Managing Engineering Numbers with Truenumbers

This series of posts will cover new product releases, changes in product strategy and acquisitions by engineering software providers affect engineering stakeholders. New posts in this series will be published based on software provider activities. Today’s post takes a close look at True Engineering Technology’s first product called Truenumbers.

As an engineer, you very possibly may have found yourself in the following situation. You’ve prepped for a engineering status meetings. You aggregated your information on slides or maybe a document. As you start to begin to deliver your status, one of the manager singles out one of your calculations and calls it into question. Does it include the latest design changes? Did it come from a paper calculation or an FEA analysis? Has it been validated in the test lab? Unfortunately, you didn’t bring the relevant notes for that exact number. Who would have brought notes for that exact one? There are literally hundreds if not thousands of numbers you deal with one this project. The only thing you can tell the manager is that you’ll have to get back to them. And you, for your trouble, get another action item for the next meeting.

That type of all too familiar story is a pretty good context to start a discussion about True Engineering Technology (corporate site) and their product Truenumbers.

History, Dates and Events: True Engineering Technology was founded by Allen Razdow, who also founded the MathCAD (wikipedia entry) product that was subsequently acquired by PTC (wikipedia entry). The product has been under development and is now available for commercial use.

Capabilities Provided by Truenumbers: The best way to explain what this software does it to simply walk through how its used.

  • Create numbers in the Truenumbers client: To start, you create a number by building it up in truespeak, which is a standardized language to identify a number’s attributes and properties like unit of measure, dimension type and notes. It automatically captures other characteristics like original value, who created it and when. This client actually provides information you can then copy and paste into other applications.
  • Use the truenumber in other applications: From there you basically copy and paste the truenumber into other applications whether that be a document, spreadsheet, presentation, CAD (which may require a special adapter) or any other type of application. In each place you paste the truenumber, it shows up not only as a value but also as a micro-formatted hyperlink where you can see the subject and the number’s units.

Behind the scenes is something called the Numberflow Server which is hosted in the cloud, but also could be hosted locally for more security. Besides carrying some of the properties of the truenumber along with it, following the hyperlink essentially goes the properties page for that truenumber. As a result, the number carries along it’s characteristics and attributes as it travels through different deliverables by linking back to a single source of truth in the Numberflow Server.

As a point of clarification, this is not a product for engineering calculations. It does not allow you to enter formulae, drop in variable values and derive a result. In that context, this product would provide the values for the variables in the equation with a source of truth behind it.

Commentary: What’s the good and the bad? To start, this software addresses a set of problems that I think engineers have simply assumed cannot be solved. Individually managing and tracking documentation takes considerable time in addition to the fact that the notes could be easily lost. And to be frankly honest, spending time managing notes about numbers is a non-value added activity with respect to advancing the product towards its final definition… if it can be done in an automated and accurate manner.Their precious time could be far better leveraged in other places. Furthermore, this software addresses the issue around copying and pasting numbers with the wrong intent. That often happens when the context is not understood or a conversion is made incorrectly. In these two cases, I see value in the software.

However, it doesn’t come without potential improvements. This software essentially standardizes numbers but doesn’t yet manage them. You see, truenumbers cannot be changed but can be copied and modified. I could see great value in managing how a number changes during the development cycle, however it is not possible as of yet. Think about a number that is used in a pre-release product and a post-release product. You might need to change the number for the pre-release product but need to do so carefully with the post-release product. Furthermore, I could easily see how the capabilities to manage numbers should eventually reside alongside the capabilities to manage the deliverables in which those numbers are used. Whether that is a Product Data Management (wikipedia entry) system, Product Lifecycle Management (wikipedia entry) system or a Content Management System (wikipedia entry) system, I don’t know. But integrating those two sets of capabilities would enable some wider capabilities such as where used or even some automated change notification and propagation. It’s possible to manually integrated the systems today, however an out-of-the-box one makes sense.

Summary and Conclusions: True Engineering Technology provides a software solution called Truenumbers that is composed of a client and a server. The software provides the ability to create truenumbers and then copy and paste them into different deliverables as a number that is hyperlinked back to a property page that acts as a source of truth. This software has the potential to address the problem of propagating changes to numbers in engineering deliverables to avoid errors and problems associated with manual change propagation. This in turn could eliminate unnecessary change orders and even errors when the product is in the customer’s hands. Eventually however, this software does need some basic management capabilities such as access control. Furthermore, integration with which ever system manages engineering deliverables could provide further value.

Design Engineer Aaron Solet on Lanco’s Selection of Solid Edge for CAD

This series of posts focuses on the perspectives on executives, managers and staff personnel in the engineering organization. This post specifically features Aaron Solet, a Mechanical Design Engineer from Lanco. It includes video excerpts from an interview I conducted with Andrew at the Siemens PLM Analyst Event in Boston, MA.

