Want to see how the other half lives?
In January, we mailed questionnaires to several thousand Design News readers, asking about their software and hardware habits. We learned some basic facts; there are a whole lot of people still using 2D CAD, and very few people using Macs, Linux, or Windows XP.
But one of the most startling results was the tremendous gap between types of software used at small versus large companies.
Take product lifecycle management (PLM), engineering-software's buzzword of the moment. The idea is to create an umbrella computing environment to link all of an engineering firm's various software platforms, so people in different departments can share design files through the product development, sales, and maintenance processes. Sounds helpful, but our survey says it's used by just 5% of respondents at companies smaller than 100 employees. Compare that to its use by 23% of companies with more than 1,000 employees.
This holds true for other software, too.
Collaboration portals? Just 1% of the little guys use them, versus 28% of the big guys.
Computational fluid dynamics? Used by 4% of the little guys and 27% of the big guys.
Rapid prototyping? Used by 10% of the smaller firms and and 38% of the big ones.
Simulation software in general? Used by 22% of the little guys and 50% of the biggies.
PDM? Used by 24% of the smalls and 49% of the bigs.
FEA? Used by 18% of the little guys and 59% of the big guys.
In fact, the only types of software on the list that saw relatively even usage across different sized companies were CAD, database software, project management, and CAM.
So, how to explain the software gap? Many of the smaller firms probably don't use specialty software because they don't have the experts on staff to operate it, says Bob Williams, a product manager at Algor (Pittsburgh, PA). In fact, he says it's an upward trend to see 18% of small companies using FEA, as our survey reported.
"This would, in part, be due to the increasing ease-of-use of FEA and simulation software," Williams says. "However, smaller companies still tend to utilize consultants or other external sources when they have projects that require validation through analysis. This is still the primary factor contributing to the lower usage percentage."
Another explanation is that single companies need fewer and fewer software tools. "PLM is a big, monolithic thing that no one company implements," says Steve Shoaf, a Worldwide PLM marketing manager for IBM. "Companies today are part of a value chain or a supply chain, so what you get is a collection of companies, each of which is using a part of PLM."
"Very few companies do everything associated with designing the entire product, like companies did in the early 1900s," Shoaf says. "So we sell the components of PLM that are appropriate for each company."
As design firms become more specialized, their niches in the industry require that they use a smaller variety of software tools. After all, they can always find a partner to fill in the gaps.
|Which software tools does your engineering department use? (replies are from companies of every size):