Engineers and designers love to create. They want to spend 100 percent of their time engineering and designing, but as with any job, there are obstacles and distractions that lead to downtime and delays. To research what’s getting in the way of engineer productivity, Onshape recently commissioned The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2020 industry survey, which took the pulse of nearly 1,000 professionals at manufacturing companies across the world.
Given that there is no shortage of ways to waste time, we asked executives, project managers and frontline engineers to rate which productivity-killers were the most problematic at their companies on a scale ranging from “not important at all” and “somewhat unimportant” to “somewhat important” and “very important.”
These results are stunning. More than 4 out of 5 product development professionals report having trouble finding the correct product design or accessing it. Working on the wrong version of a design can lead to costly manufacturing errors, frustrating rework, wasted materials and possible liability issues. But it’s also stolen time that could have been devoted to the next project. Not being able to locate the design in the first place is equally frustrating and unproductive.
The fact that these data management problems beat out unproductive meetings – everyone’s favorite punching bag – is a notable feat. The engineering field, which places a high value on accuracy and precision, is still struggling with version control and making it easy for multiple contributors in a project to get to the right data.
Rounding out the list of top time-wasters are CAD crashes and data loss (nothing is more aggravating than watching your work instantly vanish), and software and hardware maintenance.
Ultimately, every minute spent on rebooting your system or dealing with administrative and IT tasks is a minute not spent on developing innovative products. It’s unproductive and demotivating.
PDM/PLM Helps Avoid Costly Mistakes, But is There a Better Way?
In the industry survey, many firms using installed server-based CAD systems reported that they are bogged down by the time-consuming nature of managing years of legacy designs and new projects. Their add-on Product Data Management/Product Lifecycle Management (PDM/PLM) systems require cumbersome processes of “checking in” and “checking out” files, inherently restricting access and creating a slow, “serial” or “waterfall” editing process for collaborators.
In a time of Agile Product Development and instant communication, the challenges of this old form of data management are myriad. Here’s what companies had to say about their situations right now.
In this survey, 50% of companies use an add-on PDM/PLM system for data management.
Twice as many PDM/PLM users are now using installed file-based systems compared to those using cloud-based data management. (Respondents were allowed to answer in both categories.)
Who’s using add-on PDM/PLM systems? Usage is more prevalent with larger product development teams with more complex data management needs and with companies with multiple locations:
An overwhelming majority of PDM/PLM users, both cloud and installed, agree that their systems do minimize the risk of working on the wrong version of a design.
Although PDM/PLM is solving their version control problems, a significant number of users believe that their current data management systems also come with substantial drawbacks.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of these complaints about add-on PDM/PLM systems:
That’s the inevitable byproduct of the vault system that requires users to check files in and out – and allows only one user at a time to open and edit a design file. Because one design file often references many others (think of a big assembly), this can mean locking up many files at once. This leads to a serial workflow in which most engineers need to wait for co-workers to finish their work before they can continue with their own. Following these protocols is a safeguard against mistakenly working on the wrong version, but it also creates needless downtime.
On first glance, this statistic seems incongruent with our earlier finding that nearly 90% of users think PDM/PLM is doing a great job with helping teams avoid costly mistakes. But the current trade-off for preventing those errors is a price too high for many.
PDM/PLM is solving a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. When data is file-based and there are many copies of the same files that can’t be edited in parallel, errors are inevitable. To address that, PDM/PLM lets only one person check out and edit a file, forcing everyone else to wait around. It solves the data management problem by slowing everybody down, reducing access, and blocking meaningful teamwork.
So as effective as add-on PDM/PLM software is at its promised function, it comes as no surprise that:
Having 75% of users wish there were tools that provide a better way to manage and access their design data is not a ringing endorsement of their current systems.
Product developers overwhelmingly want a data management system that helps avoid version control errors, but that doesn’t slow them down as a result.
Get Your Copy of the Industry Report
Interested in further exploring what’s getting in the way of productivity for engineering and manufacturing teams?
The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2020 report also shares insights on the following questions:
- What is the correlation between productivity and innovation?
- Do executives and engineers have differing views about the capabilities and performance of their product development teams?
- How satisfied are product development professionals with the technology being deployed to do their jobs?
- What aspects of the product design process need to be improved the most?
- How prepared are companies to equip their employees to work remotely?
Get your copy of the new industry report today!
Darren is PTC’s Content Director for Onshape, focusing on engineering and design news, trends and customer stories. He is an Emmy-nominated multimedia journalist, filmmaker and business writer with extensive experience covering technology and innovation for high-tech companies. Darren has been a contributor to Fast Company, PBS, CNN, The Atlantic, Slate, Outside Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe. Darren holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, adventure travel, seeing different MLB ballparks, and finding kitschy roadside attractions.
The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2020
In this new industry report, learn the biggest challenges facing today’s design and manufacturing teams – and their most important priorities for improvement.