It's not surprising that as products become more sophisticated and complex - at every level - the design effort needed to get them off the back of an envelope and into our pockets is growing. While demand increases, the projected decline in availability of engineering talent continues to cause concern for the future, and the current generation of engineers have found it necessary to work more collaboratively. This isn't new, of course, and not something that has just been imposed by increasing complexity and decreasing design windows; but they certainly don't help.
Despite being well known, collaborative design isn't quite as well understood, or implemented. It's not through a lack of trying but rather a lack of suitable tools. There are many aspects to collaborative design but they can largely be categorised under three broad headings; visibility, differencing and merging. But perhaps I should take a step back and first explain what I see as the problem.
The process of getting any product or service to market requires more than just a design team, it requires a full value chain and only those companies that implement this in the most efficient way are successful, particularly if they operate in sectors that exhibit a high level of competition (which today is most of them). Fortunately, most companies that do create products and/or services have a wide range of productivity tools to help in most areas of the value chain, be that a simple spreadsheet or a more sophisticated lifecycle management tool. The weak link, today, in this chain is undoubtedly the phase between R&D and production, i.e. the design phase, which is seeing greater pressure from all sides and increasingly fewer resources. Making this critical phase work more collaboratively, therefore, isn't just desirable but increasingly imperative to the success of OEMs.
Design teams are often co-located today, so many engineers are already somewhat familiar with the concept of collaborative design, however in order to improve the efficacy of this approach, the three key areas need to be addressed: engineers need to be able to ‘see' what others are doing; they need to be able to assess the input to a design from two or more engineers working on it concurrently; and there needs to be some form of bringing all their efforts together in to a single, production-ready design.
It sounds simple, but my next blog will go into more detail about why it isn't and what needs to happen to make it work.
Ben Jordan got his start in electronics as an 8 year old, when his big brother got him his first soldering iron with a multivibrator LED flasher kit. Ben holds a Bachelor of Engineering with First Class Honors from the University of Southern Queensland, and has worked as an AE, FAE and in Marketing and management roles at Altium since 2004. Ben has more than 20 years experience designing electronics, PCBs, and embedded computing and FPGA hardware and software, and has research interests in signal processing, audio electronics, and PCB design.