Shortening Design Cycles With Concurrent Engineering

In this series of blogs, I’m going to focus on concurrent engineering and cover the following topics:

· What is concurrent engineering & why does it matter?

· Concurrent engineering in practice

· Collaborative concurrent engineering

So, let’s get started with the first question: what is it and why does it matter? Concurrent engineering involves the introduction of parallelism into the engineering process with the purpose of shortening the elapsed time to complete that process.

The parallelism could be applied to steps of the process or it could be applied to a step within the process. A simple example – I’m thinking of getting a set of snow tires for my car which will mean changing all of the wheels. If I do it myself, I will have to get the jack out, and in a serial process, raise each corner of the car, take off the wheel, put on the new wheel, lower the car and remove the jack. I’ll do this four times and I don’t know about you, but it would probably take me an hour. How could I accelerate this process?

I could press-gang my 2 teenage sons and unlucky wife and assuming I had four axle stands and four wrenches, I would still serially jack up each corner and insert the axle stand, but now the four of us could replace the wheels in parallel, then serially remove the axle stands. Here we are applying parallelism to the 4 individual steps of changing the wheels. With this approach, I reckon I could get the elapsed time down to 30 minutes. Notice, I didn’t get the time down to 15 minutes even while applying 4 people to the problem – the reason being that there is still some serial work going on here.

How could I get close to my 15 minute nirvana? By introducing some new technology – something that will jack up the car faster or that will jack up the whole car at once. In this way, we are able to leverage technology so that jacking the car is considered one step (effectively performing those 4 individual jacking steps in parallel). Some folks already figured this out – just take a look at this pit stop during a formula 1 race. 60 minutes down to 7 seconds – not bad!

I’ll delve into how concurrent engineering can be applied to PCB design in my next blog, and how technology can enable parallelism in ways that otherwise aren’t possible.

We have all experienced projects that were behind schedule. Perhaps you work in an industry where earlier to market means increased revenue and market share. Concurrent engineering provides “shortening of elapsed time” for the design process and this answers the second part of our question. In real life, the quicker we can complete a design the more competitive we will be.

I’ll also acknowledge that concurrent engineering does not necessarily mean fewer resources applied to the project. It does however support the efficient use of those resources. Here’s an actual example of this idea in action…

Fujitsu Technology Solutions makes computers and servers, so you can see why time to market would be so critical. In order to meet their schedules and time to market goals, Fujitsu was running night shifts so that designs could be worked on with a longer working day. Of course, there’s some inefficiency in the hand off of a design from one engineer to another, and there is the additional expense of paying night shift rates. Through the use of concurrent engineering, Fujitsu was able to eliminate the expensive night shifts and to apply those engineering resources during the normal day shift.

Why didn’t Fujitsu make this change sooner? Well, I’ll explain that in a later blog but suffice to say for now that concurrent engineering is not just about methodology but also about enabling design technology.

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Posted October 14th, 2010, by

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