E is for E-engineering

by DAVE WILSON, EDITOR, DESIGN ENGINEERING

For more years than I can count, software companies have been pushing the concepts of reduced design time, co-operative working environments between teams of engineers working across the planet, the integration of design with manufacturing and closer working ties between manufacturers and their suppliers. Now, the old ideas have got a new name, and it looks as if E-engineering, as it is called, will become the buzz word for the new millennium.

In the past, for most designers in small to medium enterprises, these ideas may have proved interesting, but not practically realisable. The software costs too much, and so does the hardware. And the training needed to implement such systems on a small scale doesn’t come cheaply either. The beauty and simplicity of the grand plan promoted by the software dreamers always seemed to fall short of their ideals, especially when the engineer was faced with the stark reality of losing data as he transferred his 3D parametric CAD file to his suppliers and vice versa.

Now, with the advent of the World Wide Web, things have changed. Now, there is a more cost effective way to work using the Internet. Testifying to the fact, there are a number of new software packages that will allow designers to work co-operatively, sharing files and data over the Internet. With the aid of these packages, they can do everything that they may have thought they could do – but in reality could not – five years ago.

They can simultaneously view a particular 3D drawing; hold a teleconference; make changes and modifications to the drawing, and all members of the design team can be notified of those changes simultaneously via email. And third parties can also share information on the drawing and suggest ways to make it more manufacturable. What’s more, designers can order parts on-line and look at bills of materials too. The Web, it appears will finally make concurrent engineering a reality.

For system designers, the Web will also save time and money. They will be able to diagnose plant problems from home, using Web based tools to diagnose and reprogram automation equipment remotely. Like any technology, however, the success of E-engineering will depend on how effectively the IT infrastructure is managed.