Let engineers be engineers

June 21, 2001
Ask engineers if they're spending time the way they thought they would be after graduating from college. Most would probably respond without hesitation: "No." Still, many new engineers have delusions of grandeur

Doug Olsen
Milford, Ohio

Edited by Victoria Reitz

Ask engineers if they're spending time the way they thought they would be after graduating from college. Most would probably respond without hesitation: "No." Still, many new engineers have delusions of grandeur. They believe their careers will involve them in innovation. Certainly portions of their workdays will require innovation, but the majority of their responsibilities, in their own words, are "mundane, administrative work." Shouldn't we let engineers be engineers to maximize their potential?

It turns out most engineers do not have much time to be innovative. Research shows that engineers spend about 18% of their time reentering and recreating information, 23% configuring products, and 27% looking for information. These activities total 70% or about 28 hours a week. And it doesn't even include time spent in meetings.

But there is a solution. Product data management (PDM) has been around for a while, but many companies don't know what it is or what is does. Companies often have several systems working on inter-related data. Most of these systems have their own data formats, and it is difficult to extrapolate meaningful information from these disparate sources. PDM acts like a network among these systems, letting information flow across the enterprise.

PDM systems start capturing information when engineers first conceptualize a design. The system accumulates information and consolidates the highlevel view of the product while engineers use a variety of tools to chip away at the details. Information entered gets recorded and can be used later in a CAD system, an ERP system, and a word processor.

While file managers do a good job at storing and organizing files, PDM systems bring an element of intelligence to the raw data by storing information about information, or "meta-data." This eases information retrieval. PDM stores data in a structured manner that aligns with the overall product view. A word document is not just another file. Instead, it may be a concept document linked to a part which, in turn, is linked to a NC toolpath. The same data structure is available across all systems. Whether an engineer views a design at a CAD station or a procurement engineer determines what parts to purchase, the same structure is used. Intelligent meta-data lets engineers search based on design parameters. Engineers can narrow the criteria to find designs that have already been created. The savings in reused designs alone can pay off the investment in PDM.

Using PDM lets engineers spend more time doing truly innovative work. What could your engineers do with an additional 28 hours a week?

Structural Dynamics Research Corp. provides software solutions and services that propel manufacturers to increased business competitiveness by developing Web-based, collaborative environments for product development.

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