Boulanger is a Belgian SME, with 11 employees. It is specialized in metal processing and manufacturers high-end lamps and lighting fixtures. Before this AE it was a non user of micro-electronics, with no electronics in its product portfolio.
The objective of this AE was to improve the market position of the company. Over the last 2 years, it has come under pressure, from competitors from low-wage countries flooding the market with lower cost products. Boulanger decided to compete by developing an automatic control of the behaviour and intensity of lamps, providing soft start, intensity control, and automatic switching depending on the presence of occupants in the room. This functionality integrated in the lamps currently is not available on the market. The lamps were to be controlled by the environment (optical and IR-sensors) and by end-user controls.
Digital gate-array technology was chosen because of technical (size) and economical considerations, related to production volume
The development budget of this project was 70000 EUR. The rate of profitability will be 24.5%, with a payback period of the investment in less than 3 years. In the sector where Boulanger is active, a rate of profitability of 5 to 10% percent is normal and therefore this investment is considered as a very good one.
The AE started in November 1996 and was completed 16 months later, which was 6 months later than planned. There were 2 main reasons for this 6 month overrun. Two months were lost in sourcing the sensors and other components (switches etc.) that the digital gate array was going to control. These had to be defined before the specification of the gate array could be finalised and unfortunately the suppliers were a lot slower than expected. The further 4 month delay was due to insufficient resources being committed by the sub contractor for the validation of the gate array. The sub contractor was not familiar with working with non micro-electronic companies and as a result overspent on the project. Since the FU had a fixed price contract with the sub contractor the cot increase had to be borne by the sub contractor. Hence by the end of the project the commitment to the FU was minimal.
The company felt that an independent expert helping to control the whole process is very important for non-microelectronics companies. The expert should help drafting the specification and give advice on prices and technical choices to be made. This probably was the most important lesson for a small company, not having in-house expertise.