According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of application engineering is expected to grow by 17 percent through 2024. This rapid growth rate is a testament to the importance of the field and how dependent manufacturers are on reliable and fast providers of the service.
What exactly is application engineering? Imagine, for a moment, shopping for a new suit. It’s rare that the clothing is going to fit perfectly right off the rack. Clothing retailers carry a certain selection of standard sizes, but a proper fit for most people is going to fall somewhere in between those sizes. That’s where tailors come in to adjust the suit and make it fit perfectly to the wearer.
Application engineers are, in effect, the tailors of the manufacturing world. Suppliers carry a catalogue of parts such as, for example, ball bearings. When a customer, which could be an OEM or a Tier 1 supplier, needs a ball bearing for a certain application, it will submit its request to the supplier, which then consults its part catalogue to find the bearing that best fits the described requirements. Rarely, however, will an off-the-shelf part perfectly meet those needs.
The supplier must then alter the off-the-shelf part to meet the customer’s requirements. This is not as simple as it sounds. The application engineering process is a layered one that involves dozens of people. The customer submits its set of requirements to a sales interface and customer engineer, who then pass along the requirements to the application engineer.
What happens next comes down to form, fit and function. The application engineer selects the part whose inherent shape, type, topology, features and aesthetics – or form — best meet the customer’s requirements. He or she then validates the part and tests it against fit, i.e. its peripheral shape and size as well as how well it mates with other parts; and function, or how well it satisfies its purpose.
The fit and function are generally what need to be developed during the application engineering process, which is highly iterative. Throughout the process, the application engineer needs to interface not only with the customer to make sure its needs are being satisfied, but with several internal colleagues including R&D, engineering teams, sales, customer service and the manufacturing team.
With all of these people involved, imagine how easy it is for the application engineering process to get bogged down. Application engineering, as it operates currently, is actually a highly wasteful process in terms of time, effort, quality and the transporting of data. Time is wasted while waiting for others in the pipeline to respond, and effort is wasted when errors and defects occur. Overall, the process tends to be an ineffective use of human resources.
An application engineer must juggle multiple inputs and outputs, which only get more complicated if something changes in the original request. As soon as an application engineer begins working on a request, a web develops – one that is easily tangled and extremely difficult to untangle. An application engineer’s job is like herding cats.
Common challenges, even without changes to the initial request, include variation in bid quality between application engineers, sites, and geographies, as well as in the satisfaction of requirements. Another challenge is excessive time spent, which results in a late bid, a missed opportunity, and associated penalties. There is also the excessive effort involved, resulting in expensive operations and impaired margins. Finally, many bids fail due to an incomplete appreciation of the risk involved, resulting in mistakes, errors and omissions.
Application engineering involves selling large numbers of products to customers for large monetary value, and as such the process needs to be streamlined, reliable, repeatable and low-risk. This is, unfortunately, hard to do because of the complexity and lack of digital continuity inherent in the typical application engineering process. Diverse tools and workflows further complicate an already complicated endeavor.
Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform was engineered to solve these fundamental problems. The platform offers a single collaborative managed space for all players to work together, and integrates third party and external tools and IP. An application engineering platform places everyone in the same environment and gives them access to a single source of truth.
The opportunities for improving the application engineering process are tremendous. Imagine slashing both the time and cost to execute a bid in half, as well as doubling the quality of the work product. This would result in more and better bids, faster response time, and the opportunity to redirect resources to innovation.
The 3DEXPERIENCE platform automates all of the actions and processes involved in application engineering. It manages the workflow and ensures that all critical information is visible to everyone who needs to see it. Sizing and validation processes are automated and standardized. The platform also incorporates simulation, which is key to an engineer’s ability to meet the necessary requirements of a design. It greatly reduces trial and error processes and minimizes the need for physical testing.
A user of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform can expect to see dramatic changes, starting with, as mentioned above, the ability to speed up the delivery of a bid by 50 percent. The platform can enable the user to reduce the time to select a part by transferring the requirements to a digital catalogue, and reduce the time to validate through a templated and distributed process. Control of the workflow can cut the time to quote in half.
Productivity can also be greatly increased. Effort can be reduced through lean execution, while yield can be increased through the elimination of defects. Ultimately, a user’s bid win rate can be increased through a robust system approach that boosts compliance with customer requirements. Innovative quantified risks enable more competitive delivery.
A supplier’s main goal is to complete as many successful bids as possible, but this is much more easily said than done with the application engineering process as it looks for many companies. When a customer needs a new part, they want it as quickly as possible, without snags and bottlenecks. If a supplier cannot provide a smooth process, a customer can quickly find another supplier ready to offer a bid.
The 3DEXPERIENCE platform can give a supplier a major competitive advantage by eliminating those snags and bottlenecks that are so inherent in the typical application engineering process. The earlier comparison of an application engineer to a tailor only goes so far, as a tailor typically has to work directly only with the customer to get the alterations made and the product completed to satisfaction. An application engineer, on the other hand, has to work with a network of other personnel, with all of the back-and-forth, delays and miscommunications involved.
A strong application engineering platform, including simulation and other tools and technology, eliminates those delays and miscommunications, and makes an application engineer’s job closer to that of a tailor’s – in control of his or her own product. That kind of control makes for greater peace of mind, less stress, and, most importantly, greater customer satisfaction.