It’s not so much the physical instrument control panel that is important in vehicles nowadays, but the software behind the panel. “As the product lines evolve and become higher-end electronics, the hardware becomes less important and the software becomes more important,” Maxima Marketing Manager Kerry Lanza notes. “So the software applications which run it and have the direct interface with the user many times are unique and specific to Maxima.
We have a team of software engineers develop that and write it, and as the technology expands, it becomes more and more software-driven to where the product becomes almost customizable via software.”
For example, more vehicles are using LCD panels for information, so software determines everything that is seen on such a display. Nevertheless, the hardware must be designed and assembled with nearly 100-percent accuracy to run the software successfully. Those are the functions that Maxima Technologies and Systems LLC offers its customers.
The company’s products include gauges and LCD touchscreen and dot matrix displays that are used in military, industrial, aerospace, marine, commercial trucking, farm and construction equipment. Other products include custom-designed input and output control systems, packaging, lighting and active control systems.
“Customer expectations today are driving us to be at Six Sigma levels,” says David Moffett, global customer supply chain leader. The former plant manager notes that many customers demand mistakes to be at a level of 50 parts per million (ppm) or lower. “We’re utilizing high mistake-proof manufacturing assemblies, so through our designs both internally as well as working with suppliers, we try to develop manufacturing systems that will support that,” he continues.
These include vision systems that will read and write to programs, so the product can’t be processed unless it meets the requirements. This amounts to testing that all the connections on a circuit board are working properly.
“An actual camera will look at the product to validate it is meeting specifications whether calibration, cosmetics or inputs and outputs of the product. It can do it all visually. We also do a lot of computer programs that will read and write the inputs and outputs of the product to validate performance.”
Concept to Customer
Maxima offers solutions to its customers and can do it in four months instead of the two years the industry used to require. “The pace of change has increased so rapidly,” Lanza points out. “Our customers are coming to us because they want us to bring them a solution. They are not going to tell us what they need. I think the Chinese have driven a lot of our customers to make changes quicker and faster. They’ve been able to do that.”
Lanza cites the continuing, rapid evolution of cell phones as an example of the rate of technological change. “That trickles down to even the heavy equipment, and as technology advances, they want to integrate that technology onto their platforms,” he emphasizes. These changes can be integrated into displays more easily than with the old mechanical gauges by simply providing a software upgrade.
Design for Manufacturing
Maxima’s design engineers work out of the Lancaster, Pa., headquarters. Its engineering services for new products, applications, technologies, materials usage or processes can be quoted as a complete package or only for specific functions or activities. Also in Lancaster is the company’s 55,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, which runs two shifts Monday through Friday. An average manufacturing run might be approximately 100, but some products are manufactured in the thousands.
“We do a lot of coordination with our manufacturing group at the design level,” Moffett points out. “So before the product is launched, we do a lot of review for manufacturability so we can support the target, such as 50 ppm.” The company’s manufacturing engineers, tool and die specialists and development shop prototype new products. “They do new designs for manufacturing, and they develop the entire assembly line,” Moffett says.
Its in-house capability is a competitive advantage for Maxima as it builds products to order. “We’re able to do these assembly processes and manufacturing equipment on-site,” Moffett emphasizes. “That means we have manufacturing for our own tooling and fixtures. Couple that with our ability to be vertically integrated.
“We also develop our own software and logic controller programming,” he says. “Typically, for others – if you were contracted out – it could be millions of dollars and take nine to 12 months. Plus we can do that at half the cost and half the time.”