Cloud-based design tools are becoming increasingly popular so engineering teams can securely design, anywhere and anytime. With the shift to remote, a new era of digital, agile and collaborative design will soon be the norm. Below are some tips on how you can survive the transition and thrive in the future as a flexible and forward looking design team.
How do we access our design data?
We understand that accessing design data can be challenging even without remote-working conditions. CAD licenses are expensive and limiting, and it can be difficult to access data and 3D models. Cloud Software Tools Cloud software tools are gaining momentum, but still might be unfamiliar to your company. Using software tools in the cloud provides on-demand availability of the software, available to users over the internet. In most cases, these solutions are more secure than any on-premises implementation (when done right!). There are many benefits of using cloud tools versus desktop-based tools, but the main bonus is the ability to access the software from anywhere, on any device, at any time. There are a number of cloud-based repositories available for storing files such as Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and more. But if you want to work with a purpose built solution for design teams, CoLab is the simplest and most effective solution. CoLab is a one-stop shop cloud software tool that gives you the ability to upload and share CAD models, identify and track issues to close out, and complete design reviews of 3D models. With enterprise-security, CoLab allows you to access CAD without an expensive licence and communicate with your team on your design, streamlining remote design work.
VPNs Given most teams today still use desktop CAD tools, the need for remote access to your networks is still a must. Establishing a highly reliable VPN setup for your team is critical. Below are a list of some of the top VPNs to consider.
Given most teams today still use desktop CAD tools, the need for remote access to your networks is still a must. Establishing a highly reliable VPN setup for your team is critical. Below is a list of some of the top traditional VPN companies to consider.
But, there are VPN alternatives that are exploding that don’t require the traditional on-premise setups or data centers. The other benefit is there is no speed, performance or connectivity challenges. One option of an enterprise alternative for VPN is Cloudflare Access.
"Building a fence around your internal applications no longer works for your global team. Cloudflare Access replaces corporate VPN clients by putting Cloudflare’s global edge network in front of your internal applications.”
How do we manage and execute engineering reviews?
Drawing and Documentation Reviews Almost every company does drawing reviews in one of two ways:
Both of these processes are manual, painful, generate dozens of duplicates and are error prone - especially now with the lack of in-person coordination. We started CoLab three years ago after experiencing this first hand. We want engineering teams to have purpose built tools to do their job, just like software teams do today. Over the last month we've been helping teams transition to remote - one of the key aspects has been creating a digital, collaborative and distributed drawing review process for them.We can set you up in under an hour and we will create the first review for you so you can test it out before committing to any change.
3D Model Reviews Similar to drawing reviews, the standard process for 3D model reviews are the equivalent of screen sharing or emailing code. Right now there are three main options:
Send someone the CAD file and create a duplicate - they need a CAD tool to view it and then return feedback in some other messy medium.
Share screens with someone so they can see the model - then you spend the whole call rotating the model and recording inaccurate notes.
The worst of all - screenshots and powerpoint decks. Not only are they limited in info, but they have no reference to the version or authoritative source of truth - meaning your team is going to make mistakes and waste time.
Many engineering teams don’t see this as a problem today, but this will become clear during the ascent of agile and remote work. If you don’t believe this is a problem now, we challenge you to ask an Agile Software Developer how they would feel about replacing their Pull-Request Review process with emailing code files back and forth and writing feedback in powerpoint decks or email bodies :)
Fortunately, CoLab also solves this problem too. CoLab eliminates the need for desktop CAD viewers, powerpoint decks, screenshots, emails/FTP and the suite of disconnected tools you use to manually stitch together design reviews.
Sync your file with CoLab, securely share a guided 3D review with your team (or supply chain) complete with sections, measurements, and even 3D markups, so they can review and make decisions with all of the context. Best part? All of the feedback is logged in the review, in real-time so get trackable feedback, with complete histories in an instant.
How do we manage tasks, progress and issues?
Cloud-Based Issue Tracking Spreadsheets, emails and lists in notebooks just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Your team needs to have the latest information at all times, in a place they like to work so the process doesn’t break down. This means the tool needs to be purpose built for the end user and not a home grown solution or “add-on” to a complex PLM or ERP solution.
It is important to consider how your team works daily in this debate. For example, CoLab is an issue tracking system. We are often asked “can CoLab be extended to our software team?”. The answer is yes, but we would never recommend you do so. For the same reason we would never recommend you use a software issue tracking tool for mechanical / manufacturing issues - they are not built for it and break your users daily workflow.
Jira is an example of a purpose-build issue tracking system for software teams. It is directly integrated with your design requirements, code base and pull request process - Atlassian even offers most of the complimentary products.
We created CoLab to become “the Jira for manufacturing teams” so that engineering teams have the context of their CAD/design along with evaluation tools all in the same platform. CoLab integrates with CAD/PLM and offers a built-in review and issue tracking process that can be leveraged from concept to production. So for teams building electronics or hardware/software solutions, we actually recommend the respective parts of your team use the tool purpose-built for them - then integrate the two tools.
