A tale of two Aberdeen reports

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.

My Conclusions

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:

  1. Companies that want to be successful need to rapidly expand the creative, conceptual front end of their development process.
  2. 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.
  3. 3D Direct Modeling tools meant for fast, easy, creative concepting will actually be adopted by non-draftsmen.
    Traditional CAD tools often will not.
  4. 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.

18 comments

  1. +Hi Jeff, I am an “Idea Guy” and 48 years ago I started inventing, designing and drafting for pay. I adopted CAD as soon as it was available to regular people.

    My issue with your CORRECTIVE POINT 2 is that a creative designer or engineer absolutely should be proficient with a tool like SolidWorks. That is how he can get what he really visualizes to manufacturing. He can have others put in the hours to complete documentation but he really should understand the process and be able to do any part of it himself.

    I am all about using the time needed to do design with CAD software, but the PC, SolidWorks and Windoze is just killing me! So much time is wasted keeping all of that up and running that after 8 years I have returned to an Apple computer where I started CAD in 1983.

    Of course I can’t just drop the PC & SW so it is a gradual transition. I waited until there was a “real” 3D solid modeling and drafting MCAD program that runs native on the Mac and equals or betters the general PC CAD +programs in common use. That one is Siemens NX. I now have it on the Mac and must learn to use it. I’ll tell you later if it is more user friendly and stops my work less. I know the OSX operating system is more stable and I have high hopes. NX has history and/or direct modeling so it will be interesting.

    Other software tools a creative guy (or gal) can use for quick idea development are SketchUp or bonsai3D. Acrobat is great for adding notes fast to photos or CAD models and drawings that have been saved as .PDF. You can communicate to anyone with .PDF and it makes a drawing backup that can’t change when something happens to the solid model.

    Nolton Johnson
    Idea Guy
    Bend, Oregon

  2. +Hi Jeff, I am an “Idea Guy” and 48 years ago I started inventing, designing and drafting for pay. I adopted CAD as soon as it was available to regular people.

    My issue with your CORRECTIVE POINT 2 is that a creative designer or engineer absolutely should be proficient with a tool like SolidWorks. That is how he can get what he really visualizes to manufacturing. He can have others put in the hours to complete documentation but he really should understand the process and be able to do any part of it himself.

    I am all about using the time needed to do design with CAD software, but the PC, SolidWorks and Windoze is just killing me! So much time is wasted keeping all of that up and running that after 8 years I have returned to an Apple computer where I started CAD in 1983.

    Of course I can’t just drop the PC & SW so it is a gradual transition. I waited until there was a “real” 3D solid modeling and drafting MCAD program that runs native on the Mac and equals or betters the general PC CAD +programs in common use. That one is Siemens NX. I now have it on the Mac and must learn to use it. I’ll tell you later if it is more user friendly and stops my work less. I know the OSX operating system is more stable and I have high hopes. NX has history and/or direct modeling so it will be interesting.

    Other software tools a creative guy (or gal) can use for quick idea development are SketchUp or bonsai3D. Acrobat is great for adding notes fast to photos or CAD models and drawings that have been saved as .PDF. You can communicate to anyone with .PDF and it makes a drawing backup that can’t change when something happens to the solid model.

    Nolton Johnson
    Idea Guy
    Bend, Oregon

  3. Thanks Nolton. Agreed, corrective point #2 should probably read “It is OFTEN impractical to expect…”

    I hadn’t heard of bonsai3D, but that certainly looks like the kind of tool I propose for super-early conceptual design. SketchUp is for sure (though, it isn’t precise geometry, so not as useful for passing to downstream purposes like CAE).

    Of course, I work for SpaceClaim and see that as a perfect fit for creative 3D concepting in an engineering context.

    We don’t officially support Mac, but SpaceClaim does run quite well there. It’s not “native” however. Used to be nobody every said CAD in the same breath as Mac, but I am hearing it more now. Sounds like you are ahead of the curve!

