Page 3: Product development
The steel for the new aircraft carriers needed to meet a very high specification. Materials for warships have to be able to endure the unique conditions in which they operate, such as extreme temperatures or high seas. This contract required grades of steel with strength and toughness higher than those Corus had put forward for its previous contract bid. This represented a new product opportunity.
Product development ideas may come from:
- competitors - developing a product in response to competitors helps the industry as a whole to move forward
- changes in technologies - arising out of research and development
- innovation - using new ideas to make new products
- employees - who see opportunities from working with products
- the market - where customer demand suggests new products.
In this case, the customer, the Royal Navy, drove demand. It wanted a single preferred supplier for all the materials it needed. Corus satisfied the contract through research and innovation based on its continuous improvement processes.
During the bidding process, Corus worked with the Aircraft Carrier Design Team. This is known as 'early vendor involvement'. Corus did this to make sure that it understood, could direct and could meet the final product specification requirements. It is a high-risk strategy as Corus had to invest money, time and effort before knowing if its bid was successful. However, this process gave Corus the time to develop the steels which had the increased levels of strength combined with toughness that the design team desired.
To add to the challenge, the Royal Navy changed the product specification during the period of the bidding process, creating new factors for Corus to overcome:
- Design requirements changed to make the ships lighter and improve speed. To save on weight, the steel plate needed to be higher strength but thinner.
- The maximum thickness of certain critical parts increased by over 40%. As the thickness of steel increases, its ability to meet the required high strength and resistance to fracture becomes increasingly more difficult.
This meant Corus had to develop a completely new product to meet this much higher specification if it was to win the contract.
Although continuous improvement usually focuses on small increases, Corus' established systems and quality procedures helped it to meet this step change:
- Its Research & Development expertise and knowledge came up with the new steel formula that had the required toughness and strength.
- Lean production principles helped to minimise waste.
- Just in time procedures helped to meet tight deadlines.