Don’t worry, you haven’t accidentally stumbled upon a fan site for a certain British secret Agent 🙂

We are definitely only talking about MANN+HUMMEL products here! So what exactly do we mean by ‘licence to kill’ and why would this be necessary for us?

Our products are exactly like everything else – they have a life cycle, which involves new products being launched on the market, their sales figures steadily increasing and then eventually dropping again when market demand decreases. At this point, it can generally be said that a product has reached the end of its life cycle and should be discontinued. It goes without saying that this also applies to MANN+HUMMEL products, but actually this is no bad thing. After all, you wouldn’t expect to see a 19th century steering wheel or brake pedal still in use today, other than in a museum or private collection maybe.

MANN+HUMMEL was founded in 1941 and has therefore had plenty of time to develop, test, approve and sell a considerable number of products. There are currently around one million part numbers on our system. How is anyone supposed to maintain an overview of such a large volume? During our day-to-day work, questions often arise about those products that haven’t been requested for some time: Do we even still have the necessary tools? Can our suppliers still send out the components required? Can existing price agreements be maintained or are we paying extra because of the lower numbers of pieces?

Limited lifespan of components poses a challenge for companies

Right now, requirements concerning future supply security are playing an increasingly important role. For instance, electronic components have a limited service life and do indeed break from time to time. You will have experienced this with your light bulbs (or maybe LED lights nowadays) at home. When the bulb breaks, you want a replacement that ideally fits into the same bulb holder. In other words, you just want to replace the faulty part rather than having to buy a whole new lamp. The same is true for our customers who buy electronic parts from us; it is essential that the corresponding replacement parts are available. However, because technology moves on so fast, the challenge is to maintain a continuous supply of spare parts for a number of years.

We have to consider various aspects: Can we supply spare parts over a period of fifteen or twenty years, or even longer, and do we want to? If we can and want to, on what terms? Can we use warehouse management to enable us to cover the necessary time periods? If the answer is yes, how much will this cost and how long will the parts continue to be fully functional?

Process definition within the product life cycle

This is just one example, but it clearly illustrates that product life cycles are an extremely complex issue, which create challenges for all departments within the company. How do we tackle these challenges? How do these difficulties arise and what can we do to proactively respond to them and best satisfy the needs of our customers? How do you know that a product has reached the end of its service life and what steps should be taken at that stage?

These are all questions that I had never asked myself, until almost four years ago when my boss gave me the task of investigating our phase-out process for parts at the Speyer location. It became clear relatively quickly that we had defined a very well established process landscape, which outlines the introduction of new products into our portfolio but does not include any standardised, fully functional processes for phased-out parts. I didn’t see this as a problem – how hard could it be?

As you can well imagine, it wasn’t as easy as I first thought. Before long, the task was extended beyond the Speyer location, and it was now a question of implementing a process that could be applied to all business units at an international level.  Luckily, I didn’t have to tackle this task on my own. I received support from Benjamin Funk, Life Cycle Manager for our OE products in the Industrial Filtration business unit, and Annerose Bidermann, who is responsible for Sales and Marketing within our Management System (MMS) across all business units. Together we worked through countless work instructions and tried to identify processes already in place to work out what exactly Life Cycle Management entails and how phased-out parts were dealt with around the world.

The team soon grew and we were joined by Andreas Franz, who had gained an overview of our subsidiaries by working on a number of projects; Rüdiger Hohmeyer, who is responsible for Life Cycle Management in AA and looks at the requirements from the point of view of our major OE customers; Thomas Wolf, Change Coordinator in AA, who helped us to design and implement a potential platform for our process; and Birgit Schimpf, Global Ratio & Constraint Manager, who brought a purchasing perspective to the team.

As a team, we developed a process flow, which covered all steps from the selection of parts to potentially be phased out and the requisite testing for a wide range of criteria through to the actual process of phasing out parts from all of our systems. We implemented a specific change request (ECR) of our own to enable us to request any information we may need, such as manufacturability, supply obligations and end-of-life inventories.  It was very important for us to document the results we obtained so that years later we could see who had decided what and on the basis of what data. Given the sheer number of part numbers checked, we have no choice but to rely on a digital register of this kind.

Achieving more as a team

It was a real highlight when we finally saw our process being published on DMM (Digital Document Management). To our amusement, the number randomly assigned to our process turned out to be 007! So now it’s even on paper that us Life Cycle Managers have a ‘licence to kill’! 😉

I can say with certainty that I would not have been able to establish a process of this calibre on my own. The different networks and people’s perspectives within the organisation provided us with the inspiration we needed to define the process and ultimately led to the result we managed to achieve. It just proved once again that there is nothing more effective than working as a team – it unlocks more potential and produces better solutions than an individual working on their own could hope for. We are well aware that our process may not yet be perfect,  be it because we weren’t able to consider certain aspects or because the requirements may change in future. Nevertheless, we are confident that we will be in a position to continuously optimise the process – with the help of our colleagues around the world of course. We look forward to receiving your feedback!