Pushing the Creative Buttons

Structural and mechanical engineering brings realization to design ideas. Just because engineering is grounded in physical processes and materials doesn’t make it less creative than any other design process. And therein lies the rub.

The research literature on creativity in engineering can be summarized simply: creativity is notoriously hard to objectify, quantify, qualify, and otherwise manage. There are various creative techniques organizations use to aid the creativity process, most notably brainstorming. Various role-playing scenarios are occasionally used, but most engineers are loathe to engage in such practices. Creativity at the requirements stage is considered particularly painful because engineers want to move on to what is perceived as the more useful and productive processes.

Yet the creative aspects are necessary. When a team suddenly sees a radically different way to achieve a goal, it challenges the organization to make sure the new idea is not just different, but better. Properly managed, creativity can become the catalyst to innovation. Read More

The Dirty Little Secrets of Engineering Document Management

Do you always turn slightly to the left when someone takes your picture, because you think you are showing your “good side”? (I don’t turn my head, but I do lift my chin just a little.) It is human nature to try to put ourselves in the best possible light. Software vendors also do that, so to speak. Every product on the market has strengths and weaknesses. It requires careful study to select the right product when there are competing solutions.

For managing engineering information, three types of programs are competing for market share: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Data Management (PDM), and Engineering Document Management (EDM). PLM companies love to talk about how they integrate all product information into one database to deliver “one version of the truth.” PDM companies extol the virtues of managing access and use of all CAD data. EDM companies talk about streamlining enterprise business processes and making all engineering documentation secure, shared, and accessible. There is considerable overlap between the functions of the three, as well as distinctive elements in how each type of program operates.

I have seen companies come and go during my 30 years in the engineering software industry. Some of them disappeared because they were terrible at marketing. Some died because technology changed and they didn’t. And some died because too many users found out the hard way there are flaws and limitations that the product vendors don’t reveal. Like the right pose for a photo, companies do their best to avoid revealing those dirty little secrets.

What exactly do I mean by dirty little secrets? They are embarrassing facts, troublesome bits of information someone — or in this case, some software company — would rather keep hidden. In the world of engineering, I see three dirty little secrets haunting the industry. Read More

How to Foster Innovation within Your Organization

Published by Kristen Tomasic, President of Synergis Technologies, Inc.


“Innovation happens at the meeting point of different disciplines. When silos of disciplines are broken down, innovation happens.”  Valerie Gervais, Sr. VP HR, Saint-Gobain

I had the pleasure of attending the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC) Manufacturing Summit on October 12 at The Fuge in Warminster where Valerie Gervais was a featured keynote. Of all the presentations, I was most impressed and inspired by what she shared.  From someone whose primary role was in HR, it was illuminating to hear the importance of innovation in all departments and to consider what we can learn from different disciplines inside and outside of an organization.

To give you an example of how she’s leveraged different disciplines in her role, Ms. Gervais sent an anthropologist into a factory to interview employees to help her team to understand the people and their needs. As we all know, anthropologists study people, but how many companies have considered applying their study of humans, norms, and values of societies to better appreciate and understand their employees?

Anthropologists, by practice, start with a blank page when studying new cultures or peoples. They are curious by nature, and are typically experienced in interviewing people about their backgrounds, histories, and experiences. By employing anthropologists to study their factory workers, Valerie and her team were able to adjust employee benefits, policies, and practices to retain skilled factory workers.  The “skilled workforce” issue is a major challenge for many manufacturing companies today, and St. Gobain has cracked the code to improving factory employee retention.

Many people associate the application or study of human sciences like anthropology, sociology, political science, and philosophy with research and education. It’s often difficult to appreciate how a business can benefit from the experiences and expertise of a poly-sci major. But, have you ever been in a meeting where the most innovative idea comes from the person who isn’t living the problem every day?

Consider the insights or solutions we might gain by putting engineers and philosophers and marketers and financial analysts in a room to solve a business problem or develop the next revolutionary product.  I want to be part of that team. Understanding diverse perspectives, getting outside of your own business or industry, and breaking down the divisional or departmental silos can lead to amazing things for your team and your organization, and leads to a much more energizing and interesting culture and work experience.

I told our leadership team recently that I was going to dedicate more time in the coming weeks, months and years to “getting outside of our business.”  That’s how I ended up at the Manufacturing Summit in the first place.  And, if you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to consider the same.  We all have so much we can learn and share if we break down the siloed thinking, working and doing. Valerie said it best, “When silos of disciplines are broken down, innovation happens.”  Count me in!

Probing the Future of Augmented Reality

For the past three years, I have been living a double life. No, I’m not a spy or hiding a second family. I gave in to my midlife crisis and went to graduate school in Germany. I didn’t give up my day job writing about engineering software and doing consulting. By the time you read this, I will have defended my thesis — like a mother bear defends a cub — and graduated.

I’m not sharing this so my social media will fill with congratulatory notes. I’m telling you this as a setup to the topic of this blog post, the future of augmented reality. My new degree is in Media and Communications Studies, a discipline that uses scientific research methods to explore the wide range of human communications, from journalism to selfies.

(Side note: If it seems like I’m going off topic for a Synergis Software blog post, allow me to explain. Synergis has asked me to occasionally use this form to talk about trends and the larger issues in engineering. Let us know what you think.)