Agile Design and Manufacturing “Sprints” Traditional waterfall approaches to project management are becoming less relevant with every day that passes as more companies are aiming to become agile. In the engineering world, it is often referred to as a “V-Model” where iteration and communication with other groups is highly encouraged.
Over the last decade, the software industry has mastered what it means to be truly “agile”. For most of the manufacturing world, agile is still a WIP. However, for teams that want to become agile and reap the benefits of significantly faster throughput and tighter cross-discipline collaboration, we’ve added a few links below to get you started.
We need to get a signoff, how can we do it digitally?
Redefine Digital Signoff Processes The first step in solving this problem is finding internal alignment that “digital signatures are OK”. The rest is easy because there are a number of excellent tools on the market that make this simple and secure. Build out your digital signoff process, identify who has the authority to initiate digital signoffs and outline any exceptions where a wet signature is required for some external reason. Digital Signoff Tools Document approvals and signatures don’t have to wait just because you’re working remote. Digital signatures have been around for a while, but in the last 2-3 years they are becoming much more widely adopted with the improved tracking and security associated with the industry leading solutions. While there are many options out there, DocuSign is well-adopted and one of the leading electronic signature platforms. For lightweight solutions and smaller teams, a solution like DocHub may work as well! Whatever platform you choose, rest assured that you can still move forward on your document approvals!
Manufacturing is still the trickiest part of the product development process because even when minimized, it requires some in-person effort. Until factories, deliveries and testing is 100% automated, there will be a number of problems caused by remote work when manufacturing. So to help you make the most of your challenging situation, we’ve put together a list of ideas to minimize the impact to your team.
How do we manufacture parts if our plants/prototype labs are closed?
Assess Your Situation The very first thing you should do is assess your company's situation - today, short-term, medium-term and long-term. For many companies this should include cashflows, supply chain, human resources, market trends and much more. One of the most important components is understanding where your risk lies and then working to build a strong mitigation plan.
KPMG has released a number of helpful resources:
Quick Turnaround Production Companies Businesses and individuals globally are learning to cope with conducting business-as-normal with only essential services are open. This presents a challenge for companies reliant on manufacturing plants to progress their supply chain. That’s why as a business dependent on a manufacturing partner, you need to find short term solutions and make a long term plan. Long term, the priority is to keep production teams globally healthy, safe, and get them back in operation. However, we understand that you need to maintain your business and operations in the short term. Luckily, there are several quick-turnaround production labs like Xometryand Fictivthat can help. Xometry manufactures custom parts on demand, with the ability to serve your needs from prototyping to production and applications for every industry. Fictv can also keep you in this space, as a manufacturer of high quality mechanical parts available when you need them, at any stage in your design and manufacturing cycle.
Drag and Drop Machine Building Building test rigs, assembly lines, fixtures and machines is a massive part of product development and manufacturing. It is often time consuming and requires a lengthy BOM sourcing process and 3D modeling. Good news - our friends at Vention have solved this problem. Vention enables you to collaborate drag and drop together machine designs in the cloud. When you finish your design it automatically generates the BOM and sources the components - all of which will be shipped next-day. Vention will even provide assembly and engineering assistance. It can’t get a whole lot better than that for rapid machine design.
People aren’t buying right now, but we have manufacturing capacity.
Rethink and Retool Many companies are seeing a drop in demand for their products forcing them to get creative. Some are better positioned than others, but for those able to retool during this challenging time there are great possibilities. Distilleries are becoming hand sanitizer production facilities. Clothing companies are becoming PPE manufacturers. Automakers are turning to ventilator production. Well the good news is the government is willing to support that transition and there are also a number of buyers looking to procure ASAP. Canada’s Next-Gen Manufacturing Supercluster compiled an excellent list of needs and specifications. They are also offering funding for companies to get rolling and there are similar stimulus tools in most countries. Partner & Move Quick Let’s face it, things are going to be different post COVID-19. Industries will change, consumer behaviour will change, the world will change.
One thing that holds true - there is an incredibly bright and talented manufacturing sector that is capable of building just about anything. But to do this, we need to open our minds to new partnerships, new inventions and move quickly to react to the ever-changing needs in front of us. Two ways we can quickly start to do this:
People aren’t buying right now, but we have manufacturing capacity.
We can’t travel, how do we manage production (especially when problems arise)? Digital Collaboration First and foremost, you need to put a digital collaboration plan in place that is built for manufacturing and the stakeholders involved in the process. We recommend the following:
Eliminate Email - Replace with Instant Messaging + Issue Tracking For things that you need to discuss in real-time, email is too slow and messy. Use an instant messaging platform like teams or slack. For things that require actions or tracking, you must use an issue tracking platform or things will slip through the cracks.
Make Video Calls the Standard Video calls will help keep your team’s morale high, but will also provide the ability to see what’s happening at each location.Set up live huddle stations in the manufacturing facility so teams can resolve problems just like they are in the same room.
