Orr on Engineering: CAD and PLM Deliver Promised Results

Jan. 14, 2011
Now that CAD and PLM software actually works as promised, it is no longer a chief obstacle to real progress in engineering and manufacturing

I just attended “The Israeli PLM Day,” an all-day event put on by McKit Systems for its users in Israel. McKit has represented Siemens PLM and its predecessor firms in Israel for 25 years.

Speakers included local McKit executives, such as CEO Ze’ev Kroizman, as well as international guests. Prof. Itzchak ben Israel, head of the Israel Space Agency and a retired general, surveyed the use of technology by the Israel military from 1920 until today. His presentation culminated with a video of a Katyusha rocket being blown up in midair by a laser.

This demonstration would have been impossible without a broad range of technological breakthroughs in lasers, tracking systems, sensors, and secure real-time communications. Each of these technologies, in turn, relied on advances in engineering and manufacturing tools. And a term that popped up repeatedly: systems design and management. Not only do each of the parts and assemblies have to work together under tight tolerances, they must all choreograph smoothly under battlefield conditions. I couldn’t help but be amazed by a sense of tremendous progress.

Yet while watching the Siemens PLM presentations, I was also struck by a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Most of the slides could have come from presentations of 10 and 20 years ago, showcasing seamless handoffs of engineering data from marketing through to design, production, and maintenance. Technology such as full, nonredundant part-and-systems tracking as well as accurate simulations with photorealistic images of parts and assemblies operating as they might in the real world looked familiar to my jaded eye.

But then I realized that current technology is not fantasy nor is it marketing fiction. It is what’s actually happening for 20,000 Siemens PLM customers in tiny Israel, a country with a population of 6 million.

In the eighties and nineties, we knew how to make beautiful slides. We just didn’t know how to make all the software work together seamlessly. Today, in contrast, McKit Systems has awarded Certificates of Recognition to its top users for actually having done what developers have been promising their software will let them do for decades.

I take nothing away from Siemens PLM when I say that this stuff is also working for users of competing systems. While Siemens PLM is the PLM leader in Israel, and one of the top three worldwide, the other guys have grown up, too.

So what changed to finally make honest people out of CAD/PLM marketers? First, the quality of the software has actually improved, gaining advanced features and becoming a more-reliable tool.

In addition — no surprise — hardware has gotten much faster. Although Windows, the principal OS, keeps users from experiencing all the benefits newer hardware provides, features, especially graphics-heavy ones, do work closer to an engineer’s speed of thought. Users thus feel more strongly coupled to systems than ever before.

Last, many long-time engineers have retired. Current middle and senior managers grew up with computers and are not threatened by them. They can, therefore, take advantage of everything technology has to offer without holding back.

Now that CAD and PLM software actually works as promised, organizations still face another big challenge: They need to further change their cultures to more effectively exploit the benefits of CAD and PLM.

Joel Orr

Joel Orr, Principal of Orr Associates International, and Chief Visionary Emeritus of Cyon Research Corp. Write him: [email protected]

Edited by Leslie Gordon, [email protected]

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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