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Industrial Management

Industrial Management

Unit 2.0: Research (R&D)

This unit describes the function of a development department in a typical SME, operating in the microelectronics sector. Note that many SMEs do not carry out research in the true sense of the word, however the abbreviation R&D (Research & Development) is used almost universally to mean development in such companies, and we shall use it frequently throughout this module.

Job types and job definitions for the development personnel will also be described.You will be asked to provide a job description for the manager of the development department in the self assessment question (SAQ) at the end of this unit.

The information in this unit allows the management of the R&D internal function to be defined.

Unit Contents


2.1 R&D Functions

The functions of the R&D department are detailed in the following sections.

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2.2 Development of new products

The primary function of the R&D department is to develop new products, which are essential if the company is to generate profits in the medium and long term. All products have a finite commercial life and this is particularly true in the microelectronics sector, where new technological developments are occurring continuously.

The key factors that both the R&D managers and their staff are responsible for, when developing new products are:-

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2.3 Maintenance of existing products

Existing products must be maintained to ensure that they can be produced to specification. For example, a component required for an existing product may become obsolete. When this happens R&D are expected to find an alternative quickly so that production of the product will not be delayed.

A serious example of a product maintenance problem is when a key component is discontinued, such as a microprocessor, which may result in a complete software rewrite and electronic hardware redesign.

Ideally critical components should be second sourced, if possible.

Product maintenance is vital- it ensures that income from the production and sales of existing products is not lost and customers are not disappointed by late deliveries.

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2.4 Enhancement of existing products

The commercial life of a product may be increased by enhancing it in some way, giving it extra features, improving its performance, changing its appearance, or making it cheaper to produce, etc.

Many companies enhance their products- it can keep their product ahead of the competition and spreads the large capital outlay associated with developing products over a longer period.

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2.5 Interfacing with production

While a new product is being developed, development staff and production staff interact to ensure that the product is manufacturable. The intention is to ensure low cost production and short production times, while maintaining quality standards.

We shall assume that a set of product manufacturing instructions are produced, by development and production staff, as each new product is developed.

In addition to the product manufacturing instructions, a product production test schedule is also produced, which defines the various tests that must be carried out when the product is manufactured.

We shall consider this documentation set in more detail in later units.

The R&D - Production interface is vital- not only does it ensure low production costs, but by reducing production times it should be possible to increase output and therefore income, on a monthly basis.

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2.6 Technical aspects of regulatory compliance

It is a legal requirement that products used in the European Community must comply with the relevant European Directives. The R&D department is primarily responsible for ensuring that this is the case, but senior management are liable to fines and/or prison sentences for serious cases of non-compliance.

Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is a major consideration when designing new, electronically based products.

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2.7 Quality

A product quality plan is produced for new products as they are developed, principally by R&D and the quality department. However, if the product is being developed for an external customer, the customer's quality department must also be heavily involved.

Note that the quality plan devised in conjunction with external customers can have serious commercial ramifications- such as unacceptable reject levels for products delivered to the customer. The quality plan may allow the customer to return a whole batch of products as a result of a small number of samples failing the customer's quality tests.

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2.8 R&D Department Internal Structure

The job titles in the Development Department are listed below:-

  1. Development Manager
  2. Digital Circuit Design Engineer
  3. Analogue Circuit Design Engineer
  4. High Level Software Engineer
  5. Low Level Software Engineer
  6. Mechanical Design Engineer
  7. Technician (Mechanical)
  8. Technician (Electronics)

An example of a job descriptions in the development department is listed in the next section.

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2.9 Digital Circuit Design Engineer Job Description

Responsible to - Development Manager

Primary Role - Digital electronics design

Secondary Role - Analogue to digital interfacing

Technical skill sets required;

Capable of designing digital circuits at the fundamental level.
Capable of interfacing between digital and analogue systems and circuits.
Familiarity with EMC regulations and the impact of EMC on circuit and printed circuit board (PCB) design.
Printed circuit board design.

Supporting skill sets required;

Proficient in using digital design CAD software packages.
Proficient in using PCB software design packages.

