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Optimize the Design Cycle

GoochAs Desktop Engineering looks forward to its 19th year of covering the hardware and software that design engineers need, we see some amazing trends converging that are changing the way you work, and the way we cover the industry.

The primary driver of this change is evident: electronics, software and embedded systems are increasingly needed in more products, which in turn increases design complexity. Despite the need for engineers to conceptualize, simulate and test more complicated products, time-to-market deadlines continue to shrink. To meet the demands of consumers, regulators, and manufacturing in less time, engineers from different disciplines must collaborate with colleagues from different departments.

Fortunately, the design, analysis, prototyping, computing and testing technologies Desktop Engineering has traditionally covered provide part of the answer. However, that’s not enough.

Cultivate a Culture of Collaboration

Not enough? How can the ridiculous advancements in engineering computing speeds, coupled with the ability to design and accurately simulate entire systems not be enough? Because people make processes that efficiently integrate technologies, and people change much more slowly than technology does.

Perhaps no one sees the people and process challenges as clearly as engineering service providers who work with multiple companies, and so have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the details of various engineering workflows.

“The current workflow is so bad. While it’s very common, it’s horribly wasteful — and I fought for the last 20 years for companies to realize it,” laments ATA Engineering Inc.’s H. Clark Briggs to Senior Editor Kenneth Wong in this article. “I spend most of my process consulting time trying to get organizations to realize it.”

Why, after 20 years, with all of the technological advancements that have been introduced over that time, does Briggs still battle against inefficient workflows? Because the technological tools are not the most significant hurdle.

“Tools only provide a link between your expertise and your ideas for the product you design,” Stefano Picinich, founder of space and defense contractor Airworks, tells Contributing Editor Beth Stackpole in her feature this month. To make use of those tools, people up and down the corporate ladder have to accept them. C-level executives have to authorize their purchase, engineers have to be trained to use them and managers have to ensure new technology is actually being used effectively.

Millions of dollars of engineering technology investments too often never meet their full potential to shorten the design cycle because people either don’t understand the benefit to the company as a whole, or are simply too comfortable doing things the way they’ve always been done.

“There’s always resistance to change. Always,” Rod Mach, president of IT service provider TotalCAE tells Contributing Editor Mark Clarkson in a feature article this month. “Even if the change is better, people naturally resist change.”

Innovation Inertia

Resistance to change is increasingly encountered when companies try to make sense of the massive amounts of data — from consumer preferences to regulatory specifications to simulation and analysis — that is part of the design cycle. To understand that data and make decisions based on it, company leaders need to see a complete picture. One way to paint that picture is for everyone involved to add to it via a centralized system, such as a product lifecycle management platform. This is often where human nature thwarts process innovation.

People accustomed to doing things the way they always have, the way they are sure will work, are reluctant to change their workflow to give someone in another department, possibly on another continent, some additional More Information that may or may not help them make a decision. Because design engineers are the creators and keepers of so much More Information that is crucial for making smart business decisions, any such reluctance on their part can magnify workflow inefficiencies.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see why design engineers would be reluctant to take on additional responsibilities. You’re already being asked to do more complicated work in less time. Efficient collaboration can help decrease time-to-market, but inefficient collaboration takes precious time away from the design engineer.

Desktop Engineering’s goal in 2014 is to bring you the More Information you need to break that chain, optimize your workflow, and integrate the best-in-class technologies using best practices. We’ll do that by expanding our coverage of process and data management tools, introducing engineering services that can help alleviate roadblocks, and explaining ways to overcome cultural barriers to optimization.

You can help. If you have success stories or lessons learned to share on design cycle optimization, we’d love to hear them.

Jamie Gooch is the managing editor of Desktop Engineering. Contact him at de-editors@deskeng.com.

About Jamie J. Gooch

Jamie Gooch is the editorial director of Digital Engineering. Contact him at de-editors@digitaleng.news.