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

PDM and the Truth About Multi-CAD Support

It’s no secret that engineers live in a multi-CAD world. As part of their daily routines, engineers routinely collaborate with customers, suppliers, and partners, each working with different CAD tools, yet all needing to be on the same page.

Most companies use, on average, 2.7 different CAD systems internally, according to CAD maker PTC, and that doesn’t account for other tools put into play by external partners. Each tool has a distinct file format and different flair for handling 3D CAD data and models. The variances can quickly turn into a nightmare for engineers who are simply trying to collaborate and share designs to get their jobs done.

CAD vendors have tried to address the multi-CAD issue for years, but it remains a struggle for many companies–some trapped by manual processes that don’t effectively do the job, others saddled with CAD management solutions that don’t live up to their promise of dealing with disparate models and CAD file types. Read More

Guiding the PDM Conversation Requires a Steely-Eyed Gaze

get-chekclistThe decision to invest in a modern engineering document management system is a big deal. A variety of questions arise, from the financial (What’s the budget?) to the logistical (How do we deploy and not fall behind in our work?) and the practical (Who is in charge of random issues?). Sometimes the answer comes from within the organization, and sometimes the answer is more like, “We’ll solve that with the software vendor.”

When the answers require a joint venture, it is important to enter into the conversation with the software vendor as an equal partner. Every vendor of product data management (PDM) and/or engineering document management (EDM) software wants a happy customer—but they prefer happy and compliant. If you let the vendor drive the conversation, you may not get what you really need from your new software. Read More

Data Efficiency as the Engine of Creativity

A revolution in IT is underway, pressured by four strong currents: big data analysis, the cloud, mobile devices, and social media. Because of the momentum of these trends, some engineering software companies now push their customers to port every bit of design and engineering data to cloud technology, so it can be reorganized for greater efficiency.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) products take this approach; they scrape every engineering document for every bit of information, and reassemble the pieces in a new database. According to this philosophy, the key to efficiency is data granularity; the more one breaks design information into its individual pieces the more efficient the organization becomes. A small army of consulting firms make a good living doing this for PLM customers.

But as the old adage states, the devil is in the details. Is a drawing or a 3D model just a geometry database that needs the information within to be extracted? Is every cell in a spreadsheet really longing to be liberated and moved to a PLM database? Does efficiency require scrambling the existing paradigm and changing work flow? No doubt, cloud technology has tremendous value when used correctly; the question becomes how to use it wisely.

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Goodbye Rogues and Stowaways

To say “engineering creates a lot of data” is to utter the understatement of the year. The complexity of information seems to rise exponentially when manual processes become digital. A problem occurs when a business automates different job functions and divisions independently. It is not uncommon for a business to automate business processes before engineering processes.

Business operations need engineering data, but without a plan in place to coordinate how the data moves, troublemakers can sneak in. Someone can print a file and send it to another department. Or a file can be attached to a CAD document without authorization. I call this kind of ad hoc data sharing as creating rogues and stowaways. These new files or metadata documents sneak around in the network, hiding their intentions and moving through the system without detection. You can’t audit rogues and stowaways, and others can’t use them if they aren’t registered as part of the data management system. Read More

Survey Update Confirms Strong Interest in CAD Data Management

The 2016 edition of the Business Advantage Annual CAD Trends Survey is out, and there are few real surprises in this year’s results. CAD-using businesses are watching the newer technologies, but only a small percentage of potential users are deploying. Meanwhile, technologies that have been around longer are the most trusted. But with the exception of the CAD tools themselves, most technologies used by design and engineering professions have plenty of room to grow.

Four of the top five technology trends, based on both usage and ranked importance, are the same as last year. 2D Drafting tops the charts as a deployed technology, followed close by 3D modeling CAD (which is given a higher ranking of importance by users). Far from becoming the Windows 95 of engineering, 2D drafting continues to be essential. Based on asking the same questions over and over for years whenever I talk to CAD managers, I believe there are 2.5 seats of 2D drafting CAD used in manufacturing for every seat of 3D modeling CAD. In AEC the ratio is more like 5 to 1.

The Business Advantage Quadrant

Ranks engineering technologies into four categories based on the results of survey data Read More

When Legacy Data Projects Go Bad

All engineering software vendors publish case studies about successful clients and projects. Good case studies help others understand the specific value a software product or service can be. But what about projects that nobody wants to talk about?

Two recent articles here have discussed the business value of legacy data, and how to decide what data is worth putting into the new PDM.

Today I want to tell you about an engineering legacy data project that will never make it into a case study. They say experience is the best teacher, when it comes to failure I think it is better to observe it second hand than to experience it directly.

By the way, I know this is a guest post for Synergis, but this case does not involve Synergis Software or any of its customers. I am going to be intentionally vague to avoid embarrassing those involved and to avoid violating confidentiality agreements. Read More

Understanding the Business Value of Legacy Data, Part 2

In the first article in this series, I introduced the importance of clear thinking about legacy data when installing a product data management (PDM) system. I spent time recently talking to Todd Cummings, VP of Technology, about his nearly 20 years of experience helping companies of all sizes install and use Synergis Adept. One of the first things he told me was “If you haven’t worn that gift tie for several years, then it’s time to donate it to the Salvation Army.” Apply the idea to legacy data, Todd said, not as a hard-and-fast rule but “as more of a healthy challenge: don’t assume legacy data should automatically be put into the PDM/EDM system.”

It is all about the business value of the information. Todd advises clients to make business value the lens through which they review legacy data. If data created 10 years ago is still accessed by your field engineers and support team, it stays in.  When it comes to some projects—not all data is valuable. Every business is different. Read More

Understanding the Business Value of Legacy Data, Part 1

When a company invests in a new product data management (PDM) system like Synergis Adept, one of the first agenda items is (or should be) to decide what to do with legacy data (product/project information created in the past and not in active current use). When engineering information is first created it is always of high value. But over time, value diminishes. The rate of value decay varies by company. So, how important is it to make older engineering data a part of the new PDM?

Some companies want to sidestep the question. On one hand, some will think the best choice is to only use the new PDM system with current projects. On the other hand, some will think the way forward is to put everything into the PDM. Both of these choices are based on overly simplistic assumptions about the value of data. Read More

The Goldilocks Approach to Data Management

The classic folk story (fairy tale) of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is often told as a morality tale about not being snoopy. After all, Goldilocks had no business making herself at home in the Bears residence, eating their porridge and breaking a chair. But I think there is another moral to learn from this story: Make sure you go with the correct fit.

In the wide world of data management software for engineering, there are Papa Bear, Momma Bear, and Baby Bear solutions. There are also companies that fit into the Papa, Momma, and Baby size patterns. When an engineering company realizes it is lost, wandering through a forest of data inefficiency, it becomes important to pick the right-sized solution to get its data management sorted out. In this age of fierce competition between technologies, it is important to sort through the issues carefully. Read More