The business of engineering has been on our minds lately.
Whether it’s the global automotive supplier challenged to collaborate with cross-disciplined product teams developing complex products at ever-faster cycle times, or the high tech electronics manufacturer struggling to meet mandates for conflict free sub-components, the business of engineering is at play in each case.
These companies, and many others across industry sectors, are challenged to improve how they handle not just product development or “the science of engineering” but the business of engineering — delivering compliant, quality and profitable products.
It’s been my experience that over the last two decades of so, no matter the industry, product development investments related to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) have been disproportional focused on the science of engineering. This means a focus on mechanical computer aided design (MCAD), simulation, 3D models and other areas. This has left little or no emphasis on cross-discipline workings — the myriad engineering processes necessary to create profitable products — in other words, the business of engineering.
The Era of IoT
It’s well understood that products are more sophisticated than ever and are growing in complexity as embedded software and electronics become integral, especially where Internet of Things-style capabilities are being introduced.
What we hear from today’s manufacturers is that many struggle to keep pace with fast-moving IoT developments, such as sensors, ubiquitous connectivity and cloud-based services; new and expanding regulations around complex products; and drastic industry shifts that are driving products to more service-like business models where updates occur continuously.
What differentiates manufacturers in terms of product development? We see that it is digital connectedness between the engineering disciplines (mechanical, electronic, and software development) as well as extended enterprise collaboration across manufacturing, the supply chain and field service.
It’s been our experience that many global organizations expected their product lifecycle management (PLM) system would address these issues. Unfortunately, companies have been disappointingly surprised to find PLM severely lacking, for several reasons:
Companies rely on these systems to mainly support mechanical design, yet they were never intended to manage product development of complete systems with hardware, software and electronics all together.
Product teams can’t easily handle specialized business processes and requirements, slowing their ability to adapt to fast-changing market conditions.
Heavily customized PLM implementations are difficult to upgrade, weakening organizations’ ability to support evolving strategy and process needs.
So where does that leave global product developers? Research from CIMdata shows that most product companies typically end up with mere data silos managing hardware subsets of their product definition information.
It’s common for organizations to distribute information across different disciplines and with partners via spreadsheets and other documents using email, shared drives and file sharing services — all with no version control and little or no security. This leads to design issues, quality problems and the potential for expensive field failures and liability risk.
As the researchers note, using spreadsheets to fill the gaps can lead to unclear master data, a lack of data sharing, unaddressed business processes and a general lack of [process] scalability.
Rethinking the Approach
Fortunately, there is a Digital Transformation underway in product development. New technology platforms exist to surpass legacy PLM implementations and move the enterprise forward digitally.
Back to research from CIMdata — newer, more modern technologies are capable of filling in data and process gaps left by legacy PLM systems. This minimizes disruption by encapsulating the existing PLM systems and connecting them to the process layer that spans engineering and product definition across the lifecycle.
A true cross-discipline platform approach that layers over existing PLM silos is more efficient and cost-effective in large companies than the alternative, conventional “rip & replace” strategy.
In this way, product companies can truly link data and enabled processes to underpin complete lifecycles that merge cross-discipline product development, manufacturing and field service with fast-changing processes and workflows across the extended enterprise, including customers, suppliers, partners, remote employees and other stakeholders.
So what does it take to power today’s business of engineering?
It takes a paradigm shift to a platform approach combined with the will to change by bringing together people, processes and systems across the various disciplines and the extended enterprise.
Rethinking the business of engineering lets companies achieve seamless design, development and delivery of tomorrow’s smart, connected innovations.
Peter Schroer is CEO & Founder of Aras Corporation.