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Disruption of Engineering

Engineering has become a significant part of the overall value chain. When established value-added processes change, this also affects the role of engineering. Change can only be successful if the adjustments are seen as an opportunity.

Posted on: 10/24/2019

What began with primitive stone tools has become a high-tech business. We are talking about the production of commodities. A host of companies worldwide deals with the production of products for every conceivable purpose. Today, a complex engineering process is upstream of the manufacturing process. It has now become part of the overall added value. Its constant improvement is a very important goal of any company. The only question is: how can the design process contribute?

For example, higher added value can be achieved through higher efficiency. The first step in this direction was taken in the 1990s when drawings, planning documents and design tools were digitized. Globalization emerged around the same time, increasing competition and creating additional price and time pressures as well as increasing quality requirements. Towards the turn of the millennium, the once independent planning disciplines such as mechanical, electrical and software were increasingly dependent on the data from one another. The mechatronic concept was born as the next logical step. This idea gave rise to a promising approach to functional engineering, which had not yet achieved a breakthrough. Why this is can be debated, but a lack of suitable planning tools is just as responsible as the lack of consensus on how functional engineering should be applied in practice.

Mechatronics is increasingly used in the components of automation technology, but the design process itself has hardly changed. In this decade, digitalization has joined economic globalization. The promises of Industry 4.0 (IoT) have put more and more companies under pressure, because competitive price pressure is squeezing margins, increasing individualization requires ever shorter innovation cycles, and advancing digitalization massively changes the established value creation processes. Many companies recognize that something has to change. But how are changes made in an already complex technical process, such as engineering?

Increasing efficiency alone is not enough. If you want to face the challenge, you have to think about the following tasks:

  • Automating routine tasks: What has long been known and built in production will also find its way into design. However, the prerequisite for this is a clear set of rules on how and what to do in any situation.

  • Adapting processes: An important side effect of automation is that it can significantly change existing processes. Timely analysis of the effects of automation is therefore mandatory.

  • Rethinking the value creation structure: Digitization in particular is radically changing existing value creation structures. The share of the manufacturing process will decrease in the long term, so other business areas should increase their share. The design process holds potential that should not be underestimated.

  • Configuring product instead of designing it: Only configurable products simultaneously meet the dueling requirements for increased individualization and manageable product complexity. The most important prerequisites for configurability: clarity about the product structure and the production process. An important side effect is that this approach changes working methods.

  • Change organization: Short reaction times to changes in the market require an organization with complex processes in which quick and well-founded decisions are possible because the decision-makers have direct market contact. This requirement conflicts with conventional hierarchical management structures, which is why the company also needs to rethink its organization.