PhD analysts shouldn’t choose your Upfront CAE tools

So, you’ve decided to purchase an agile, upfront CFD tool for your design engineers. Your company has a full-time PhD analyst performing high end CFD simulations on some research style projects that will hopefully lead to new innovations 3-4 years from now. This guy eats, breathes, and sleeps Computational Fluid Dynamics… so much so that he refuses to call it “CFD”… nope, he prefers to say the full “Computational Fluid Dynamics” with the well deserved pride of an expert. Heck, this guy has even contemplated writing his own CFD code!

If you had a question on expense tracking software for the sales-team, you’d probably consult your CFO for qualified opinions, right? So, makes sense that you’d put this CFD expert in charge of choosing an upfront simulation tool for your Design Engineers, right? Wrong.

This is one of the most common mistakes I see in industry. There are always exceptions to any rule, but I’ll go ahead out on this limb:

It is never a good idea to put an analyst in charge of the upfront CAE selection process.

Analysts typically don’t use CAD and are often even a little scared of it. They are focused on squeezing the tiniest margin of accuracy from each simulation and generally spend weeks or months on each analysis. They sit on the edge of their seats waiting for the maker of their beloved hardcore software to leak deep details of the features in the upcoming software version. They argue with other analysts over arcane topics that a design engineer would never begin to fathom.

Design engineers typically wear lots of hats. They drive CAD tools like Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, and Inventor. They write up ECOs, design plastic parts, travel to vendor sites to check up on quality issues, and may even sit in on manufacturing meetings to provide (and maybe accept) input. They shepherd all the parts they “own” through complex approval processes, environmental life-testing, and warranty-inspired design changes. They live on the front lines and fight daily fires in the trenches.

PHD Analysts are usually so far removed from this frontline engineering process that they are hopelessly out of touch with the issues that are important to design engineers. If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself how many times you’ve seen these guys sitting at the same lunch table as your design engineers!

Analysts are often secretly opposed to mere mortals (ie, design engineers) “dabbling” in CFD or FEA. At worst, they may look to sabotage the effort to protect their position of expertise and their pride. At best, they will generally emphasize extreme accuracy and feature-sets over ease-of-use and CAD integration.

If you want to start off on the right foot with upfront CAE, empower your design engineers and their leaders to take ownership of the selection process.