5 predictions about Stage Gate that'll come true in 5 years or less

Meagan Campbell

June 15, 2023

7

min read

As technology changes, so do engineering processes.

CAD programs replaced rooms of drafting tables; PLM systems replaced reams of printed paper.

Stage Gate processes are no exception. Over the next 3-5 years, new and emerging technological capabilities will change how organizations approach Stage Gate. For some teams, these changes are already well underway.

In a recent Tech Talk event, Oleg Shilovitsky (CEO and Co-founder of OpenBOM; Author of Beyond PLM blog) and Adam Keating (CEO and Co-founder of CoLab) discussed Stage Gate NPD and how teams can simplify the handoff from design to production. The full recording is freely available here.

Based on their conversation, we’ve come up with 5 predictions about how technology changes will impact Stage Gate within the next 3-5 years. 

Keep reading to find out what the future of Stage Gate might look like.

Prediction #1: Systems of engagement will lead to more active participants in engineering design reviews.

Over the last several decades, software for engineering teams has largely focused on developing robust systems of record. That’s why ERP and PLM systems are now ubiquitous for large engineering enterprises.

It’s also why we’re in the midst of the next digital wave for mechanical teams: systems of engagement.

Having a system of record is vital. Without the structure and organization of PLM systems, companies would never be able to manage data across the entire product lifecycle — not at the speed and scale that happens today. 

Purpose-built systems of engagement will solve many of the collaboration problems faced by mechanical teams today. 

But systems of record are not built to facilitate the types of complex conversations where decision-making actually takes place. As a result, engineering teams have been going outside those systems and using generic tools to communicate with design stakeholders. Because these make-do workflows are so ineffective, they make it difficult to get meaningful feedback from more people, more often.

Purpose-built systems of engagement will solve many of the collaboration problems faced by mechanical teams today. Industry leaders are already implementing solutions to replace outdated collaborative processes that rely heavily on email, PowerPoint, Excel, and other non-engineering tools. Over the next 3-5 years, this trend will only accelerate as businesses adapt to keep up with rising expectations for product development.

For example, BOMs today are typically shared in spreadsheets or not at all. OpenBOM lets you integrate with CAD and share BOMs earlier, bringing risk forward without creating extra admin work.

Likewise, CoLab lets you share 3D models for review — without compromising security or requiring collaborators to have access to your CAD or PLM systems.

Something as simple as sharing 3D files can be a big leap forward. Since most companies have only shared 2D outside their engineering teams, cross-functional stakeholders and suppliers often don’t review designs until there’s a drawing available. That’s usually late in the process. 

Having a simple way to share 3D widely allows teams to bring risk forward by involving more people, sooner. Additionally, for many organizations, making 3D data more accessible is also a concrete way to support the transition to model-based definition.

Prediction #2: Drawing reviews will use AI to catch common design errors.

With the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, there’s been an explosion of interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and potential new applications for it.

Alan King is head of global membership strategy for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). As he explains in this article, “I don't even think the most hardened tech journalists were quite expecting something as profoundly different as ChatGPT. It really is like stepping five or 10 years into the future almost overnight.”

While AI tools still won’t replace mechanical engineers any time soon, powerful ways to augment engineering capabilities are quickly emerging.

AI could become like spell check for drawing review, highlighting common errors.

“It's a co-pilot, and it's going to help us do things better, faster, quicker,” says King. “If you're inputting a set of information to it, and saying ‘I want you to review this, against these criteria,’ as an engineer that could be really powerful. It can create faster design cycles, increased automation, it can potentially improve accuracy if done in a controlled way.”

Before long, AI could become like spell check for drawing review — allowing companies to catch the types of errors that pop up frequently. And with AI doing some of the heavy lifting by highlighting common errors, that means engineers can focus on spotting the less common ones.

Prediction #3: Data and analytics will reveal the top sources of errors.

To make well-informed decisions, you need useful information. But when design conversations are siloed and scattered across different apps and inboxes, it’s almost impossible to gain any visibility or insight into your collaboration processes.

CoLab’s own data is already highlighting that as many as 90% of errors can be traced to 3-5 top sources. Armed with this data, you can train your team (or an algorithm) to eliminate these common errors. That way, you’re just left with the long-tail errors that are less frequent and more nuanced — which is where engineers should be focusing the majority of their efforts.

Not only does that type of data give you insight into your team right now, it means you’ll be more prepared to take advantage of new tools that depend on existing data inputs.

