Your description of how managers misuse cost estimation tools is amusing and also sad, Tool_maker. I've also had some experiences, in a very different realm, with attempts by management to use average cost guidelines prescriptively instead of as a ballpark estimation tool like the one described in this article. Which, of course, kind of defeats the original purpose.
Sometimes I feel like such a wet blanket. In addition to designing production tooling, I am resposible for estimating costs. You see advantage, while I see another club for someone who has never had to troubleshoot a worn out tool or piece of equipment to nurse it through, "Just one more run." Does this CAD program have a variable for a purchasing agent who just bought a truckload of junk steel because he got a great deal on the golf course? Is there a place to input the fact that your lubricant has been reformulated to something more friendly to the enviroment, only it doesn't work? How about the machine/feeder combination that works perfectly well at 40 strokes/minute, but misfeeds at 50 while a boss that doesn't know an Allen wrench from a small hammer screams, "Make it work. The CAD file says this part should only cost $X and it is costing $Y." Of course he will not pony up the $$ to fix either. (I no longer work for that boss.) Does this CAD program take into account how many machines are operating at one time and the air compressor is barely able to keep up. What about lot size? Am I amortizing the set-up and quality check over 1, 20 or 2 million parts?
So long as this cost is treated like an EPA mileage estimate and used for comparison purposes only, there may be a use for it, but as a final arbiter I hope I am retired before that hits the mainstream. I am not trying to be negative, but in reality a hundred variables impact on the very same part from production run to production run.
This is another piece of the puzzle, or I should say another incremental improvement of the type we're seeing from CAD vendors to broaden their products to address the full breath of the design process. Along those lines, I'd point to the ECN (product change data) capability recently added by PTC (see this story) and the parts-selection capabilities added by Siemens to its PLM portal (here).
That ability to recalculate costs based on changes to the model is indeed pretty compelling. The fact that the software automatically creates the cost model based on the actual CAD geometry is also pretty cool.
This costing tool will be helpful for designers who are cost conscious. It is also interesting that it can instantly adjust the cost of the part/product depending on materials used and the location where it is being produced.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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