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How to Maximize Engineering Design Automation for CAD/PDM

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Written by Mike Solinap
Published on October 13, 2020

In recent years, interest in engineering design automation across multiple industries skyrocketed, especially due to the high return on investment (ROI). Relieving your engineers from tedious, error-prone tasks and directing them toward automation presents a fantastic opportunity for an increase in workflow efficiency. 

Which begs the question: Why aren’t engineering managers insisting on engineering design automation all the time?  

Throughout this article, we aim to illuminate the overwhelming opportunities for automating CAD and project data management (PDM) activities throughout your engineering organization

Engineering design automation opportunities hiding in plain sight

Many engineers rely on outdated processes based on tradition or unfortunate necessity. Also, the stress of performance often inhibits engineers from assessing these processes. Any of these factors, or perhaps a combination of them, ultimately stunts efficiency.

At SPK and Associates, we specialize in finding the engineering design automation opportunities through a variety of unique approaches. Often, our conversations with engineering teams proceed as such: 

  • Engineer: “We can’t go faster. We need to eliminate errors first. That’s why we have reviewing gates.” 
  • SPK: “Then why don’t you let us automate the reviewing gates? That will speed the process and eliminate the errors!” 

You can kickstart your automation and efficiency journey through a simple mindset adjustment. Think about the challenge differently! What types of engineering activities are repetitive and error-prone? How many hand-offs and changes proceed manually? For example, are engineers actually copying-and-pasting the material name from SolidWorks into Agile PLM? 

The earlier you automate, the better 

It’s simple, but crucial: the earlier you catch a problem, the cheaper the solution will be. By automating activities early in the cycle, you eliminate costly errors downstream — like when a typo makes it all the way to manufacturing. Another avoidable horror includes an FDA-mandated recall of your product …. due to your error. 

Think of it as spell-check! Even basic apps can catch and fix embarrassing typos before a note reaches your boss or your client. 

Now imagine that kind of security, custom-tailored for your engineering workflows!

Common pitfalls solved with engineering design automation

Often, an “uh-oh moment” triggers procedural overhauls… and a call to SPK and Associates. But do not wait until it’s too late! There are scores of costly errors, just waiting to happen, in your operation right now. How many of these errors fly under your radar? 

  • The manual handoff: Sandra tells Jim what to change. Jim later tells Sandra that he made the change. Right there, that’s two possible pitfalls. It’s not just the documentation of the changes — it includes the procedure itself. Again, to employ a word-processing analogy: Think of the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word. It leaves no ambiguity as to who-said-what, and when. 
  • The email abyss: Many engineers fall back upon email as a weak crutch. It’s hard to blame them: Email is easy, and everywhere. But it’s a PDM death-trap. How many times have we heard, “Every time I email this file, I simply (!) change the filename to today’s date”? Email’s time-stamps lack the precision and accuracy that you need, especially when your teams work across different networks, servers, and time zones. “When did Larry make that new version? Did he ever send it, or did it get trapped in his out-box? I think the other one was sent last week; let me search.” If this dialogue sounds familiar to you, it should make you nervous. 
  • Security automation: Are you sending or sharing sensitive files—packed with valuable corporate intellectual property or IP—between sites? Do you really want to entrust a manual security process given the incalculable risks of security breaches? 

Are you paying for automation you’re not using? 

Many CAD and PDM platforms already support various levels of automation functionality. Furthermore, you might pay for these, yet not use them.

At SPK, we encounter this frequently. For some apps, it’s baked-in. For others, it’s a bolt-on. Nonetheless, it still requires 1) determination of the use-cases, and 2) the will to learn how to set up and use the automation features. 

Moreover, these steps point to another necessary step: training! Many engineers are eager to implement automation and simply require comprehensive training. This “teach-them-how-to-fish” aspect is one of the most rewarding aspects of our engagements. 

Final cases for engineering design automation

One of our clients recently voiced concerns about the potential for internal IP theft. Could they spot suspicious activity, such as a massive download of sensitive files? This well-founded paranoia has a simple solution: automation. The scenario provided a straightforward if/then “trigger” for us to set up for them. With our help, this client received training, comprehensive support, and overall satisfaction. 

Learn how SPK and Associates can help you achieve the high ROI of automation — even remotely. 

Next Steps

  • Contact SPK and Associates and set up a discovery call to identify how we can help your engineers with workflow integration, CAD and PDM, and other secure, unique solutions.
  • Read our White Papers & Case Studies for examples of how SPK leverages technology to help our clients advance engineering and workflow productivity.
  • Subscribe to our blog to stay informed on product development and engineering efficiency topics.

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