A customer’s journey to efficient systems engineering

Our customers are constantly asking “How do we improve our business?” and “How can we achieve a more efficient workflow?”

That’s the eternal question, isn’t it? How do we improve ourselves?

There is a lot behind this question, although the answer is simpler than you might think. In almost every case we have at PLM Group, we approach the answer through a process referred to as “value engagement” which in turn consists of different steps designed to ensure that the right things are done at the right time. Part of this process is to establish a plan for the customer’s development, and we refer to this plan as a “roadmap” – in other words a high-level overview of the different milestones needed to achieve the goals. Let’s take a look at one customer’s journey.

What the customer wanted to achieve 

The customer for the roadmap we’ll examine today supports a variety of businesses in their product development. These products are often rather complex and a mockup of different engineering disciplines.

Due to the intricacy of the product, much internal coordination is needed to keep everything in sync and current. This was particularly difficult when information based on the CAD data and its structure needed to be transferred with the ERP system.

Customer's journey

Due to this, the information had to be manually ”translated” into a format that the ERP system could manage. The manual process required a lot of unnecessary time and effort – not to mention the substantial risk of errors in the process. 

In conclusion, the customer requested an ERP integration for much more effective data transmission between their various systems and a better approach to structure their product data during the development process.

The customer’s challenges 

Early in the discussions with the customer, they made it clear that they were looking for an automatic CAD data integration to their ERP system to avoid manual data transfers. The data transfers should be bi-directional, meaning not limited to transferring data to the ERP but also receiving data from it. This was done in order to avoid having to rely on the procurement department to tell the product development team of the status of purchased systems and components.

An additional challenge they were facing was the difference between BOM (“Bill Of Materials”) and the CAD structure in the context of procurement. Consider a bearing as an example. From the perspective of procurement, just one row in the BOM is required. However, because the bearing consists of numerous components, if the BOM is prepared in CAD software, you’ll end up with multiple rows and will need to manually set which rows should be excluded in the BOM.

Challenges the customer did not know they had 

Customer's journey

During the discussions with the customer, it was discovered that they were using several data repositories and might potentially have duplicate data in various repositories. This was rather troublesome since there were no direct connections between the different file sets, meaning that updates to the files in one repository didn’t automatically update the corresponding files in the other repositories. 

We also discovered that Excel sheets were used to collect information about the work being done in each project by different engineering disciplines. Many of the projects the customer worked on consisted of both mechanical, electrical, and software engineering but each discipline used their own systems to support their work, none which were connected to another. Instead, a journal was kept in Excel to keep track of the status, revisions, and such of the files generated by each discipline. This in turn required a lot of manual work and alignment to keep everything up to date. 

The road map 

To overcome these challenges and enable the customer to reach their desired state, we created a roadmap of different steps – each with declared values and benefits – that would help them progress towards their goals. Based on interviews and discussions with key persons and stakeholders from the customer, we concluded that they would need a solution to support Systems Engineering that consisted of: 

  • Collaborative Engineering Management 
  • Innovation Driven Engineering 
  • Equipment Extended Enterprise 
  • Standard Component Management 
Customer's journey

We started by focusing on Collaborative Engineering Management to establish a platform on which the work could be planned and executed in collaboration with all stakeholders. This would enable the customer to coordinate the development process across all disciplines through project management where tasks, progression, and the employee’s workload were monitored in real-time. Additionally, with this holistic approach, the customer obtained a systematic issue- and change management process to connect issues directly to the product data, hence getting full traceability. Using this platform, the customer would be able to build the product structure (i.e. a BOM) – without using a CAD tool – to which product data, e.g. CAD files, could be connected when developed later during the design process.  

To this platform, we added Innovation Driven Engineering to connect all engineering disciplines to the same environment. As such, the customer could manage a unified product structure that combined mechanical, electrical, and software engineering to obtain a holistic product overview. From this overview, downstream processes, for example manufacturing or procurement, could derive the needed information. This was a big improvement compared to managing a journal in Excel to keep track of information while also removing data duplicates spread out in multiple repositories. 

This was followed by Equipment Extended Enterprise to connect the product development platform to the ERP system. Automatic data transfers could ensure both systems were kept up to date with the latest information while greatly reducing the manual work needed to keep both systems updated and reducing the risk of errors in the process. Additionally, since this product development platform was cloud-based, the customer could decommission parts of their IT infrastructure that previously was used to host their legacy systems and the scattered file repositories. 

Finally, Standard Component Management could enable the customer to improve the development process by maximizing reusage of the previously designed components, hence shortening development cycles. This functionality worked in two ways: firstly, by creating libraries and classes into which the different components could be categorized, searchability and reusage to be improved, hence streamlining the design process. Secondly, using artificial intelligence, a design could be compared to existing designs in the library to further improve re-usage. 

The result

By using a tested and solid procedure where we focus on the issues first and guidelines second, we can truly and deeply understand the customer’s needs and then form a plan. One of our main principles is to not dwell on the customer’s “old ways of working”, but rather introduce them to a smart and innovative workflow to overcome their obstacles. This made sure that the customer could adopt processes which were both more efficient and aligned with the strengths of the system. 

Customer's journey

A crucial part of this customer’s journey was taking into use a Systems Engineering platform which enabled the customer to transform their way of working by conducting the entire product development process in a single system. This methodology made them avoid multiple data repositories for different engineering disciplines along with disconnected duplicates of the source data. A unified product structure enabled improvements in downstream processes, e.g. by deriving procurement and manufacturing information from the same data that the product developers were using. Hence, ensuring all stakeholders are conducting their work based on the same up-to-date information. 

A complete overview of the product data combined with integrated project management cleared the path for more informed decisions and conduct better business by improving the development cycle. 

So there you have it, a customer’s journey to efficient systems engineering. Feeling stuck and being without a clear road map may be just the point where you need to ask for help, and this will be a turning point for your business. Let’s improve together!