The amount of progress being made in transitioning from a sequential development to a mechatronic configuration process can be evaluated based on three criteria:
- Which specialist disciplines already work on a component-oriented basis? Only once all of the disciplines involved have begun defining mechatronic components collectively can we speak of a thoroughly mechatronic process.
- For what percentage of the plant structure of a machine or plant is the development process is already mechatronic? In the transition phase, it is entirely normal for certain areas to continue to be traditionally structured, even though other areas have already undergone mechatronic development and configuration.
- Which of the employees involved in the life cycle of a machine or plant are already working mechatronically? Mechatronical development processes can be continuously implemented from sales and distribution to after sales service. This means that the sale and distribution of mechatronic components or, for example, the alteration of plans when making modifications, also involve mechatronic development processes.
These three criteria yield a cube that illustrates the status of the transition. The most marked effects (streamlining, quality, etc.) are achieved when the cube is filled (goal), i.e. when employees from all disciplines and phases in the life cycle of every machine and plant are developing, distributing, manufacturing, etc. on a mechatronic basis.
One closely related approach is the global strategy. This involves introducing a mechatronic development process globally, i.e. for all disciplines, for entire machines and plants, and continuously for all life-cycle phases, from analysis to productive use. In day-to-day business, however, this procedure is only partially suitable for the following reasons:
- Limited resources: In the analysis phase, all of the important experts in a company must play a role in coordinating important rules and standards. When orders are being worked on, however, the required capacities are usually lacking.
- Inadequate employee qualifications As discussed in the previous section, the transition to a mechatronic development process can only be achieved by improving the qualifications of existing employees. This cannot be accomplished simultaneously for all employees over a short time period.
One alternative procedure is the germ cell strategy. As a result of problems arising from the global strategy, a mechatronic development process is initially designed and implemented for a limited area only. An area that is expected to achieve the fastest results is designated as a germ cell. This germ cell is expanded on an iterative basis. The germ cell strategy offers the following advantages with regard to the aforementioned problems inherent to the global strategy:
- Incremental release of resources: By introducing mechatronic development processes, resources are incrementally released that can be used to further develop the modular system and expand the area of application.
- Incremental acquisition of additional qualifications: By introducing mechatronic development processes productively at an early stage, work-related expertise is developed, thus raising employee qualification levels in a timely and successive manner.
Consequently, the germ cell strategy is generally preferable to the global strategy.
A crucial task for companies facing the transition to a mechatronic development process is to designate both a suitable germ cell and a procedure by which it can be gradually expanded. In addition to technical and economic framework conditions, this task should also take ‘interpersonal aspects’ into consideration.