Behavioral skill sets required

Self motivating
Good problem solving skills
Good communications skills
Good self management skills
Capable of working in a team environment

General Job description:

The digital design engineer is expected to be able to design digital circuits to meet specified requirements at the fundamental level using hardware description languages where appropriate.
Normally system and circuit designs will be validated by building evaluation models prior to the prototype stage. The digital design engineers will be responsible for validating the designs they have produced while working closely with systems engineers, analogue engineers and technicians in the validation process.

The digital design engineer will also be expected to design PCBs, from schematic capture, through to layout and parts definition etc. Again the digital design engineers will work closely with other members of the R&D team to evaluate and validate PCBs at board and system level.

The design engineer is required to design for EMC at both the circuit and PCB level.

An important aspect of the digital designer's activities is the production of clear and concise documentation as the development of each new product progresses.

Assistance to the Production Department is also an essential design engineer's role, which the designer will be expected to provide as required.

Finally the designer must be able to integrate with a small team, exhibit high levels of creativity and problem solving skills and possess good communication skills.

Important Note: Digital design engineers may be asked to undertake other roles on a temporary basis should the need arise and if asked by their manager to do so.

Note that EEL produces a documented description of the development department similar to that described in this unit. DUL however relies on word of mouth and verbal "definitions", which of course change almost day by day and depend heavily on the person expressing them.

Clearly defining the function of the R&D department and its internal structure allows the internal management of the development department to be defined. This is particularly valuable to newly appointed managers. In addition, all the staff in the development department have documented job description that allows them to more fully understand their role in the company and what management expects from them. Again, this very useful to new employees when they join the company.

Note that defining the functionality of R&D helps in defining the management process. This does not mean that management will be carried out effectively, but its a start.

A job profile for each of the job types in the development department (and other departments) would be produced and documented.

We have used the phrase "internal management" in this unit. We have not yet considered how the development manger is expected to interact with other managers and personnel in the company. This will be an ongoing theme in the remainder of the units in this module.

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2.10 Management Issues

Defining the functions of a department and providing job definitions of personnel operating in it help to define the internal management of the department. Individual responsibilities are clearly defined but management will always reserve the right to ask personnel to carry out tasks outside their job definitions, should the need arise. Ideally this should only be in unusual circumstances and be extended over short periods of time.

The fact that the department functionality and job definitions are specified allows both the manager and the managed to know what the company expects of them and should help all parties in carrying out their roles.

We have described the situation in EEL, which will help the newly appointed manager of R&D considerably when she takes up her new appointment. In addition to having defined systems the new manager is given an induction when she starts her job which allows her to meet her staff, other managers in the company and also members of the board. Because structures are defined and essential information is available on the company intranet, she starts to feel at home quickly and does not have to commit a large amounts of information to memory.

However, the situation in DUL is somewhat different- there are no formal systems and formal job definitions do not exist, consequently when the new manger of R&D takes office he does not have a clear idea of the departmental functions and he has to commit a lot of information to memory. The induction process at DUL is not very effective and in particular the newly appointed manager is not introduced to board members. The manger of R&D in DUL feels uneasy about undertaking his new role.

Note there is potential conflict between some of the roles and functions R&D provide: for example providing support for product maintenance is likely to clash with product development. The potential loss of income in the short term nearly always takes precedence over medium to long term activities. However, R&D are judged mainly on their ability to develop successful new products and are seldom credited for the time they spend on what is for them a secondary activity.

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2.11 Summary

In this unit we have considered the functions associated with a typical R&D department operating in the microelectronic sector, produced a typical job description for a design engineer and mentioned some management issues. Typical R&D functions that we have described are:-

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2.12 Suggested Reading

Title Author ISBN Date
Engineering & Product Development Management Armstrong S.C. 0521790697 2001
New Product Development Barclay I. 0750649984 2000


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2.13 Self Assessment Questions

Q1 Produce a job description for the manager of the R&D department in EEL

You may use a similar format to that used in the unit or create your own. Try and imagine what technical and behavioral skill sets the manager would require to carry out the management function.

You should ask your work colleagues what they think - you may also ask you manager if you think that's appropriate. Finally, you should consult the recommended texts and possibly search for ideas on the internet.

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Q2 Systems Engineers in EEL

You may have noticed that we have referred to systems on several occasions, but there is no such job profile for a systems engineer in the development department. Do you consider this an omission? If not justify your your opinion, if it is an omission how do you see the problem being solved, bearing in mind that EEL is only a small company?

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