Upfront CFD: the antidote for engineering apathy

Everybody has heard someone say, “sounds like the 80-20 rule.” When you start looking around your own life and business, it’s amazing how often that rule applies. This is the Pareto Principle, an observation made by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906. Here are some fun examples:

80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients
80% of your headaches are caused by 20% of the people you know
80% of your software crashes are caused by 20% of the known bugs
80% of decisions made in meetings come from 20% of the meeting time
80% of innovation comes from 20% of the ideas
80% of your engineering productivity comes from 20% of your engineers

Let’s take a close look at that last one. Did you just let out a long sigh? Yup, it’s almost always true. Why does this happen?

First off, corporate America has a way of beating the life and creativity out of career engineers. A 20 year-old, fresh out of college soon realizes that the majority of his career will focus on properly dotting I’s and crossing T’s on a relentless load of paperwork. Innovation and free thinking do not get rewarded.

Early in my career, a manager at General Motors was angry with me for having not fixed a fastener problem on one of our vehicles. I had already proposed several solutions. In a rage, he actually said the following: “Yeah, I saw those suggestions. But we can’t do that without re-validating those parts for environmental testing. You need to fix it… but don’t change anything!”

I walked around the corner chuckling… and began to plan my exit from that life.

So, have you created a suburb of Dilbertville in your corner of the the engineering world? If so, you’ll find that about 80% of the actual work getting done comes from 20% of your people. I’m not suggesting that you can waive a wand and get 100% productivity out of the 80% of those sluggards. And, the fact is, you still need someone to handle all the monotonous, brainless tasks that seem to come as a cost of doing business. But, what are you doing to inspire and support the best and brightest engineers on your team?

If 80% of your business next year could come from the launch of an exciting couple of innovative new products hiding in the 20% of actual work on the table today, it behooves you to reward and support creativity and passion for all of the engineers on your team who might respond to such a thing.

What’s all this got to do with upfront CFD? Let’s look at a typical company that hasn’t yet invested in CAE. It’s usually a bright, fresh-faced engineer who brings the idea to the table. Immediately, he gets beat down with the need to prove the absolute accuracy of such a tool, his own credentials for making such a suggestion, and the business merit that would warrant such a massive investment.

I’ve seen many 20 year old engineers crushed under that weight. They turn into 30 year old engineers who spend more time planning for retirement than looking for ways to innovate.

The truth is, the economics of the decision to invest in CAE tools (particularly upfront CAE tools) is laughable. You can typically outfit a team of 8 Mechanical Engineers with upfront CFD for under $150k, including software, training, and technical support. If they cut out 80% of the material costs and time associated with physical prototyping and testing, your savings and sales returns will easily hit the $500k mark… and likely much larger!

But… back in Dilbertville… “$150k! That’s outrageous.” Really? How much did the automated phone system for your facility cost? How much return are you getting on that investment?

Upfront CAE represent ones of the few frontiers left for engineers living in Dilbertville to generate some excitement and pride in their work lives. You’ll notice them starting to hang printouts of their coolest, most colorful analysis results on the cubicle walls. You’ll see them (and the rest of the audience) waking up for the CFD results review portion of your project meeting. In short, you’ll see them grabbing on to one of the few areas where the rest of the world might describe engineering as “cool.”

Have you exposed an engineer to upfront CAE today?