products in our database.

Two years on

The main challenge of the project had been our technology legacy. We thought we would easily deal with the issue by cutting or grouping files but we quickly realised this was not working. We needed to put in place a much more elaborate solution and to heavily involve our teams: 25 staff were dedicated to this task, with 130 days planning to make it work. Finally, in April 2013, we rolled out the new application. Our users were happy and were able to see a great improvement, and the software worked on the first day without any problems, providing all of the expected functionality. The extensive preparation had paid off.

We are now working closely on our collaboration between sites. It is absolutely conceivable for us to begin a design in France, continue it in China, transfer it to the United States and finish it in the UAE, as part of a totally fluid process. We are not quite at the stage of seeing it in full production, but we know it is working. The next stage is for this full multisite design, which will allow us to share our capabilities in each market and optimise resources.

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