New release: Engineers migrating to new
versions of their software or converting to completely new CAD programs,
sucha as CATIA V.5, have to plan their moves carefully to avoid confusion
and get the most out of their software tools.
Wichita, KS—Jeff Schiesser, director of business integration and product development at Cessna Aircraft, has high hopes for his company's conversion to Version 5 of CAD product CATIA (www.3ds.com). "It's going to make our design process faster, and give us the opportunity to make more design iterations," he says.
Even so, the company, under Schiesser's lead, is taking its time making the conversion. Cessna has between 10 and 20 different teams studying the impact of the CAD tool on several engineering disciplines involved in the design and manufacture of its planes. "We're taking our time and following a two-to-three-year schedule to cut everything over to Version 5," he says.
And that's the planned timeframe for a company already using a previous version of the software in their product development efforts.
Schiesser says the methodologies embodied in CATIA 5 are vastly different from those in CATIA 4, which the company is now using, and those differences demand a slow implementation to avoid confusion and enable the company to get the most out of the new software and accomplish their design objectives.
His methodical approach should serve as a role model for others, especially at a time when several software companies are coming out with new versions of their flagship products and trying to convince engineers to adopt them.
New products either recently introduced or soon to hit the streets include Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire (www.ptc.com), I-DEAS NX series (www.eds.com), Solid Edge 14 (www.solidedge.com), AutoCAD 2004 (www.autocad.com), SolidWorks 2003 (www.solidworks.com), CADKEY Workshp EX (www.cadkey.com), and VX CAD/CAM Version 7 (www.vx.com), among others. Industry observers and consultants advise engineers to plan their implementation of new software as carefully as they plan their review process before they purchase the products. Why? So they're not surprised—and disappointed—at the results.
One engineer who did think ahead is Dan Turner of CSC Computer Sciences. "One word sums up Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire," he says: "awesome." Turner says that now users have the full power of Pro/ENGINEER and "ease of use."
How to get that feeling?
"The first step," says consultant Bill Dresselhaus, owner of Innovation Management, "is to decide if you want to switch software at all." It's a big move to go from one software program that you know and which all your current design models are in to a new program. "Make sure you can document that you'll be more productive, get more features, and be better able to collaborate with the new package," he says.
And, he advises, work with a cross-functional team in the implementation. "You don't want any engineer in the organization to be ticked off about the decision," he says. After all, one of the points is to get everyone psyched up to be more productive.
Jack Beeckman, manager of CAD support for Columbus, OH-based Liebert Corp. (www.liebert.com), has another piece of advice: Instead of starting by checking all the software options available to see which has the most up-to-date features, ask the engineers in the company what they need. He has had his evaluation team in place studying conversion to Solid Edge 14 for quite awhile. "We started with user needs, then took a good look at the software as beta testers when it was under development," says Beeckman, whose company now uses Solid Edge 12. Nevertheless, he won't authorize full conversion until all engineers in the company have their new copies of the software. Liebert has about 80 seats of Solid Edge in North America. Liebert is part of Emerson.
While the conversion to Version 14 should be smooth, Beeckman recalls the hard work involved a few years ago when the company changed to Solid Edge from Intergraph's EMS software. He started by evaluating users' needs, then researched which software companies had the features they needed, he says. "We had a team in place to evaluate all packages and to make sure we weren't taken in by smoke and mirrors," he says. "Then, we started the conversion with a small, isolated project." Starting small is something many engineers recommend.
That pilot test went so well that they never even finished it. "We knew before we were through with the testing that we had made the right choice in software," he recalls with much satisfaction.
Presumably, the Cessna team feels the same way since they are already using an earlier version of CATIA. Still, because of the many differences between versions of that software, Schiesser wants to make sure his engineers are totally comfortable with CATIA 5. So, Cessna engineers are using the new software in the early design stages of the company's new six-passenger Citation Mustang aircraft. Teams involved in the airframe, structures, flight controls, hydraulics, and the overall analysis process are using CATIA 5 in their separate work groups.
"We're framing it now," Schiesser says, "but we'll go full force with Version 5 next year."