Revving Up Product Development

Founded in 1916 and headquartered in Beinasco, Italy, Cornaglia Group develops leading-edge components for the world’s automakers — including exhaust systems, intake systems, fuel tanks and air filters. When Massimo Marcarini was named director of R&D in 2012, his vision was ambitious: to completely transform the product development function at this relatively small 100-year-old company. Recently, Marcarini talked with Dimensions about how he accomplished this mission — while also reducing overall development costs by 24 percent.

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Revving Up Product Development

Cornaglia Product 
DIMENSIONS: What inspired you to join Cornaglia in 2012?

MASSIMO MARCARINI: I had spent four and a half years at Cornaglia in the 1990s as a research and development manager — so I knew the company had outstanding products and a commitment to hiring excellent people. As a smaller supplier to the automotive industry, Cornaglia has always recognized that it must innovate to remain competitive. When I rejoined the company in 2012, Cornaglia had an impressive 5,000-square-foot research and development center in Villanova d’Asti with 60 engineers. They were relying on older processes and building a lot of physical prototypes. Cornaglia was patenting an average of only three innovations projects per year. I looked at the situation and thought, “I can make a real difference here.”

DIMENSIONS: Were there cultural issues that needed to be addressed? Or were the primary challenges centered on technology?

MM: Let me begin by saying that I believe Cornaglia has the greatest employees in the world. They are our most important asset and the single-greatest driver of our success. However, prior to 2012, our employees did not have the best environment for focusing on innovation. Our engineers were working in individual offices, not communicating, and concentrating on very narrow projects, such as one product feature or a single component. The mindset was, “I do my job, and you do yours.” When I arrived at Cornaglia, we literally knocked down the walls and brought our engineers together in a collaborative, open-space work environment. People began to talk and share their development work. We began to think of ourselves as a supplier of value-added systems rather than separate components. Today our mindset is “It is our shared job to supply everything — and it all works as an integrated system.” That is allowing us to deliver a new level of value to our customers.

four-step process
Previously, product development at Cornaglia was a complex, time-consuming seven-step process. Today it is a streamlined four-step process that leverages simulation at an earlier stage.
DIMENSIONS: Other than tearing down walls, what other steps is Cornaglia taking to encourage engineering collaboration?

MM: We continually revise our processes and update our engineering organization to ensure that they meet our company’s needs. We have to take into account continually changing input from the external world — information based on the evolution of our market, customers and competitors — as well as feedback from our company. Our duty is to analyze all this data and align ourselves to account for all these needs. An example is our move from a CAD-centric vision to a CAE-centric vision. This means that CAE engineers are part of the concept development process, and Cornaglia provides them with the tools to run a first-stage simulation. We’ve also initiated other organizational changes, such as introducing production people into the development team.

DIMENSIONS: As a supplier of value-added systems, do you find that your customers expect more from you than just high-quality components?

MM: Customers expect more and more. They need innovative products in terms of performance, technology, weight, size, cost, etc. The market requires suppliers that offer a systems integrator approach, someone to manage complex systems composed of mechanical, electronic and software components. Our customers want to simplify their technical and supply-chain contacts as much as possible.

Cornaglia has defined five-year innovation road maps for our products. The road maps are continually updated or customized as needed, and we systematically share this progress with our customers. We cooperate with many important companies like ANSYS and 3M to develop innovative projects and processes. Last but not least, we validate the final results of our projects with our customers.

Cornaglia at a Glance

Cornaglia

2014 revenues: €19 million
Employees: 1,000
Headquarters: Beinasco, Italy

DIMENSIONS: What were the steps in product development at Cornaglia historically — and what does the process look like today?

MM: Historically, the development cycle was composed of seven steps, including the construction of two different physical prototypes. Product flaws and weaknesses were identified fairly late in the cycle, when a lot of time and money had already been invested. Simulation had been used to develop prototypes, but was not employed at the earliest stages of design.

