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How systems engineering helped Whirlpool become a global powerhouse

MIT Open Learning

MIT xPRO helped the company simplify planning, design, and manufacturing


A lead home appliance manufacturer reduced complexity and costs to solidify its role as a modern, global engineering organization. How did the company accomplish this ambitious goal?

With the help of MIT xPRO, the company prioritized implementing systems engineering principles to simplify planning, design, and manufacturing.

Here, we review key takeaways from Whirlpool Corporation’s systems engineering journey to set the stage for what organization leaders and decision-makers in manufacturing can expect from embedding systems engineering into their processes.

Systems engineering enables global success

Burdened with too many product architectures and overlapping products, Whirlpool Corp. made a strategic decision in 2016 to consolidate design across its 150 commercial segments. The company’s goal was to create truly global platforms rather than continuing to create products to meet the needs of just one region.

To further this mission, Whirlpool Corp. turned to systems engineering, an approach that has helped countless organizations design, manage, and optimize complex systems.

“Systems engineering has been enabling us to be faster to the market with innovative products.”

Ludo Beaufils, Vice President, Global Platforms, recalls that before 2016, Whirlpool Corp.’s organization was “spread out around the globe, but none of it was global in philosophy or nature or method or approach. It was individual teams working in their own locations with each one reinventing their own versions of the wheel.”

Integrating a systems engineering approach enabled seamless collaboration and improved efficiency at Whirlpool Corp., helping to create an environment where the same basic product can be produced in just 1–3 general formats globally.

Systems engineering improves go-to market time

Whirlpool Corp. has effectively slashed complexity by about 10–20% since implementing a systems engineering approach in 2016. Ken Kleinhample, Vice President of Product Development Excellence, says he expects that “over time, this systems engineering approach will reduce [Whirlpool Corp.’s] product development cycles significantly.”

In four years, Whirlpool Corp. reduced product architectures globally by about 40% in a two-year period and reduced parts complexity from over 110,000 parts to about 70,000 active parts.

“Over time, this systems engineering approach will reduce our product development cycles significantly.”

According to Kleinhample, complexity reduction is helping the organization “offer new products faster to our customers because we have dramatically reduced the number of parts we’re using to redesign.” The idea is to start with fewer building blocks that can be modified later in the design process.

“Systems engineering has been enabling us to be faster to the market with innovative products,” says Fernando Senger, Director, Architecture Management. Senger explains, “We are able to launch a feature in the market in a much faster way because we are starting with architectures with common interfaces, and the team focuses on the development of that feature that could be then easily integrated into the product.”

Critical building blocks to systems engineering success

Like any massive system overhaul, implementing a systems engineering approach isn’t a simple one-and-done initiative that yields immediate results. There were two critical building blocks to Whirlpool Corp.’s success.

1. Securing buy-in from organizational leaders

Whirlpool Corp.’s strategy in reducing complexity to improve go-to-market time required a substantial investment of capital and attention from organizational leaders. The initial phases of development of new architectures were long as teams worked to optimize for a global set of products.

Recalls Beaufils, “We had to accept that some projects were going to take as long as they were going to take.” Ultimately, however, he and other leaders recognized that affording teams more space and time up front would improve quality when it came time for global distribution.

2. Fostering a culture of cross-functional collaboration and learning

Whirlpool Corp.’s systems engineering journey involved fostering a culture of cross-functional collaboration and continuous learning.

The company reorganized product teams into vertical and horizontal functions. Vertical teams are platform teams that own end-to-end accountability for all products worldwide. Horizontal teams act as service organizations for the platforms and help to drive consistency among the vertical teams’ operations.

In four years, Whirlpool Corp. reduced product architectures by 40% and reduced parts complexity from >110,000 parts to ~70,000 active parts.

Whirlpool Corp. committed to strategic professional development and training initiatives to strengthen core skills and competencies in systems engineering, including online corporate learning solutions via MIT xPRO. To date, the company has enrolled 480 Whirlpool Corp. team members into MIT xPRO’s Architecture and Systems Engineering: Models and Methods to Manage Complex Systems program.

According to Mandy McIvor, Director, Global Architecture, Dishwashing Platform, the program has helped Whirlpool Corp. team members understand industry best practices from a systems engineering standpoint and establish a common language and processes around systems engineering.

Is your company the next systems engineering success story?

Embedding systems engineering into its processes has enabled Whirlpool Corp. to secure its position as a global powerhouse-and the business world is taking notice. The company catapulted from 39th to 5th place on The Wall Street Journal’s Management Top 250 list in 2022.

Your company could be the next systems engineering success story. There’s no better time for organizational leaders and decision-makers in engineering to examine their processes, team structures, and culture to prioritize a systems engineering approach.

Learn more about how MIT xPRO can support your team.

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