Product design is like a black box: Specifications go in, drawings come out and not a lot of what goes on in between is fully understood by anyone outside the design team. Once that initial design spec is handed over, a few days/weeks/months may pass before the design is ready for manufacturing. As there is little to no visibility into the design process, it may appear to some areas of the business that there’s not a lot happening.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s the constant unknowns (progress and time) that force design teams into regular update meetings and design reviews in an attempt to gain meaningful insights into the design process.

A typical design team as viewed by everyone else.

Design reviews are, of course, necessary. They provide a closed-loop feedback mechanism between the design team, the rest of the business and the customer. As a project progresses, problems and opportunities arise and design reviews are the best way to address them.

Progress report meetings, on the other hand, are a complete time-suck. As a project manager, it’s your job to ensure that everything is running smoothly and the project will be delivered on time. Weekly update reports to the executive team require you to collate all the latest information from every member of the design team, make sense of it all, present it in an easy-to-digest format and add anecdotal evidence of your findings. Pulling your entire team away from their duties too often affects productivity. Ironically, the progress report meeting becomes a bottleneck in the process.

Improving the Design Process

Every company wants to identify inefficiencies and reduce costs. However, the design black box is one area of a business that has very little in the way of hard facts, making it difficult to uncover the issues and find ways to address them. PDM and PLM systems tackle some of these problems to a certain extent, but they are only effective once the data is made available for them to process, or in other words, once the CAD files have been checked-in.

Many Onshape CAD blogs have focused on the evils of CAD files. This one is no exception. Old CAD without PDM is a data loss, corruption and security disaster waiting to happen. Old CAD with PDM is much better and more secure, but only once the files are safely locked away in the vault. To work on a design, all the required files must be checked out and copied to your local hard drive. This is when the problems begin.

Copies of your files are left lying around on computers everywhere. Any employee, contractor or supplier that has worked on your design has copies of it on their computer. This is a big security risk to your intellectual property. Files that are checked out are also locked by the PDM system to stop other team members from overwriting your work. However, this prevents them from working on the same design, creating unnecessary bottlenecks and forcing your design process to be more serial in nature. In between check-ins, nobody knows what work is being done, if any work is being done at all. The PDM system doesn’t know, the project manager doesn’t know and the business doesn’t know. The true definition of a black box.

Unprecedented Visibility

Onshape Enterprise is designed to address these issues head on with detailed project activity feeds, comprehensive audit logs and real-time analytics to help you make informed data-driven business decisions about time-critical projects and processes. Fingertip access to data detailing every aspect of your design process provides transparency, accountability, and the insights you need to discover new ways to streamline your business.

Project Activity Feeds

If you’re part of a design team using old CAD and PDM, how do you know what your colleagues are working on and how far they’ve progressed? You can see which assembly they have checked out, but which part of the assembly are they working on? Does it impact what you’re working on? Your only option is to chase them down and ask them to check their CAD files back into the PDM system so you can see what changes they’ve made. If your design team is spread across multiple locations, time zones and companies, this can be a very time-consuming, non-value adding task.

Onshape Enterprise runs on a centralized cloud database instead of federated vaults and local file systems like old CAD and PDM. Every action taken by every user is recorded and presented in a real-time activity feed, delivering up-to-the-minute information on the latest project developments. This enables designers and project managers to review the active state of the projects they are working on and what changes have been made since they last signed in. You can see which Documents were edited, who worked on them and what changes were made. When you’re working as part of a global team, this makes it so easy to pick up where they left off.

Real-time activity feed showing latest project developments.

Every recent action is recorded here for every authorized user to browse. New activity appears as it happens. You can filter by project, read and reply to comments and check activity by Document or by user. Since the CAD system, CAD data and real-time analytics are all part of the same system, you can review a pending release, approve a design, compare versions or open the Onshape Document by clicking the appropriate hyperlinks. Navigating the activity feed is simple and straightforward, helping you get up to speed with the rest of your team, faster than ever before.

Real-Time Analytics and Reports

As a project manager or executive using old CAD and PDM, how do you know if a project is on schedule? How do you decide which projects need more resources and which team members can help out? How do you know if a contractor is actively working on a project?

The answer is, you don’t. You can view files that are checked in and see who has files checked out, but that doesn’t tell you anything. Time for another progress report meeting perhaps?

Onshape Enterprise shows you the big picture with real-time analytics and reports that detail all user activity within your organization for a more in-depth insight into your design process as a whole. These reports enable you to:

  • Manage projects and resources better.
  • Measure team effectiveness and individual contributions.
  • Follow Key Performance Indicators to track project status.
  • Check that access to sensitive data is controlled.
  • See which data has been shared or exported.
  • Reduce time-wasting design reviews and progress reports.
  • Record time spent on each project.
  • Discover potential bottlenecks or other issues.
  • Ensure project deadlines are met on time.

Onshape Enterprise is the only system able to do this, by aggregating all your company’s data over time and presenting it in easy-to-read graphs, tables and charts. For the first time in the history of engineering software, you have complete visibility into who did what and when, how engineering effort is trending over time, and who is contributing in what ways. This enables managers and executives to really understand, for the first time, what is actually going on in their team.

User dashboard showing project activity and modeling times.

Managing resources and distributing design tasks is much easier when you have accurate, up-to-date information to base your decisions on. For example, you can view activity trends, the number of pending releases and the total time spent on a project (ideal if you bill by the hour) to understand how a project is progressing. If it appears to be behind schedule, you can quickly see where resources are being used and reallocate them accordingly. This level of insight into your design process enables you to be more proactive and address potential issues early on.

Project Dashboard showing Feature Activity trends and sign-in locations.

If you’re looking to expand your business and scale up your design activities, Onshape Enterprise provides the detailed insights and analytics to help you break open that black box and truly understand the complex process that is product design. Then, the next time you plan a project of similar complexity, you’ll have the benefit of documented hindsight to help you manage design resources, control costs and set achievable goals. This gives you a clear competitive advantage with better control of your design processes, your finances and your business.