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Beyond the tools

Beyond the tools

CAD and finite element analysis (FEA) are critical tools for design engineers. CAD programs enable them to, among other things, quickly and easily try different approaches to solving design problems. FEA software helps engineers determine design fitness--whether the product will break--without the time and expense of physical prototypes.

Virtually all CAD and FEA vendors offer training to their customers to ensure they get the most out of the software. Many do more. Besides having a consulting arm, SDRC, for example, has stationed more than 100 applications engineers at Ford to help that company implement I-DEAS software. EDS Unigraphics has assigned applications engineers to help General Motors implement its software, and offers all customers a VPD (Virtual Product Development) assessment to see if companies have the right processes for realizing the fullest benefits of Unigraphics.

CoCreate's consultative approach includes customizing its software for specific customers, teaching them how to customize it, running seminars, and sharing best practices. Parametric Technology Corp., too, provides design assistance. In fact, its Pro/ENGINE software helps automotive engineers get the best out of its software. Algor publishes books to help its customers and others get the most out of finite element analysis.

Perhaps no one goes further than The MacNeal-Schwendler Corp. (MSC).

MSC views the strategic services it provides customers as one of its biggest strengths, says Ken Blakely, Vice President of the company's aerospace business unit. Those services include, among other things, process audits, seminars, software customization, and advice on improving the engineering process. MSC started providing those services to aerospace companies, and has expanded them to automotive companies, too. "We can do that because we're organized by industry, and because we have experience in those industries," Blakely says.

Recently, MSC worked with Boeing Commercial on a process audit, studying everything from the way the company's engineers compute external loads to the way they prepare and deliver FAA certification reports. MSC engineers interviewed more than 70 Boeing employees, and, interestingly enough, only about five of them are users of MSC products.

"Everyone in aerospace has the same MSC tools," says the company's Mark Kenyon. "The real competitive advantage is in how you use the tools.

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