I read two Aberdeen Group reports this week:
The Design Reuse Benchmark Report – February 2007
Seizing the Opportunity to Shorten Product Development
Product Design Made Easy – August 2009
Free Up Engineering for More Revenue
(Underwritten, in part, by Autodesk and PTC)
As with many Aberdeen Group reports, they surveyed 150-270 companies on these topics. The companies are divided into Best-in-Class, Industry Average, and Laggards. Then, the polling responses are organized (by percentage) for those categories so the reader can see what behaviors and beliefs characterize high-performing and low-performing companies.
The Design Reuse Benchmark Report
Design Reuse details the struggle many companies have making changes to existing CAD models. Respondents listed the following issues as the top four challenges to Design Reuse:
|57%||#1 Model modification requires expert CAD knowledge|
|48%||#2 Models are inflexible and fail after changes|
|46%||#3 Users can find models to reuse|
|40%||#4 Only the original designer can change models successfully|
It’s not clear to me what those percentages represent. Did 40% of all surveyed companies say that only the original designer can successfully change a model? Or, did 40% of the companies that struggle with design reuse list this as the cause?
Either way, it’s a serious and pervasive problem. My anecdotal evidence (gathered in the last decade of working with over 1000 companies) leaves me with the impression that challenge #1, #2, and #4 are more common than not.
#4 is particularly disturbing. I can hang with the idea that someone should be an expert Pro/Engineer user to be able to modify a detailed, manufacturing-ready Pro/Engineer model. It’s just not practical to expect an engineer who doesn’t spend 60 hours per week doing detailed CAD design to jump into Pro/Engineer/Inventor/Solidworks/etc and monkey with a full blown CAD model. I don’t think many engineering executives understand, however, that even CAD pros often have a hard time modifying the work of a fellow CAD pro!
The report offers several recommendations on how to improve design reuse by making people accountable for good design practices and added training around the topic.
Notably, the report recommends the use of Direct Modeling tools to avoid the headaches of a history-based model. Oddly, it doesn’t flesh that idea out too far. Are they saying Direct Modeling tools should be used in addition to history-based CAD tools by people who probably shouldn’t climb the CAD learning curve? Or are they saying that companies should ditch their investments in traditional CAD altogether (big mistake in my opinion)?
Product Design Made Easy
This is an odd report. I really appreciated its focus on the importance of using CAE as part of the development process. And, I whole-heartedly agree with its point that the use of 3D needs to be expanded within an organization as much as possible.
I have a real problem with the following statement, though:
“The Best-in-Class leverage a single 3D digital model throughout the development process and extend its use to more stakeholders across the enterprise. This starts at the conceptual design and in the handoff to the next stage of design. The major benefit here is to leverage what was already done during the development of conceptual models for detailed design work.”
Any executive who reads that statement will make the seemingly logical conclusion that detailed-design focused CAD tools like those from Autodesk and PTC should be expanded into the conceptual design phase. They’d also be led to believe that it is easy (or in many cases even possible) to repurpose a hacked-and-stacked conceptual CAD model into a fully functioning, clean, re-usable, robust, history-based, manufacturing-ready CAD model.
I think that statement is incorrect and dangerously misleading.
This report falls down in a couple of key areas.
First, how do the authors define the conceptual stage? In companies with dedicated CAD design departments, I would argue that the conceptual work isn’t being done in CAD at all. It’s being done on whiteboards and napkin sketches by non-CAD gurus. It seems to me that the “conceptual stage” this report refers to is more about the early CAD work happening after true concept engineers have flexed their creative muscles.
Second, how do the authors define “a single 3D digital model” in the development process? For example, how often do FEA or CFD users actually perform a simulation on the fully-detailed CAD model? Not very often. CAD models usually need to be heavily simplified to be appropriate for CAE. Is that a “single 3D digital model?” I suppose that depends on what your definition of “is” is.
There are different ways to interpret the data from both of these reports. There probably could have been different ways of asking the survey questions that would have elicited different answers, too!
Many of the conclusions and recommendations jive with my anecdotal experience. A few are just plain misleading.
Mainly, I’d like to make a few corrective points:
- Companies that want to be successful need to rapidly expand the creative, conceptual front end of their development process.
- It is impractical to expect the people doing that kind of work to become skilled at a CAD tool meant for full-blown, detailed design and drafting.
- 3D Direct Modeling tools meant for fast, easy, creative concepting will actually be adopted by non-draftsmen.
Traditional CAD tools often will not.
- 3D conceptual design tools will accelerate traditional whiteboard/napkin concepting and lead to more & faster ideas in the true conceptual stage of your development process.