Knowledge—keep it, don’t lose it

  • 03-Apr-2012 02:23 EDT

Walden C. Rhines, Chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics

Knowledge is the key resource that helps companies compete and succeed. Whether recorded in process and operations manuals, text books, computer systems, or people’s heads, knowledge is an essential differentiator for every company.

Yet few companies are satisfied with their existing knowledge retention capabilities. Worse still, the demographics of an aging workforce—where a significant proportion of the engineering expertise is approaching retirement—is conspiring to place even greater pressure on the need to retain knowledge before it walks out the door.

For many companies, the question is: how do companies ensure expert knowledge is properly applied to each program, even in the face of these challenges?

This is a big topic and in this brief article, Mentor Graphics looks at just one aspect: the capture and retention of electrical design knowledge in off-highway equipment design.

Traditional electrical design processes have focused on fast creation of electrical drawings and documentation. The weakness of this approach is that the real expertise is held in the designers’ heads. The drawing is the end result, but there is no information in the drawing about the reasons and decisions that led to the detail of the design.

Newer-generation electrical design tools have taken a step forward from the drawing creation task, by providing additional tools and frameworks that capture the underlying design principles, then use these principles to constrain the creation of the electrical design and drawings. These tools provide a means for a company’s engineering experts to define and codify best-practice design principles and ensure that all future designs will conform to these principles—reducing the scope for errors and ensuring every design team is using a consistent, and optimum, set of design rules.

For example, using these tools companies can create standardized best-practice electrical subsystems as reusable bookshelf designs that are independent of the vehicle platform. The bookshelf designs can be merged with the 3-D physical platform to automatically synthesize the wiring using best-practice electromechanical design rules.

Bookshelving offers additional benefits: it makes it easier to develop and integrate new technologies—for improved emissions, high-voltage systems, or whatever. A bookshelf design captures the essence of the engineering expertise in much the same way that an engineering textbook might, but with the new-generation tools these bookshelf designs are active players in the wiring synthesis process.

The bookshelf approach is particularly attractive for companies with wide ranges of related products and geographically dispersed design centers, which are common attributes of many companies in the off-highway sector. These types of companies can be large in size but often struggle to achieve economies of scale in their design organizations because of the many specialist products and markets they serve.

Bookshelving can help drive best-practice electrical designs, with common components into a much wider range of products across multiple geographies. Best-practice localization design rules can also be incorporated into these designs, ensuring that particular products, in particular territories, are designed consistently yet flexibly for the local markets.

The bookshelf concept directly addresses the challenges facing many industries today—the need to provide a greater variety of products with the same amount of design resources. It’s no surprise that this approach is becoming more commonplace in all parts of the mobility design business, including the off-highway sector. Using these tools gives benefits beyond the ability to properly address the time bomb of the aging workforce—it provides better product quality, better standardization across the range, and offers the customer a wider range of options.

Walden C. Rhines, Chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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