Today, we’ve reduced the design cycle to four steps. We use engineering simulation to verify product performance and address any issues in the first stages of design — before we build a prototype. We can test the product in a virtual environment and iterate on various designs to determine the best one before generating a costly prototype. Once the product is validated via simulation, we build a single prototype that represents a very robust design. This eliminates an entire round of design, prototyping and testing.

Such early use of simulation drives a lot of time and costs out of Cornaglia’s development cycle. In addition, it has empowered our engineers to be much more innovative and creative, because with simulation they are working in a low-cost, risk-free environment, where it costs only time to create new design concepts.

DIMENSIONS: In addition to leveraging simulation at a much earlier stage, are you more sophisticated today in your use of simulation? For example, are you applying multiple physics?

MM: When we decided to transform our product development function, we approached some key suppliers, including ANSYS, and said, “Help us make the best possible use of your technology.” Let’s face it, the provider knows the technology best — and they also know how the world’s best engineering teams are applying it. I believe this collaborative approach is the ideal way to derive value from your technology investments. As a result, today we use simulation in a much more complex, high-level way — and we use more-advanced features of the software to replicate real-world phenomena, such as product wear and deformation. We’ve created a high-performance computing (HPC) environment and are using HPC versions of the software. In keeping with our new systems-level perspective, we’re integrating multiple physics and beginning to apply design optimization tools to look at the whole product system. We partnered with ANSYS to develop a detailed five- to six-year plan that supports our simulation leadership. That plan includes hiring new employees, training them, and adopting leading-edge processes and proven best practices — not just buying new software.

DIMENSIONS: You have made a large investment in simulation and simulation processes. How do you know this is the right thing to do?

MM: I have absolute confidence in the simulation process and results, not only because I believe in this method, but I have proof in the numbers. Simulation models are validated by testing as well as comparison with customer and field data. Key factors are collaboration partners, like ANSYS or Politecnico di Turino, which help Cornaglia grow through tools, experience, market surveys and technology implementation. The team continually acquires competence, motivation and new skills from training. The confidence also comes from the company’s investing in assets and people as well as revising the organization to equip the company with a new mindset.

Since 2012, Cornaglia has become much more sophisticated in its use of simulation, in keeping with its focus on innovation and its systems-level approach.
Since 2012, Cornaglia has become much more sophisticated in its use of simulation, in keeping with its focus on innovation and its systems-level approach.
DIMENSIONS: What are some of the tangible benefits Cornaglia has realized as a result of the changes you’ve made?

MM: One of the most impressive results is that we’ve reduced the overall cost of the product development cycle by 24 percent. That savings is due to the elimination of physical prototypes and test loops; instead, we use simulation as a virtual prototyping and testing tool. In addition, we’ve decreased the average time-to-market launch from 30 months to 20 months. As I mentioned earlier, Cornaglia was patenting only three innovations annually prior to 2012. In 2014 alone, we filed 10 patent applications. The financial benefits have been tremendous; in fact, I estimate that Cornaglia has earned a 10-times return on its investments in simulation technology. However, the strategic benefit is even more meaningful — because today Cornaglia is known as an innovative, system-level supplier that delivers dependable solutions and real customer value.

DIMENSIONS: What new challenges do you face, or what areas of improvement will you focus on next?

MM: We must grow our company through market penetration, gaining customers, developing superior products and managing complex systems. We must improve our engineering capabilities through constant process revision and improving our expertise. Cornaglia must become a systems integrator to develop products that are not just mechanical but that incorporate mechatronics, sensors, electronics and software.

About Massimo Marcarini

Massimo Marcarini

From 2000 to 2009, Massimo Marcarini served as general manager for Motorola’s research and development center in Torino, Italy. Under his direction, the center developed more than 40 different mobile phone models, filed more than 25 patents, and became Motorola’s “global competence center” in many different areas of engineering development. When the center was spun off as an independent company in 2009, Marcarini served as its CEO and general manager. He joined Cornaglia Group as director of R&D in 2012. He holds a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Politecnico di Torino and a bachelor’s degree in science from Liceo Scientifico Isaac Newton in Chivasso. His M.B.A. in business development is from CEDEP University, France.

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