Engineering Drawings are Dead. Now What?
So that last article was rather frightening for some, you know, with the zombies and the whole thing with engineering drawings not being alive and all that. For some, it was downright traumatic. Many have rightly pointed out that cost constraints and the limitations of today's tools make Model Based Engineering (MBE) seem like an impossibly far off dream. Yet the value of evolving engineering documentation to its logical next step seems clear. So the question remains: how can we possibly get there from here?
Some might argue that we shouldn't get there at all, that we should just carry on as is. Don't rock the boat, right? You could take that route, but that's not much of a plan. In fact, it's barely a concept. But perhaps you're still not convinced. The increasing complexity of engineered systems is driving adoption of new processes to stave off cost and schedule challenges. Early adopters will be the larger companies dealing with the most complex systems. Once they find their stride with model-based definition (and they will), those requirements will trickle down the supply chain to their suppliers. And guess what? You just might be that supplier. The key is preparation. Otherwise, the future subcontract awarded to your competitor may be the last one you ever see.
This calls for a survival plan. Below are some of the things you can do today to better understand and prepare for a drawingless future:
- Get Familiar with JT: Wouldn't it be convenient if there was some neutral format specifically designed to carry model based definition? Especially if that format was a standard approved by the International Standards Organization (ISO)? There is one: JT. It's supported by most major CAD systems. The problem is many people still have never even heard of it. Now is the time to change that and understand how a neutral format can work for your communications needs.
- Brush up on Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T): ASME Y14.41 which defines digital product definition practices, is heavily focused on GD&T. GD&T offers very real benefits not achievable with traditional rectangular tolerancing. GD&T provides a clear and precise methodology to characterize form and fit with how your manufacturing and tooling processes actually work, all while reducing scrap rates. The trouble is, to justify a training program you'll have to first characterize the amount of waste in your current process, so best get started on that now.
- Understand The Floor: Any documentation method, regardless of its merit will be utterly useless if downstream consumers can't use it effectively. This pain point often gets skipped over and ends up eating your lunch. So you need to expend some effort understanding how engineering data is actually being used, and take steps to optimize and train accordingly. And here's a pro-tip: this might be happening at your supplier instead. Which brings us to the next point.
- Know Your Suppliers: You probably have your own suppliers. They often are instrumental in your success. They can also help you fail. Any change in how your record and transmit product definition will affect them too, and they may not be upfront about it. It's your task to ferret out the truth and understand how they will deal with change. Talk to them, but don't kick them. If you have a supplier that is particularly obstinate about change, however, it may be time to start looking for a new one.
Feel I left anything out? Deposit your thoughts in the comments below.
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About the author: (Ed Lopategui)
Technology evangelist, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer specialized in the software tools and technology which enable engineering, design, and product development – PDM, PLM, CAD, CAE, CAM. Any views, opinions, prophecies, and sarcastic remarks are my own and are in no way associated with any current or past employers.
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