Bring on Design Reviews for the Masses

Designing today’s complex products brings a lot of new challenges into the mix, not the least of which is making routine tasks and milestones exponentially that much harder.

Just think about the process of design reviews for a product that has all the usual mechanical and electrical parts and assemblies, but is also wired with the smarts and connectivity to participate in the Internet of Things (IoT). This added complexity draws a lot more stakeholders into the design process while also creating interdependencies that need to be continuously vetted to avoid late-stage design disasters.

Against this backdrop of increased complexity, it makes perfect sense that companies are prioritizing design reviews and conducting them far more frequently. According to a 2014 Design Validation and Review study conducted by PTC in partnership with Lifecycle Insights, design teams are averaging 20.5 design reviews per month, with that average more than doubling to 57 a month in larger companies. Not only is the practice far more extensive, it’s also no longer just an engineering-focused activity. Today’s design reviews are a cross-functional effort that can involve everyone from sourcing specialists and service operators to manufacturing engineers and machinists.

This broad pool of constituents collaborate to evaluate the usual form, fit, and function, but to also check that a design doesn’t negatively impact other areas of a product, that it can be manufactured with existing equipment or easily serviced without bumping up against interferences. The good news is that most companies have moved beyond traditional design practices that called for teams to explore these key factors only when they had a physical prototype in hand.

There are countless horror stories that showcase the danger of conducting validation and interference checking at a late stage only to discover critical design flaws that send engineering teams back to the drawing board and wreak havoc on time-to-delivery schedules. Perhaps one of the best-known and worst-case examples was the Airbus 380, among the largest commercial aircraft projects. The aircraft was delayed by years and incurred millions of dollars in cost overages when it was discovered that there were interferences and fit problems integrating the complex wiring system with the airframe at the eleventh hour. The culprit was found to be incompatibilities resulting from multiple CAD systems, but the project still stands as a prime example of the challenges and risks involved in design checks and validation on complex products.

[Ed. See the documentary below for a glimpse of how imprecise fittings led to last-minute changes in the a380.]

As it was in the Airbus 380 project, the digital model has become the centerpiece of design reviews and a key asset for facilitating interference checks and reporting. The PTC study found that 68% of enterprises use a 3D model to validate the form, fit, and functional aspects of a design, while 53% spend time conducting interference checks and reports, 29% doing so in real time. Nearly half of respondents said they tap design reviews to keep tabs on unspecified dimensions and tolerances.

This is all pretty standard fare for engineers who are adept at 3D modeling and experts in CAD. But what about those other participants now central to design reviews who don’t know the first thing about CAD and more importantly, don’t have access to a licensed CAD seat. The PTC/Lifecycle Insights’ study found that for every individual involved in design reviews and validation work using CAD, there are an equal or greater number of participants who are not able to tap CAD programs for this key design task.

So how does this wider audience currently participate in design reviews? The answer is they don’t or they do so poorly, constrained by manual methods like juggling spreadsheets or navigating too many hard-to-find and manage emails.

More recently, new visualization technologies have made it easier for non-CAD users to participate in some of the more prominent design milestones and tasks without having a command of 3D modeling and more importantly, without owning a CAD seat. PTC Creo View MCAD viewer, for example, is a suite of design review tools that let anyone in an extended team view and investigate product designs, including 3D models created in most major MCAD tools along with drawing and documents from other sources. Used with the corresponding PTC Creo View ECAD product, teams of extended non-CAD users can collaborate across mechanical and electrical silos.

With the Interference Analysis add-on, the extended teams can actually detect and correct errors and possible component clashes far earlier in the design cycle. Non-CAD users could check for different types of interferences like physically interfering parts or drill down and test interference between different groups of parts—say HVAC and electrical components.

PTC Creo View Interference Analysis

While complex products certainly demand robust design reviews and interference checks, conducting those checks and balances doesn’t have to be daunting. With the right design tools, design reviews can be an equal opportunity process.