Editor's note: This blog post was originally published in Feb. 2021 and updated with new information in Sept. 2023.
With the rise in customized products involving mechanical, software, and electrical components, manufacturers find themselves contending with a growing number of complex designs and variants. Ensuring a seamless flow of information between design and engineering is critical to managing the development of these more diversified products quickly without sacrificing product quality.
Remote and/or global engineering teams must work concurrently with designers without overwriting new changes or configurations. This accessibility is essential for them to plan, validate, and optimize ahead of production.
Without a single source of data truth, engineers cannot easily communicate and collaborate with different stakeholders. Moreover, unless they work from a consistent set of data, engineers can be the source of inaccuracies that trigger rework downstream.
As multiple data, requirements, and design handovers exist between the different tools and engineering teams, alignment is unlikely with issues often being found late in the development process. The result is last-minute engineering change orders that undermine product quality. To address these challenges, manufacturers are increasingly turning to solutions that enable concurrent engineering to best orchestrate how teams work with data—and each other.
Concurrent engineering is the automated connection and communication of product data across globally distributed engineering teams using one or more design tools. In essence, this approach fuels the collaborative culture that underpins highly engaged and successful engineering organizations that produce market-winning products.
Concurrent engineering paves the way for efficiencies in organizing and tracking all design data centrally with a single authoritative source of truth, making it far easier to find and re-use the data. With less time spent tracking down CAD files, recreating data, updating systems, and answering data requests from non-CAD users, engineers can meet cost and production targets.
This approach helps manufacturers reduce development costs, accelerate time-to-market, grow market share, and penetrate new markets. With fewer unanticipated changes and less rework, manufacturers realize higher “first time right” percentages. In fact, this engineering approach can enable a continuous improvement model, which results in developing and predictably delivering products at the right cost and quality on an ongoing basis.
There are many additional advantages to concurrent engineering, from streamlined processes and teamwork to less rework and better product quality.
Concurrent engineering promotes multi-discipline collaboration by involving all relevant parties early in the production process and thus enabling parallel development. By facilitating communication amongst stakeholders, it creates efficient and effective product development while ensuring that the concerns and requirements of all disciplines are considered.
Through concurrent engineering, the development process changes from a series of isolated choices that are "thrown over the wall" to parallel decisions made collaboratively. Failing to identify cross-discipline issues early yields quality issues for manufacturing or the customer. But when cross-discipline conflicts are identified and resolved early in the development process, you can avoid costly product delays and quality issues.
By addressing potential issues early and considering all aspects of design, manufacturing, and testing, concurrent engineering yields high-quality products – which are also more efficient to produce and maintain.
Although widely beneficial, concurrent engineering can present challenges for some organizations based on their product complexity and available resources.
Coordinating multiple disciplines, tasks, and timelines simultaneously is incredibly difficult. And addressing issues that arise in parallel processes requires meticulous planning, timely decision-making, and a strong PLM foundation as the single source of truth – otherwise you risk rapid (and costly) error propagation.
Due to the simultaneous and interdependent processes, errors can quickly snowball and affect multiple stages. The window of opportunity to identify and correct mistakes gets smaller as the product develops, making it all the more critical to coordinate efforts early on and throughout the product lifecycle.
The concurrent engineering design process starts with requirements and concept generation, followed by designing and testing. In traditional engineering methods these same stages are executed in siloes, and the results are only communicated across teams when transitioning from one stage to the next. Conversely, with concurrent engineering cross-functional teams share insights and feedback in real time, which accelerates development. The concurrent engineering design process ensures that the full impact of design decisions is understood and accounted for before they are implemented.
How do you enable concurrent engineering? The answer is a robust product data management (PDM) solution. Engineers manage many different types of data during the product design process. PDM software helps connect and communicate product information across globally distributed teams using various tools—CAD, requirements, test, simulation, etc. By using PDM as a central repository, every model, drawing or document is secured and easily found. Efficiencies are gained because every version and revision are tracked, required approvals are managed, and manual tasks are automated.
PTC’s PDM software can also be embedded in all major MCAD systems, enabling users to manage and edit CAD data and related documents (e.g., Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF) without leaving their native MCAD environment. Remote workers can access data via the web, their Windows desktop, or the PTC cloud. With a simplified approval and release process, engineering can easily coordinate every review and change across all necessary stakeholders. Non-CAD users can access consumable data through lightweight viewables and self-service access to role-based apps in secure project spaces.
Mark Taber is Vice President of Marketing. In his current role, Mark is focused on helping manufacturers drive digital transformation, with a foundation of PLM and the digital thread, within the enterprise and across enterprises.
Mark has more than 30 years of experience working in the areas of process automation, application integration, cyber security, and development. Prior to PTC, Mark was CEO of Active Endpoints (acquired by Informatica), a process automation firm. A graduate of the Wharton School, Mark currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.