Ensure Data is Accurate & Accessible PLM data needs to be accessible from anywhere. Teams should not be relying on email to pull the information they need.
Keep your Digital Files Accurate As things change, make sure it is being captured so that the digital representation is up-to-date. This will go a long way in your design team being able to help solve problems in manufacturing.
Industry 4.0 Solutions to Bridge the Gap. The transition to Industry 4.0 is happening - not all of it will make sense for your business, but some aspects can be game changing. Whether you are looking for automatic error notifications, humanless operations, machine vision inspection - there is a good chance a solution exists. Robin Dechant from Point Nine Capital summarized Industry 4.0 and all the global solutions well in this article.
Communication and Engagement
How do we easily do remote meetings and calls?
High Fidelity Video Conferencing Software
If you want to share ideas and see the reactions of your team or have your team watch a presentation in real-time, then you must have a video conferencing software with screen-sharing. Right now Zoom is the hottest offering on the market and is an absolute game-changer. High quality video, simple to use and integrated with your calendar. There are, however, security concerns regarding Zoom that should be considered.
There are two popular alternatives to Zoom - Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Google Meet (the business version of Hangouts) offers easy integration into google suite of tools, video calls with up to 30 participants, and simple screen sharing.
Microsoft Teams, which we will discuss further in a section below, offers a collaborative hub that includes video conferencing.
If you are considering still using a dial-in conference system, think again. The power of seeing your team will not only improve the quality of your discussion, but team morale and clarity.
A common theme we are seeing across the industry is the replacement of long-winded and time consuming meetings with online discussions around the actual content of the meeting - whether that is a document, presentation, video or design file. For collaborating around general project files platforms like Google Drive and Microsoft Office365 are the top options. From spreadsheets to slideshows, all of it is securely shared in the cloud where your entire team can work together. When your team needs to work together on design work, drawings or CAD - you will want to consider a cloud-based design focused solution. If you have existing CAD/PDM implemented and want to compliment your process, our team is here to help you with CoLab. If you are starting from scratch there are some relatively new players in the cloud CAD market such as OnShape and Fusion360 that would also be worth checking out.
For the electrical and software side of your engineering operations, there are similar toolchains that complement tools like Google Drive and CoLab. The most common platform is Atlassian’s suite of tools for software teams.
How do we coordinate updates and keep everyone aligned?
Working remotely doesn’t mean you have to compromise on open communication with your team or keeping productivity high. With a little effort, it’s easy to stay connected and on the same page as your team. Daily Standup Meeting One way to stay aligned with your team is a daily standup meeting (standing also gives you a break from sitting!). This quick 15 minute meeting between a small team is a way to share what each individual worked on the previous day and what’s on your plate today. CoLab Tip: Schedule this quick update for 9:00am to kick off your day on an energizing, positive note! Slack or Teams for Daily Communication To keep productivity and efficiency high, it’s important to keep constant communication with your team. Slack and Microsoft Teams are a virtual collaboration space for all of your team’s general conversations. With channels for different topics, it keeps all of your conversations organized and gives everyone on your team a view of progress. Slack and Microsoft Teams allow your team to have real-time communication and get work done, without having to be face to face. Say goodbye to long email chains for internal communication and hello to real-time collaboration.
How do we keep the team engaged and happy?
Remote working often comes with unique circumstances, such as child care, different schedules, etc., and it’s important to be respectful that not everyone's work-from-home experience is the same. To make it easier on your team, make resources easily available and be respectful of commitments at home.
Flexible Working Schedule If your team is able to, offering a flexible working schedule can help alleviate the stress of personal commitments. With a flex schedule, your team still works the same amount of hours to get their work done, but they have a little flexibility around their working hours.
It can be helpful to put ‘core hours’ in place, such as 10:00am - 3:00pm, when you’d like all of the team to be online to make coordination of meetings and major decisions easier. Weekly Beverage or Meal While you may not interact with your team face-to-face when working remotely, that doesn’t mean you can’t still interact casually with your team and take a break from work. To keep morale high and keep things light, offering your team a weekly beverage or meal on the company is a nice little reward for their hard work. Let them pick up a meal of their choice, and the company takes care of the rest. If you are not in a financial position to cover the meals, simply setting up a Zoom call for a regular “virtual team lunch” goes much further than you’d expect! Remote Games Another fun way to keep spirits high are remote games (via the video conferencing software you’ve adopted!). There are lots of options out there, but remote bingo is an example. The software and bingo cards are easily available online, for free or little charge. We’ve implemented remote bingo through CoLab and have had several dozen companies reach out to learn how we’ve done it! It’s the little things like these that let your team know you’re still thinking of their happiness. Buddy System Another fun way to keep your employees engaged is a buddy system. Assign everyone a ‘buddy’ or a group of ‘buddies’ and challenge them to check in on their buddy every couple days to see how they’re doing, catch up, and make sure they’re staying well. A helpful way to assign buddies is based on who might interact with each other at work the most, share common interests or people that might find it helpful to brainstorm together.