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Make software easy for engineers to use

Make software easy for engineers to use

Peter was one of the original founders of SDRC in 1967. He has served on the company's board of directors since 1983. Among positions he has held within SDRC are vice president and manager of strategic marketing in the software products division, general manager of computer services, and engineering consultant in the engineering services division. He received his M.S. in physics from the University of Michigan in 1968, and his B.S. in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1964.

Taking the complexity out of CAD and other software is critical, says SDRC's Peter. In fact, he adds, ease of use will be a product differentiator.

Design News:What are the major trends in CAD today?

Peter: There are several. Hardware advances allow us to do a variety of things we couldn't do before. Among the offshoots will be components for virtual reality. But, we can also improve the way users interact with knowledge-based engineering applications, the way they access data bases, and the advisors we include to guide users. Additionally, we are seeing greater use of standards, and that will continue. There will be a seamless flow from application to application, and the applications from third parties will be seamless. Through all of this, the user interface remains critical. In fact, ease of use is everything, and future products will be differentiated by their ease of use. There is a tiered approach to software that's important to understand. At the top end are the traditional users who are comfortable with Unix. But, at the lower end are potential CAD users who use no software tools now or very simple tools, and they represent a big opportunity for software companies. For them to make the transition to software-based design, ease of use is essential.

Q: What will be the next breakthrough in CAD?

A: It won't be virtual reality. The hardware is too expensive. Knowledge-based engineering may be the next breakthrough. It lets engineers interact the way they think. Many software companies are thinking about incorporating aspects of knowledge-based engineering into their products. We already have. Among examples is a simulation advisor we have in our product. Our graphic user interface has intelligence in it so you can see where you previously made decisions on a part.

Q: What are the most important things for software developers to keep in mind during development of their products?

A: Get users involved in all aspects of design and delivery. In our case, users helped us specify the most recent version of our I-DEAS Master Series and told us how they liked the user interface. Before beta testing, we had several external experts go through the software and try to break it. Toward the end of the beta process, we got 25-30 customers to spend two weeks at our facility and use the software to design and simulate products. We told them to wring out the software. They found things they didn't like. So, we took another two months to improve the product before releasing it. That kind of rigorous routine accomplishes a lot more than simple question-and-answer focus groups can accomplish.

Q: What role will product data management (PDM) play in the design process?

A: First of all, PDM doesn't design anything. Instead, it helps users organize, preserve, and control the production of data. That's important because, especially in large design environments, the amount of data is enormous. Without PDM, CAD won't reach its potential. CAD and other data must be shared and controlled, and that requires data management.

Q: Please briefly describe the most important attributes of your Metaphase data-management product.

A: It is object-oriented in construction and allows for customization. That latter point is particularly important, because it lets customers adapt the system to their own processes. Metaphase is also for enterprise environments. Customers tell us they start small with the product, but over time they want it to handle the entire enterprise.

Q: What are the major demands engineers are making on software companies at this time?

A: They demand seamless flow from application to application, and that requires close cooperation among developers. They are also demanding services. In fact, we've found our integration and implementation services are often key for helping customers re-engineer their processes around software tools. In the last two years, our implementation services have grown ten-fold. In a way, it takes us back to our roots.

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