5 Ways 2011 Changed the Way You Engineer

It’s been a year of change in the world of engineering – how we think about products, and how and where we build them. As we welcome in 2012, here are five interesting developments to leave you with:

1. Growth, Decline, and Changing Demographics: The worldwide CAD industry grew to $7 billion in 2011 according to the 2012 CAD Report published by Jon Peddie Research (JPR). We saw an even split in revenue between the Americas (37 percent) and Europe, the Middle East and Africa jointly (38 percent). Asia accounted for 21 percent of revenue. The worldwide CAD community increased by more than 2.5 percent.

While the U.S. and Europe suffered, Asia and India weathered the economic downturn well, and new CAD markets—Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East—sprung up.

2. A Leaner You: The economic woes of the past few years have been particularly hard for companies without the agility to change quickly and adopt new business strategies. The survivors look a lot leaner, from design, through manufacture and services. For the leading companies of 2012 it’s all about tight integration, efficiency and value-add.

3. New, Lighter Technology: With the next generation of engineers comes new expectations and modes of working. Clunky old engineering software and hardware just doesn’t make the grade anymore. Cloud computing, apps, and tablets give engineers light-weight, easy-to-use, mobile tools which can be customized for specific tasks and carried out into the field (literally).

Engineers want new ways to connect data and interact with it. Says Jon Peddie analyst Kathleen Maher in an interview with Design News:

“They’re looking for better ways to create data and more ways to use the data. Most important, CAD customers are visual people and they want to interact with visual data, including 3D, simulations, and point cloud data.

“Today, the CAD industry is more dynamic than ever. It is involved in every aspect of design, build, construct, and manufacture. Increasingly, CAD is becoming part of a visually connected world that can be understood and better managed.”

4. Move Toward Sustainability: Sustainability can be defined in terms of economic, environmental, societal, and personal impact, but in product development we tend to look at sustainability in two ways – how we run our business: Are our processes and practices clean, lean, speedy and repeatable? And how we make products that meet environmental standards: Do they pollute? Are they recyclable? Do they use up precious energy resources?

Tightening environmental regulation and social pressures made for some innovative business processes and product designs in 2011 (see “Sustainability: Thinking Outside the [Shoe]box“) Other notable sustainability projects of 2011 include those from Tetra Pak, Toyota and StreetScooter.

The 2011 Sustainability Global Executive Survey from MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group reveals more respondents than last year believe that “sustainability-related strategies are necessary to be competitive.” And “40 percent of respondents said their organization has changed its business model as a result of sustainability.”

5. More Communication and Connectivity: Connecting 3D modeling software with everyday business applications like Microsoft Office and Outlook has become quite the trend. Thanks to nifty integration with Microsoft SharePoint and the like it’s now possible to move seamlessly between applications to access and grab the content you need within seconds.

But it’s not just data that’s becoming more connected. Social media tools are playing an increasing role in engineering and product development. Now engineers can connect with each other through Facebook-ish applications built into CAD and PLM software.

Product communities and communities of practice allow visibility into a project and ready access to experts who might otherwise be hard to find or out of reach. Idea crowdsourcing and real-time collaboration has become the new norm.

Photo: DSC_8317 by Alicia Pimental on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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