Four tools to reduce engineering time without sacrificing quality

Engineering projects are complex and lead to scheduling issues, but tools such as cloud-based collaborative engineering and digital twins can reduce wasted time.
By Aucotec January 6, 2018

Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaEngineering projects are quite complex and require a lot of planning and care to ensure success. However, there are four tools engineers can use to help speed up the process without sacrificing quality.

1. Cloud-based collaborative engineering platform

Creating functional and elegant designs takes time. In an ideal world, all that time would be spent on the actual design process—researching requirements, brainstorming solutions, testing solutions, and so on. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Too often, the biggest chunks of time are spent on mundane tasks such as exporting and importing data, manually checking cross-references, and tracking down the source of a mistake. A cloud-based collaborative engineering platform brings all the data and documentation together under a single umbrella accessible by all of the stakeholders on your project. This saves the engineer time by providing a centralized location for all project data, eliminating inconsistencies and mistakes, and freeing up engineers for higher-value work.

2. Schedule performance index (SPI)

The SPI is a tool used by project managers to identify small problems before they become big ones. It measures how far ahead or behind a project is compared to the schedule. The SPI helps firms the project schedule performance and identify conditions that lead to schedule variability. This allows project managers to better understand project delays and implement best practices to reduce schedule uncertainties.

3. Digital twins

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical thing – whether that’s a plant, a process, or a city. Digital twins have many applications throughout a project lifecycle. One of the most important is right at the beginning, before the physical thing is built. During the design process, a digital twin is like a prototype that lets you try out different solutions and measure the effects of various conditions such as weather and age. It allows the user to test as many scenarios as they can think up.

4. Bi-level multi-objective optimization

Engineering projects are becoming more complex, and it’s causing trouble. In a 2012 Aberdeen Group study, increasing product complexity was fourth on the list of top engineering design challenges. One of the causes of increased complexity is multidisciplinary collaboration. While multidisciplinary collaboration yields huge benefits, when stakeholders with different perspectives are added to a project, complexity will naturally increase.

Bi-level multi-objective optimization is a mouthful, but the basic idea is simple. Different stakeholders have different objectives at different levels. And they all need to be optimized for. For example, in the design of a food plant, the process engineer’s may be focused on food safety, the plant manager on productivity, and the person writing the check on cost-effectiveness. These three objectives operate at different levels. Bi-level multi-objective optimization is aimed optimizing for all objectives by identifying the tradeoffs that need to be made among design variables. It saves time by formalizing the process upfront.

While there is no substitute for conscientious behavior, these four tools can reduce some of the wasted time on a project.

This article originally appeared on Aucotec’s blog. Aucotec is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.