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September 1, 2019
If you had told me a year ago that I’d soon be overseeing my first issue of Digital Engineering at its editorial director, I would have quickly dismissed the notion. Jamie Gooch has been the “face” of DE for as long as I’ve been a contributor. I was surprised when the post suddenly became available, and also thrilled at the opportunity to dive into the work that this magazine has been doing so well for so long.
I have some big shoes to fill. My predecessor spent the past decade guiding Digital Engineering through tremendous changes, both in the design and engineering market at large and within the magazine itself. I’m approaching the challenge with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
This is a highly dynamic space to write about, and new innovations in high-performance computing, cloud-based applications, simulation-driven design, additive manufacturing, and other technologies are going to lead to a rapid evolution in how designers and engineers develop, test and build new products across nearly every sector of manufacturing.
It is serendipitous that my first issue at the helm keys in on democratization. During the past 20-odd years that I’ve been writing about technology, the trend lines have been the same in almost every industry and every market: a sometimes slow but continuous push to open up technology both to new users and new use cases. To put more data in the hands of people who can make use of it, and to expand their numbers. Our focus on democratization in this issue is pointing to the future, but also telling an old story.
I’ve seen it again and again. In the healthcare sector, it has manifested in digital healthcare approaches that make it easier for physicians to collaborate and for patients to access their own health records. In the logistics industry, supply chain visibility has been pushed down to the mobile devices carried by everyone from the CEO to the truck driver, and the advanced technology that helped behemoths like FedEx and UPS innovate is now available to anyone with a few trucks and some ambition. Complex demand forecasting techniques pioneered by Walmart are now within the grasp of any small retailer.
The process is rarely easy, and often messy. Ask any doctor how they feel about electronic health records, and you’re likely to get an earful. Kmart tried to mimic Walmart’s fulfillment model, failed to properly prepare and fell into a hole from which it was never able to fully emerge. Our goal in putting this issue together is to help illuminate opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and point our readers in the direction of the successful strategies and useful tools as they navigate this new territory.
A Wide Open Future
Throughout this issue, you’ll see examples of how this steady expansion of data, of application reach, of end user communities, affects every aspect of design. You’ll hear from visionaries that want to see designers gain access to easier-to-use simulation tools, and see how subscription-based software can help smaller companies leverage advanced design and simulation. We even take a look at lower-cost workstation options that put more computing power in the hands of entry-level users.
In preparing for this issue, I also read through a 2017 Aberdeen report on simulation-driven design that showed how best-in-class firms are applying simulation earlier in the design process, and giving access to simulation tools to a growing number of non-experts. These firms are able to capture the expertise of computer-aided engineering (CAE) staff and share it with non-engineers, while also encouraging collaboration. As a result, 73% of those firms verified the product design earlier in the process, shortened development time by an average of 29%, and built 27% fewer prototypes.
The cost savings, accelerated time to market, and productivity boost enabled by this approach could be enormous. Beyond those return-on-investment (ROI) figures, the potential to accelerate innovation could be even more staggering.
The future envisioned by the champions of democratization in this space will be exciting for me to learn and write about, and even more exciting to experience for the designers and engineers who will use these tools in the future.
I’m looking forward to seeing what that future will hold for all of us, and I hope that you readers will reach out and share your own concerns, predictions and experiences as we move forward together.