BOSTON—David Slader works for a company that makes weapons systems, among other things. So he can be forgiven if he uses military analogies to describe the wars that engineers are fighting on today’s design front.
Raytheon, where Slader is director of enterprise PDM, space and airborne systems, has almost 30,000 different users feeding seven million different parts into its manufacturing process.
“That’s what we take to battle every day,” he says.
Slader and representatives of other companies like his say they face the daily challenges of synching up complex design and manufacturing, the continued miniaturization of products, myriad embedded features, and growing concerns around security.
To stay competitive, meanwhile, they make strategic acquisitions, then have to combine often-incompatible CAD programs. “How do you bring these companies together to work as one?” Slader asked an audience this week at PTC Live Global.
And even within the same companies, designers use different CAD systems.
Forty percent of North America-based PTC Creo users also use another CAD system, said Michael Campbell, the company’s executive vice president for CAD, who introduced a new release of PTC Creo that will use “Unite Technology” to let users work with and consolidate files from competitors including Solidworks, Catia, and NX.
“The challenge of converting data has been a barrier. But there are times when you can’t control what CAD systems other people are using,” including collaborators and suppliers, Campbell said.
Up against the backdrop of these many competing demands, “The bottom line is, you have to unleash a far more productive user,” Slader said. “You have to let your engineers do engineering.”
That’s what Daktronics has been up against, too. The maker of LED displays is under pressure to create even bigger custom screens for sports arenas and outdoor advertising—without adding more engineers—said Brett Wendler, vice president of design and development at Daktronics.
So large are some of these products that they have to be assembled on site, Wendler said. “Each must be designed right so we install it right the very first time,” he said. And when the customer flicks the switch, “It is critically important at these events that they work perfectly every time.”
To simplify the many phases and aspects of product development, many engineering directors are moving to a one-platform solution.
By standardizing its CAD process for designing powertrains, for instance, Toyota cut an eight-hour process to one hour, said Koichi Shimizu, project general manager in the carmaker’s engineering-management division.
But choosing a single platform can be tough, too, said Slater, who went through the process when Raytheon made the move to PTC Creo, and who said it’s crucial that the CEO and other corporate leaders back up the move.
“Top cover,” he called it.
Photo by Yoshi Murakawa