Thanks for all the feedback. Here are the responses.
We had a training / information meeting 1½ years ago for Apriori at our sister division. It demonstrated a remarkable potential for showing areas of a component that could be reduced and still maintain strength. We chose not to get it at our facility as we were already using Ansys and taking as much cost and material out of our parts. Our sister division had not been as diligent so the Apriori software showed them substantial areas of improvement and cost outs. Very interesting software, fairly simple to use, and worth the time to set up a demonstration: at your facility, with your parts.
Hope this helped some...
Observations so far include:
- similar to other analysis tools, it can be very easy to get an answer, but not easy to know if it is a good/valid answer
- probably need a dedicated (or very regular) user to stay fully competent with the tool
- many different modules, so be sure what you are getting
- the company at times was not very flexible/reasonable with evaluation/licensing/pricing
- be aware you may have to pay for an evaluation copy to try their software
- be aware that "named users" may be a license requirement
- be aware they may have some unusual terms in the agreement (e.g., "re-evaluate" terms/pricing after 3 years)
- it can be very helpful in evaluating design/manufacturing alternatives
- some experienced designers don't feel the need to use it frequently, though
- suggest starting with a very small number of licenses, if you decide to pursue it.
We've had aPriori for about a year now, or maybe a little longer.
From your question, I can't really tell if you want to know if it works, OR if you want to know if users use it as part of their daily routine (you hinted to effectiveness).
So, I'll answer the question in multiple parts, and you can piece it together however you'd like.
As far as a "tool" that does what it says that it will do, "Costing before it matters", it will do that, and it will do that very well, and very quickly. The one caveat that we found there was that we wanted to use it for our internal costing, or costing that would be close to our internal costing, so that we could actually see the costing before it mattered. Stock, out of the box, that didn't work for us. We literally had parts that would cost from 75% less, to 75% more than our internal costing, and anywhere in between, and so the costing as far as what the cost for US was, was never off, and couldn't be trusted.
To that end, however, one thing that aPriori does do very well, and stock out of the box very well, is directionally correct costing. Let's say that you have a part that aPriori costs at $32.63. Your internal costing on the same part is $18.45. So, aPriori is way off, as far as costing. But, if you change that part by adding 10 holes to it, and the cost goes up in aPriori to $33.64, then you know that the holes have added cost. Likewise, if you take 10 holes out, and combine some features, and find that the aPriori cost goes down to $28.43, then you know that your directionally going in the right direction. Now that example seems pretty simple on the surface, and it is. But that costing that stuff manually can get pretty involved if you had a series of parts in which some where more and some more less. If the overall goal is to be less in the end, then aPriori can tell you this very quickly by just comparing the two versions of the final assemblies. This is something that it does very very well.
So, from the standpoint, of it does it work question, the answer is a pretty emphatic yes.
For us, our costing is done internally by our ME department. Historically, that has, and still is, a fairly involved process which includes steps in our ERP, which adds another layer of complication. That's one of the main driving reasons that we wanted to get aPriori, so that we could see these costs early on, develop overall final assembly costs for marketing early on, and do all of this without having to get ME involved.
But that's where we ran into two problems.
1) I stated above that the stock production environment, called a VPE (Virtual Production Env) in aPriori was not really to be trusted, so we couldn't use it for any kind of internal costing at all. We just never knew where the final cost would be. Becuase of that, we didn't really use the tool, even as a directional tool. While the directional part of the tool is something that they sell you pretty hard on, and like I stated above does work, at the end of the day, you typically don't just want to know directionally if your right, you still kind of want to know what is this thing going to really cost me. If you can't trust that number, then it's a little bit harder pill to swallow about even being directionally correct. That was something that we definitely struggled with, and because of that, we didn't use it a lot. So, to the effectiveness end, it wasn't really an effective tool.
Eventually, aPriori did a custom VPE for us (cost us some money), that was based on our production environment. Our environment is actually pretty simple, lasering, breaking, and welding, and so it was pretty easy for them to set that up to match what we do. After completing that upgrade, we've found that our part costs aPriori vs. internally costed are +/- 10% at the max, and more like +/- 5% on the average. With those numbers, it definitely feels like something that we can trust.
We just got that completed earlier this year, and are now running our first two pilot projects through it, keeping track of aPriori costing vs. internally costed. At this point, I can tell you how we're doing on that, however, because we're just starting, but I hope to be in the 5% range when we're done. We'll see.
2) ME. ME is and isn't a problem. On one hand, they like having the control over costing. That meant that they would often cost parts based on how they looked, and not necessarily a defined set of rules, and then on other parts use a defined set of rules. I guess that maybe this gave them some power over deciding what overall costs should be? I don't really understand their overall thinking in that regards. On the other hand, they don't like to do costing, because it takes so much time, and is really a pain in the butt. It's a time consuming process, that really doesn't add any value to anything.
So, when engineering was approached by aPriori, we thought that this would be a boon for ME, and we could get them on board. Well, we were wrong. In our first attempt at the installation, we couldn't get any help out of them at all to figure out why aPriori costing was off, or significantly different than our internal costing. After realizing that we weren't going to get a lot of help out of them, management approached ME, and asked them if they would get on board, IF we could get the costing closer, so that we could all see some benefit. They reluctantly agreed, and that's when we did a custom VPE. In that process, however, it did fox out some issues that ME had in how they costed things. We did actually rewrite their internal costing model because it didn't make sense, and then applied those rules to aPriori costing. This is how we eventually came to numbers that are withing reason.
With that being said, we still don't quite have ME on board, and part of that is because we haven't had a chance to run these pilots yet. Engineering is hoping after the pilots that we can actually get ME on board to use the costing coming out of aPriori as their system costing, which is something that should be possible.
If you can get your costing department (whoever that is) on board with aPriori, it will go a LONG way in making the tool more useful, and beneficial. Again, because of our costing departments lack of enthusiasm to get on board, the tool has been somewhat limited in effectiveness.
Another pill that's hard to swallow with aPriori is the cost. At the cost of the software, if you're not implementing in multiple facets of your facility, you'll probably never make money on it as a "directional" tool, although they will tell you differently. I suppose that there are companies that have used it to save them money in that respect, but that takes a little bit of work to do as well, and someone has to be disciplined in doing that work to find those parts that are outliers and have costing that is way out of line with where they should be. For us, we don't have a big enough part base to really warrant trying to find those. Most of our suppliers work off of costing that we give them, or dictate to them. If they won't make it for what we say, then we make it internally, or we find someone else. We have some components, like engines, that we have absolutely 0 say in the cost, and so aPrioi would never help us there either. Those costs are 100% fixed, and out of our control
While I think that it's a great tool, if we had a crystal ball, I'm not sure that we would have started. If engineering was the sole driver of costing in our facility, and we were the ones that determined that, we would have installed and implemented aPriori lock, stock and barrel. We see the benefit of having costing done automatically. Old school departments don't see that benefit, and we've had to drag them along. Because of that, it's really been an uphill battle, that we hope that we're about to crest. Part of me is hopeful that after the pilot, we can prove that aPriori costing is accurate and ME will use that as their drivers, but part of me is also real, and I realize that even if the numbers are 100% accurate, we're probably not going to get them on board right away, but we may eventually get there.
I hope that this information is helpful...