When it comes to selecting a software system or application for engineering, it makes to do a comparison against your specific needs to determine which one is the best fit. However, or maybe hopefully, changing software systems and applications is something that doesn’t occur very frequently. So it might not be the easiest thing to running a comparative benchmark. A couple weeks ago at the Siemens PLM Analyst Event, I interviewed Aaron Solet, a mechanical design engineer at Lanco, to understand his view on software selection and many other things. Before we get to the video interview, here’s the background on Lanco from their corporate website. All in all, Lanco is a small manufacturing company with a division in Maine where Aaron works. The engineering organization is small.

Lanco is a leading manufacturer of components for production automation and a builder of flexible turnkey assembly machines. Production sites located in both North America and Europe demand and guarantee Lanco quality. Lanco has extensive experience in the construction of special-purpose equipment as well as in the integration of industrial robots and other commercially available automation products.

In this excerpt of the video interview, Aaron talks about how they went about selecting their MCAD and MCAE software. It was a relatively structured process.

In a follow up to this post, I’ll include another excerpt from this same interview about how they transitioned over to using Synchronous Technology that is in Solid Edge.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading and watching.

The Debate over Differences at Work across Generations

This series of posts covers a number of issues related to the differences in generations, specifically in engineering organizations. Today’s post cites an interesting table from Rawn Shah on the differences in how people from different generations work and puts it into the context of an engineering organization.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at a judo-move for Boomer engineers, the rare resource that GenX engineers might become and the misalignment between GenY expectations and the historical development of an engineer over time. And there’s a lot of detail that we missed along the way. There truly are dramatic differences across generations in engineering. But back in July, Rawn Shah who is a consultant for social networking for business over at IBM, contributing an interesting post to Forbes.com called Why You Must Network With Your Younger Employees (nod o’ thanks to @abelniak on twitter). Now I disagree with Rawn on several points in this post including his statements saying that Boomers hoard and control information and the fact that he grouped GenY’ers and Millenials together, but he posted a very interesting table that compares and contrasts some characteristics across generations:

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When you put this into the context of engineering, some interesting things captured my attention.

  • Problem solving is right at the top of the list, and if there’s anything a really good engineer needs to do, it’s solve problems. I have seen Boomers tend towards a roll up approach to problems compared to GenY’ers, who are open and don’t care as much who exactly gets credit at the end of the day.
  • In recent times, the job of engineering a product has only become more distributed, whether that’s across multiple company technical centers or in collaboration with suppliers. It’s also become more program and project focused in that large and tough problems are cut up, distributed and then solved. In this way, task focus and communication becomes critical. And from the initiatives that I’ve seen, multi-tasking and over-communication has become a higher priority.
  • From a decision making and learning style perspective, I’ve also seen more and more engineering organizations move towards an emphasis on team consensus and support as opposed to the single hero who shoulders the biggest burden. However that desire to become less reliant on a single individual hasn’t kept many from going back to the well when an engineering project is really in a pinch.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Do you agree with how Mr. Shah has characterized different generations in workplace? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

CTO Dr. Andrew Thomas on Energist’s Transition to Synchronous Technology

This series of posts focuses on the perspectives on executives, managers and staff personnel in the engineering organization. This post specifically features Dr. Andrew Thomas, the CTO for Energist NA Inc., on their transition to the use of Synchronous Technology within Solid Edge. It includes video excerpts from an interview I conducted with Dr. Thomas at the Siemens PLM Analyst Event in Boston, MA.

Last week, we heard from Dr. Andrew Thomas from Energist on selecting Solid Edge as their CAD and CAE for mechanical design. And as interesting as that interview is, it’s not the end of the story. A couple years after they started using Solid Edge, Siemens PLM introduced Synchronous Technology (wikipedia entry). While there’s always some excite around new technologies and the value they can deliver with their use, there’s also some trepidation around the learning curve and procedural changes to day to day work. During my interview with Dr. Thomas, I asked him how and why they made the transition.

The takeaway from this and other interviews is that to adopt Synchronous Technology, you really need to jump in with both feet. It’s not really a dip your toe in the pool type of technology. I think this is legitimately different from other new technology introductions because it requires some users to retrain themselves around what is and what isn’t necessary from a best practices perspective. With this technology, you don’t necessarily have to dimension every single aspect of the feature. You can make changes that might well be impossible to make with a parametric feature based CAD software. Great capabilities. However it requires an adjustment.

I have an interview with another company coming up that will also talk about their selection of Solid Edge and transition to Synchronous Technology. Stay tuned.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading and watching