  4. Thanks Nolton. Agreed, corrective point #2 should probably read “It is OFTEN impractical to expect…”

    I hadn’t heard of bonsai3D, but that certainly looks like the kind of tool I propose for super-early conceptual design. SketchUp is for sure (though, it isn’t precise geometry, so not as useful for passing to downstream purposes like CAE).

    Of course, I work for SpaceClaim and see that as a perfect fit for creative 3D concepting in an engineering context.

    We don’t officially support Mac, but SpaceClaim does run quite well there. It’s not “native” however. Used to be nobody every said CAD in the same breath as Mac, but I am hearing it more now. Sounds like you are ahead of the curve!

  5. Jeff, I always try to stay “ahead of the curve” but more importantly try to stay productive. If you don’t have the experience of doing projects on the Mac, you cannot appreaciate how windoze spoils your productivity. I just stepped away from my windoze-bootcamp-solidworks job and came back to the blue DOS “Windows is checking file system on C: bla, bla, bla.” That kind of stupid stuff happens all the time on windoze. When I can go all the way to NX in the Mac Unix environment and stop using programs that only run in windoze, I will get more done with less aggravation.

    A half hour went down the time toilet! My MacBook Pro has a solid state drive, no spinning disks for windoze to check so why do you think it does this kind of stuff! The government must be involved trying everything they can to ruin our productivity.

    If SpaceClaim can do what so many other companies like VectorWorks and SolidThinking have done you will have a boatload of happy (and more productive) users (customers) because they can work on Macs or (ugh) PC’s!

    Nolton Johnson
    The impatient Idea Guy

    I won’t put up with sub standard OS’s!

  6. Jeff, I always try to stay “ahead of the curve” but more importantly try to stay productive. If you don’t have the experience of doing projects on the Mac, you cannot appreaciate how windoze spoils your productivity. I just stepped away from my windoze-bootcamp-solidworks job and came back to the blue DOS “Windows is checking file system on C: bla, bla, bla.” That kind of stupid stuff happens all the time on windoze. When I can go all the way to NX in the Mac Unix environment and stop using programs that only run in windoze, I will get more done with less aggravation.

    A half hour went down the time toilet! My MacBook Pro has a solid state drive, no spinning disks for windoze to check so why do you think it does this kind of stuff! The government must be involved trying everything they can to ruin our productivity.

    If SpaceClaim can do what so many other companies like VectorWorks and SolidThinking have done you will have a boatload of happy (and more productive) users (customers) because they can work on Macs or (ugh) PC’s!

    Nolton Johnson
    The impatient Idea Guy

    I won’t put up with sub standard OS’s!

  7. One more thing Jeff,

    I said CAD and Mac loudly in 1989 after running a great Apple platform with powerful CAD software since 1983. Great 2D color CAD on a Mac made me able to rock & roll while my associates were fighting AutoCrud on their ugly PC’s.

    I really had to bite the bullet to switch to the PC for SolidWorks but it was the right software for me at the time. My PC was relatively reliable in 2001 when the OS was Windoze 2000.

    Nolton

  8. One more thing Jeff,

    I said CAD and Mac loudly in 1989 after running a great Apple platform with powerful CAD software since 1983. Great 2D color CAD on a Mac made me able to rock & roll while my associates were fighting AutoCrud on their ugly PC’s.

    I really had to bite the bullet to switch to the PC for SolidWorks but it was the right software for me at the time. My PC was relatively reliable in 2001 when the OS was Windoze 2000.