For my culminating research project, I took a look at the future of augmented reality (AR). Specifically, I explored what experienced technology marketing professionals think about the near-term future of augmented reality. This means my study was not technical in nature, but my results provide insight into what members of a professional, technical community think about this intriguing new technology. My preliminary findings revealed a complete lack of empirical research on using AR for business and professional marketing, so my project was able to provide information other researchers could use. This is called an ex ante exploratory study. Read More

Is Blockchain Technology In Your Company’s Future?

It is hard to pay attention to the flow of news today and not hear about Bitcoin. Every segment of the news media — even celebrity gossip — seems to have an interest in this radical remake of value exchange. Bitcoin gets the headlines, but the underlying technology — blockchain — is the real news. It is a quintessential foundational technology, and it will have a big impact on engineering, manufacturing, and construction processes.

Blockchain’s Fundamental Capabilities

Before I get into how blockchain will be a game changer, let’s review the technology’s fundamental capabilities. Blockchain is a peer-to-peer network sitting on top of the Internet, just as the World Wide Web or the email protocol does. It took 30 years for the set of technologies we call the Internet to transform our business and personal lives. I believe it won’t take blockchain as long, because it isn’t starting from scratch; the Internet it needs has already been deployed. Read More

What’s Next in Engineering Technology? Part 3

In the two previous articles in this series, I’ve taken a look at short-term trends regarding design tools, and explained how I look for what’s next in IT. In the third and final part, I want to share my current observations about the next big wave of innovation.

I use the ideas of “stacks” as my metaphor to understand how specific technologies interact to create new rounds of innovation. I see a new stack coming together that will drive innovative new applications in a variety of fields. The current innovation stack — CAMS — has four “big idea” technologies (cloud, analytics, mobile, social); this new one has five: real-time processing, operational trust, autonomy, distributed processing, and intelligence. The initials seems to be a good title (ROADI), since the poster child for this next wave of innovation is the self-driving car. ROADI will turn product and services into autonomous discrete agents.

Self-driving cars must possess intelligent and autonomous behavior. They must always respond in real-time to the environment. Their actions are based on a refined notion of trusted operational behavior. The necessary computation and connectivity can’t be centralized in a server or even a cloud; it must take place in each vehicle and in every other object on or near the road. Read More

What’s Next in Engineering Technology? Part 2

In a previous blog post I wrote about near-term technology trends affecting Adept users. Today I want to discuss how I identify and track such trends. I thought this would be a two-part series of articles, but I’ll need a Part 3 to share my thoughts on long-term technology trends affecting the larger world of engineering.

As a point of reference, consider how the Internet became so important to daily life. The original plan didn’t call for it to be used for engineering or data management, or even commerce. The first developments were driven by the military and academia. Today, Internet technologies like email and the World Wide Web are the technical backbone for almost all social, commercial, academic, governance, and industrial activity.

Internet use exploded when four key technologies were exploited as a unit. Those four were the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, the MySQL open source database system, and the trio of lean programming (scripting) languages Python, PHP, and Perl. Each of these technologies were useful alone, but when used together they ignited the tech equivalent of the Cambrian Explosion. Developers started referring to the four technologies as a unit, the “LAMP stack.” Read More

What’s Next in Engineering Technology?

For nearly four years, I have been a guest writer here on the Synergis blog, commenting on the state of engineering document management and highlighting innovative uses of Adept. While I will still be doing that until I wear out my welcome, over the next few months I will also occasionally comment on engineering technology trends. Not just EDMS/PDM issues, but all the digital tools engineers need, and the products they will make with new technologies.

In this column and the next, I will touch on several trends. In future columns, I will explore these ideas in more detail. This article will start with trends more familiar to Adept users; the next one will gaze further ahead.

2D CAD remains essential

3D CAD is a powerful technology, but just as television did not kill radio, 3D CAD did not and will not kill 2D CAD. Rich, descriptive visual languages have evolved over the years, all based in 2D drafting. No less a 3D proponent than Dassault Systemès (Catia, SolidWorks) estimates that for every seat of 3D CAD software in use, there are between four to ten seats of 2D CAD software supporting the same mission. The differences are by industry: Construction uses more 2D seats than automotive, which uses more 2D seats than aerospace and defense. This ratio of 3D to 2D won’t be changing anytime in the near future. Read More

The New EDM Secret Sauc(e)

Here it is 2018, and there is still hang-wringing and skepticism about the value of cloud computing for many aspects of Engineering Document Management (EDM). Some of the complaints sound right out of the late 1980s when engineering companies started wiring together each engineer’s computer into a network. Loss of privacy, loss of security, slower access to data, and other canards were tossed about then, and they are tossed about today when the discussion turns to using cloud technology for EDM.

The hand-wringing continues because interest is rising regarding the potential value of EDM cloud computing. Adoption of cloud-based solutions is up, as awareness of the benefits and advantages of cloud computing become more widespread. As Synergis Software’s Todd Cummings told the audience at last year’s Adept User Conference, “The private cloud is the new WAN.” Read More

Welcome to the Loosely Coupled World

I am noticing a change in thinking in the engineering data industry. Current trends in IT are driving new capabilities and new methods. The industry is moving from consolidation to federation, from tightly coupled systems to loosely coupled systems. This transition has important implications for all engineering companies.

There was a time when product lifecycle management (PLM) was advertised as the evolution of product data management (PDM) or engineering document management (EDM). The three largest vendors of PLM software made a nice business for many years helping enterprise-class manufacturers consolidate all their engineering data into a single comprehensive database. In IT-speak, this is an example of a tightly coupled system. All data and all processes were consolidated into one large program. Centralization was a guiding principle, not only for how the software managed engineering data, but also for the computer infrastructure used to run the PLM platform. Read More