Before AI can revolutionize drawing review, we need to know which errors are common.

For example: before AI can revolutionize drawing review, we need to know which errors are common. As powerful as AI tools are, they still need to be trained. That means the teams that’ll leverage new AI capabilities the quickest will be the teams that proactively invest time and thought into data collection.

That’s why standardizing review workflows and bringing information together in one place needs to be your first step. The hardest part of improving your data and analytics capabilities is the upfront effort it takes to properly digitize the review process. However, doing so is what allows you to start accumulating the data. 

So CoLab is focused on making that data capture easy for engineering teams. Because the longer you wait, the more catching up you’ll need to do.

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Prediction #4: Review processes will require less manual admin work.

Engineering work will never be “easy,” but that doesn’t mean your overall processes can’t be. Engineers enjoy solving tough problems. What makes design collaboration frustrating isn’t the design work — it’s all the administrative burden that comes along with it. 

There’s a ton of non-design work that needs to happen before, during, and after reviews. That includes things like finding the latest revision and understanding what’s changed, tracking feedback and making sure it gets incorporated, creating an audit trail, etc. The more complex the product, and the more stakeholders involved, the larger the admin load.

Yet even with more participants and deeper cross-functional collaboration, design reviews are already becoming less admin-intensive. As the mechanical design world gets more comfortable with the inevitability of cloud-based tools, the impact of cloud collaboration has a self-perpetuating momentum. In other words, you might say: once you go cloud, you don’t go back.

Using a dedicated tool for design reviews allows you to automate admin work that would otherwise need to be done manually.

At CoLab, we’ve seen engineers go through it. One of our users initially told us, “I hate CoLab” because he didn’t believe that using software to review drawings could possibly be easier than reviewing them with pen and paper. 

Technically, he was right! From an engineering perspective, software doesn’t necessarily make it “easier” to review designs — but it does make the overall process easier. (Not to mention faster and less error-prone.)

Now, that same engineer loves CoLab. Since adopting CoLab for drawing reviews, he accomplishes 40 hours of work in just 32 hours. Cutting out needless admin has saved him 8 hours per week, recouping an entire extra workday that used to get eaten up by manual tasks.

Using a dedicated tool for design reviews allows you to automate admin work that would otherwise need to be done manually. That way, you can stop repetitive, low-value tasks from encroaching on engineering time.


Prediction #5: There will be a greater emphasis on cybersecurity and IP security.

Mechanical engineers are used to following stronger security protocols than some other fields. When developing physical products, it comes with the territory. 

But with new technology comes new scrutiny on IP security.

To keep your data and IP safe, you need to understand where it’s stored and how it’s accessed. As the mass movement to cloud technology continues — and integrated, best-of-breed approaches to software become the overwhelming norm — there’s a bigger web of data interactions to manage and monitor.

That means there will be growing pains involved as teams realign their processes to keep up with changing technology and software. 

Placing a greater emphasis on cybersecurity and IP security is a necessary part of that realignment. Businesses can only leverage advancing tech if they can assess and control for potential risks. So despite the increasing complexity, there’s stronger incentive than ever for robust, efficient security programs.

As companies strengthen their approach to data security, it’ll also shine a light on existing vulnerabilities that may have gone overlooked before now. Although new tech can be a source of new security threats, it can also be a solution to others.

Email was never, ever designed to be a secure method of communication.

Sharing design files or BOM spreadsheets as email attachments is the most obvious example. 

Sending information over email is still incredibly common. But once you send something by email, you no longer have control over that data or what happens to it. The recipient can instantly forward, save, or print that information without you ever knowing.

In this article about IP security vs efficiency in engineering collaboration, CoLab’s VP Security Robert Percy puts it plainly: “Email was never, ever designed to be a secure method of communication.”

That’s why new tech for sharing information internally or externally — like CoLab for designs or OpenBOM for BOMs — can fix vulnerabilities you didn’t even know you had.

Summary

5 predictions about how technology changes will impact Stage Gate within the next 3-5 years:

  1. Systems of engagement will lead to more active participants in engineering design reviews.
  2. Drawing reviews will use AI to catch common design errors.
  3. Data and analytics will reveal the top sources of errors.
  4. Review processes will require less manual admin work.
  5. There will be a greater emphasis on cybersecurity and IP security.

This article is part of the Effective Engineering series by CoLab. Every 1-2 weeks, we publish right-to-the-point insights on effective product development.

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June 7, 2023
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