Design Best Practices Are a Big Deal for SMBs

Building better products at less cost in a shorter time-to-delivery cycle is a universal challenge, regardless of the size of the company or the complexity of its products

Industry leaders in sectors like automotive, high-tech electronics, and ship building have made great strides leveraging cutting-edge technologies to turbocharge their engineering processes and optimize designs. Among automotive OEMs, for example, simulation-led design practices have become a mandate, helping manufacturing giants like Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and BMW, among others, produce lighter weight vehicles and do more efficient crash testing all while reducing reliance on costly physical prototypes.

While the big guys are staying abreast of the technology curve, small to mid-size engineering shops are not on the same trajectory. The majority of small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are much slower to adopt state-of-the-art design tools like simulation or new workflows around product data management and collaboration for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of resistance to change.

Yet, the simple truth is that SMB companies can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and let best practice tools and design processes pass them by. SMBs are up against the same big challenges as their larger counterparts, including increased product complexity, frequency of design changes, and lack of visibility into how individual design decisions impact costs and scheduling, according to research by Aberdeen Group. Moreover, just like the big behemoths, small and mid-sized organizations find themselves struggling to accurately predict product behavior in the real world, which fosters problems or potential errors that are encountered too late in the design cycle when it’s far more disruptive and costly to make changes.

With that in mind, here are four disciplines that SMBs must embrace in order to remain competitive from an engineering and design standpoint:

Simulation: Sure, it requires professional engineering expertise, but simulation, particularly early on, must become a routine part of the design regime. By allowing engineers to explore how various design iterations and variations will perform in real world circumstances, simulation lets engineering teams explore more possibilities and make trade-off decisions that result in better products. An Aberdeen study found that best-in-class SMBs are 21% more likely to leverage simulation to guide decision making when exploring optimal system architectures; are 55% more likely to use simulation at a system level to get visibility into how components interact; and are 42% more apt to evaluate multiple physical forces at the same time.

Product Data Management (PDM): Whether it’s a full-blown PDM or PLM system or a lower-end collaboration tool, even small and mid-sized engineering organizations require the rigor of a centralized data vault and coordinated engineering document management controls. Best-in-class SMBs are 40% more likely than other companies to use PDM tools to better manage bills of materials (BOMs) and facilitate design reuse, according to another Aberdeen study. By leveraging PDM, SMB engineering organizations are better able to facilitate change management while communicating critical product data between departments across organizations. In addition, having a single source of product information reduces errors and prevents unnecessary delays.

3D visualization: Most SMB shops have made the transition to 3D, but many are limiting the role of the 3D model to a select few engineers and expert CAD users. Organizations truly benefitting from the clarity of sharing and collaborating with 3D product designs are leveraging visualization and viewing tools that make that same representation accessible to non-CAD users, including those in marketing, manufacturing, and the service organization.

PTC Creo View MCAD makes 3D models and other design data available for anybody in product development.

Direct modeling: In addition to traditional parametric CAD tools, leading-edge SMB organizations are also tapping direct modeling capabilities to bring new levels of flexibility to the design process. The ability to interact directly with a model’s geometry via simple methods of pushing or pulling enables teams to create new concepts on the fly as opposed to working within the constraints of a feature-based CAD program. Direct modeling tools also allow for more fluid, complex surfaces, which can help design teams develop more aesthetically pleasing products without as much effort as traditional CAD.

All of these capabilities are now well within reach of the average SMB, both from a capabilities and cost standpoint. Choosing a vendor that can provide the full range of functionality can certainly make life easier by delivering tight integration and no interoperability issues with 3D models.  Yet whether the capabilities are single-sourced or assembled on a best-of-breed basis, SMBs can’t be small minded about design best practices if they’re looking for big results.