The Art of Agile: A Blueprint for Iterative and Rapid Hardware Development

Building hardware is (insanely) hard!

Developing and manufacturing cutting-edge hardware at scale is like changing engines on a plane mid-flight. It is a deranged, failure-prone, terrifying,  spectacle of engineering genius; tenaciously iterating until a producible, reliable widget works before cash runs dry. In other words, you sprint to fix hard, technical problems or you crash-and-burn.

deranged - di-ˈrānjd - adjective: unable to think or act in a normal or logical way especially because of severe mental illness: crazy or insane

Traditional manufacturing execution systems (MES) were never designed to solve such modern challenges. Then again, the world didn’t have such immense pressure to solve the problems the world faces today! There is real urgency (and fierce competition) for upstart manufacturers (and their legacy counterparts) to pioneer the next wave of innovations in energy, transportation, space exploration, robotics, and defense.

To accelerate such innovation, modern manufacturers are shifting to a new paradigm—Agile manufacturing. Agile started as a software development methodology: instead of long "waterfall" cycles where large blocks of work are handed off between teams, agile breaks down code-writing into quick, iterative, continuous phases. Agile embraces a "fail fast" mindset, as reversing mistakes is more tolerable in smaller doses. Inspired by this innovation, ION Factory OS has unleashed the Agile paradigm for building advanced hardware.

Whether you’ve been manufacturing for decades or just setting up shop, delivering world-changing hardware (without disrupting production) has never been easier.

To do Agile, consider these strategies relating to managing parts' lifecycle, designing manufacturing bills of materials (mBOMs), and writing work instructions.


Part revision interchangeability

As engineering leadership defines revisioning policy based on fit, form, and function, the interchangeability policy of revisions can equally affect the operational fate of the factory. Interchangeability reduces the overhead of managing mBOMs but comes with the risk of former revisions not conforming to a parent assembly. Non-interchangeability enforces rigid engineering compliance, at the expense of a warehouse full of obsolete inventory (unless engineers explicitly call out every allowed revision).

Putting the mmm in M-state.

Relatively complex parts require relatively tighter tracking. Adding an “M” + number suffix to distinguish part records from your product lifecycle management (PLM) system indicates a part’s manufacturing state. This strategy is useful when:

  • Maintaining conformance over a sequence of work orders is critical, particularly when conformance isn’t visibly obvious (e.g. uncoated, untested).
  • Work-in-progress inventory for that part is stored or staged (e.g. buffer WIP at constrained work centers, queued parts for testing/outsourcing).

Nesting m-states in an mBOM hierarchy (example below) enforce a linear sequence to reach a final, conforming part.

The rigid path to a delicious outcome

Unleash the torrent of data from PLM to MES.

The automatic creation and updating of parts and mBOMs resolves the dreadful, error-prone, time-intensive task of manual data entry. Integrations are a good kind of slippery slope for modern factories, begetting more connectivity between systems and machines; and creating a factory tech stack that automates tedious, repetitive steps at scale.

Manufacturing Bill of Materials (mBOM)

Re-use components across assemblies

Many parts share geometric, material, or functional properties that can be standardized across projects and assemblies! Both off-the-shelf parts (especially fasteners) and even some designed components (e.g. brackets) are eligible. Doing so adds purchasing power, consolidates redundant inventory, and reduces the probability of stockouts.

Identify substitutes

Many commercial-off-the-shelf parts are fit/form/function identical, but a vast marketplace of suppliers each makes up unique part numbers. Give buyers the best chance to source the most available, best-priced components on the market. Identify as many commercial substitutes on your mBOMs as possible!

Notably missing: avocado


Modularize procedures

Breaking down instructions into smaller, manageable processes allows for iterative, continuous improvement.

  • Releasing the first work order while subsequent work instructions are simultaneously developed eliminates the bottleneck of waiting until all instructions are completed!
  • Boundary lines of ownership are generally oriented around the engineering team governing them (e.g. build, test, inspect, integration). Assigning a single-point owner (and approver) to modular procedures avoids the bureaucratic burden of broad, org-wide approvals, and empowers engineers to fully own (and continuously improve) the quality of their work.

Define dependencies

Ensure conforming, continuous workflow by being prescriptive about which production paths are linear and which are parallel. Subtle changes to manufacturing flow can unlock surprising improvements to equipment and labor utilization.

Hardware doesn't have to be so hard

ION Factory OS is designed by engineers (for engineers) with a deep understanding of how factory software can leverage a part’s lifecycle, curate mBOMs, or easily facilitate work instruction design to unlock Agile manufacturing. ION empowers manufacturers to streamline processes, foster unprecedented innovation, and achieve efficient, conforming, game-changing operational agility.

We understand the tenacious mission advanced manufacturers are undertaking. Racing against the clock of cash burn to deliver reliable, incredible hardware products is a worthwhile, world-changing adventure that we're honored to support.