    Nolton

  9. Mike Norgrave · ·

    I have worked in an ID department for 15 years.
    To expect ID users to effectivly use Parametric applications Like Proe, Solidworks, Inventor is crazy.
    These tools do not provide the freedom a designer needs to rapidly make models and try different forms.
    Most of our concepts start digitally using digital sketching applications.
    We use Alias Design to start the 2d sketch using digital pencils, markers, etc. We can then reuse those sketches and 2d curves to start building a 3d model for Rapid prototyping.
    The only application that allows us to explore 2d ideas and create 3d models without remodeling is Alias Design.
    We had Rhino, but it does not have a sketching application built in like Alias.
    We have Proe here, and we tried it in the ID group. It is just to restrictive and is not set up for an ID workflow. Solidworks is a little easier, but still has the underlying problems of features and relations that restrict freeform and unrestricted modeling. You should spend some time with these companies and have them present their vision for ID. You will quickly see that only Autodesk provides tools for the whole ID workflow, where the others focus on just 3d modeling. We probably create 100’s of 2d digital sketches before we even consider building a 3d model.

    Mike

  10. Mike Norgrave · ·

    I have worked in an ID department for 15 years.
    To expect ID users to effectivly use Parametric applications Like Proe, Solidworks, Inventor is crazy.
    These tools do not provide the freedom a designer needs to rapidly make models and try different forms.
    Most of our concepts start digitally using digital sketching applications.
    We use Alias Design to start the 2d sketch using digital pencils, markers, etc. We can then reuse those sketches and 2d curves to start building a 3d model for Rapid prototyping.
    The only application that allows us to explore 2d ideas and create 3d models without remodeling is Alias Design.
    We had Rhino, but it does not have a sketching application built in like Alias.
    We have Proe here, and we tried it in the ID group. It is just to restrictive and is not set up for an ID workflow. Solidworks is a little easier, but still has the underlying problems of features and relations that restrict freeform and unrestricted modeling. You should spend some time with these companies and have them present their vision for ID. You will quickly see that only Autodesk provides tools for the whole ID workflow, where the others focus on just 3d modeling. We probably create 100’s of 2d digital sketches before we even consider building a 3d model.

    Mike

  11. Thanks Mike. Exactly. Asking conceptual people to manage a complex history tree (ie, traditional CAD) is often crazy. One point: I think “sketching” to you means something very different than “sketching” to a CAD person. Just clarifying terminology for everyone. ID sketching is more like sketching in the sense of an artist with a pencil. Sketching in CAD is drawing a profile in 2D.

  12. Thanks Mike. Exactly. Asking conceptual people to manage a complex history tree (ie, traditional CAD) is often crazy. One point: I think “sketching” to you means something very different than “sketching” to a CAD person. Just clarifying terminology for everyone. ID sketching is more like sketching in the sense of an artist with a pencil. Sketching in CAD is drawing a profile in 2D.

  13. I have worked in shipbuilding for 40 years or so, starting with full scale lofting then developing computer approaches.
    I suspect that these reports read more logically when considering complex products like these.

    In our case there is the paper based concept development of the ship supported by analysis packages. The output of this phase may or may not be CAD based. When CAD it is often 2D.

    When the decision is made to build then the design of the component parts are developed using CAD. This is often in 3D with output to workshops in 2D.

    These 3D parts are then used within a 3D computer Mock Up. The file size and structure of this Mock up is complex. In principle, these component CAD parts could be reused elsewhere.
    However, there is no direct (computer)link to the original ship concept model (and the file size tends to preclude the showing of the whole ship)

    Thus the ship concept configuration is developed in one system whilst its build configuration is defined in another.

    I tend to think of the ship being designed and the build being specified. I believe that the next development is to ‘structure’ and manage the concept development in order to support the build phase

    I don’t know if I am coming across right. I think everyone is correct but looking at the issue from individual directions.
    ian

  14. I have worked in shipbuilding for 40 years or so, starting with full scale lofting then developing computer approaches.
    I suspect that these reports read more logically when considering complex products like these.

    In our case there is the paper based concept development of the ship supported by analysis packages. The output of this phase may or may not be CAD based. When CAD it is often 2D.

    When the decision is made to build then the design of the component parts are developed using CAD. This is often in 3D with output to workshops in 2D.

    These 3D parts are then used within a 3D computer Mock Up. The file size and structure of this Mock up is complex. In principle, these component CAD parts could be reused elsewhere.
    However, there is no direct (computer)link to the original ship concept model (and the file size tends to preclude the showing of the whole ship)

    Thus the ship concept configuration is developed in one system whilst its build configuration is defined in another.

    I tend to think of the ship being designed and the build being specified. I believe that the next development is to ‘structure’ and manage the concept development in order to support the build phase

    I don’t know if I am coming across right. I think everyone is correct but looking at the issue from individual directions.
    ian

  15. Mike,

    Does “ID users” mean Industrial Designers? I have a respect for that talent because I once thought I could do both conceptual machine design and the finished commercial package. My boss at that time (1969), went outside and had an ID guy do it and I was very impressed with the end result. The product was a success and it looked better than mine. So I did the concept and mechanism execution and he put a nice exterior on it.

    I watched some videos of sketching in Alias Design and that looks real interesting. I still sketch on paper.

    Maybe I should drop out of this discussion because my interest is simply thinking of a solution to a problem that involves nuts, bolts & metal then creating the document to build it from with a solid model and drawings on the Mac platform.

    When I found this discussion I felt like Jeff was letting people wimp out when he said “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.”

    I guess I don’t know how I could put a person in charge of creating a product if they don’t know the mechanics and use the CAD tools. Maybe I have been away from the large enterprise too long to remember spreading the chores around to a large group of people with diverse talents and abilities. Auto body designers probably need no mechanical experience.

    Ian’s ship building business creates a real workload for all areas of design and computing. That must be hard to manage.

    Nolton

  16. Mike,

    Does “ID users” mean Industrial Designers? I have a respect for that talent because I once thought I could do both conceptual machine design and the finished commercial package. My boss at that time (1969), went outside and had an ID guy do it and I was very impressed with the end result. The product was a success and it looked better than mine. So I did the concept and mechanism execution and he put a nice exterior on it.

    I watched some videos of sketching in Alias Design and that looks real interesting. I still sketch on paper.

    Maybe I should drop out of this discussion because my interest is simply thinking of a solution to a problem that involves nuts, bolts & metal then creating the document to build it from with a solid model and drawings on the Mac platform.

    When I found this discussion I felt like Jeff was letting people wimp out when he said “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.”

    I guess I don’t know how I could put a person in charge of creating a product if they don’t know the mechanics and use the CAD tools. Maybe I have been away from the large enterprise too long to remember spreading the chores around to a large group of people with diverse talents and abilities. Auto body designers probably need no mechanical experience.

    Ian’s ship building business creates a real workload for all areas of design and computing. That must be hard to manage.

    Nolton

  17. Stan Przybylinski · ·

    It is important to note that Aberdeen’s “fact-based research” sponsors help form the surveys. Since most of the questions are closed ended, respondents HAVE to choose something for each question.

    The other issue is that the respondents are not randomly chosen. Open surveys are promoted telling people the nature of the survey, and the questions of interest. As known in survey research design, this pro-innovation bias can skew the results. In addition, anyone can answer and Aberdeen MAY find that someone should not be in the pool and remove their results vs. pre-screening OR NOT INVITING people who have no business responding to the survey.

    Stan

  18. Stan Przybylinski · ·

    It is important to note that Aberdeen’s “fact-based research” sponsors help form the surveys. Since most of the questions are closed ended, respondents HAVE to choose something for each question.

    The other issue is that the respondents are not randomly chosen. Open surveys are promoted telling people the nature of the survey, and the questions of interest. As known in survey research design, this pro-innovation bias can skew the results. In addition, anyone can answer and Aberdeen MAY find that someone should not be in the pool and remove their results vs. pre-screening OR NOT INVITING people who have no business responding to the survey.

    Stan