Smart Devices are Getting Smarter—Is Your Company Elevating Electronics Design with Fusion 360 Yet?

David Marrakchi May 21, 2021 6 min read

The results are in: Lifecycle Insights reports that as PCBs become more complex, manufacturers using cloud-based solutions are ahead of the competition. This article delves into the data to give you advice for adopting a streamlined workflow between stakeholders.

An increasing number of traditional mechanical products are transforming into smart, connected devices that require electronics, electrical distribution systems, and onboard software. This single trend dramatically changes how manufacturers work because smart devices require multiple engineering teams to collaborate, establish new workflows, and solve new problems directly related to the design constraints and data management issues of connected products.

New research commissioned by Lifecycle Insights points toward a product development IT ecosystem that is better equipped to make smart, connected products without compromising schedules or budgets. In this series of blog posts, we’ll look at some key findings from this new research and see what steps manufacturers can take to improve efficiency and performance.

The complexity of smart, connected products is increasing at an unprecedented rate, driven by a combination of digital innovations that make these products possible and rising consumer demand for products with these new capabilities.

Figure 1. The majority of electronics engineers believe the complexity of circuit boards and electronics is either increasing or increasing greatly.1

In a recent study, a majority (two-thirds) of electronics engineers said that circuit board complexity is either increasing or increasing greatly (see Figure 1). This comes as no surprise. Recent advances such as multi-board systems, flex-rigid confirmations, IC-to-board package interfaces, and other innovations add new layers of complexity to product design.

The multi-discipline design challenge

One important result from rising complexity is the transformation of traditional design and development processes into multiple-discipline, multi-domain endeavors that involve more design stakeholders with many different points of view. Some of the new entrants to the process include:

• Analysts who solve electronic power distribution and signal integrity

• Specialists who develop the product’s chip packaging

• Experts who assess manufacturability of the final design (Design For Manufacturing – DFM)

Figure 2. Cloud-based product design collaboration in Fusion 360 – ensuring every stakeholder is part of the design development cycle.

Adding more stakeholders to the process is, of course, another added layer of complexity because these larger teams are working together in new ways within rapidly evolving workflows. Developing high-quality smart devices requires new technology that makes it easier for these larger and more diverse teams to collaborate.

Why progressive manufacturers have huge competitive advantages 

The rise of smart, connected devices is dramatically changing how manufacturers work, and one big question that arises when manufacturers consider changing trusted workflows is: will it be worth it? 

In a recent study of manufacturers, researchers looked at outcomes based on how “progressive” the organization was. In other words, how much did the manufacturer rely on new IT systems instead of established ones? The study split the respondents into three groups: most progressive, moderately progressive, and least progressive. 

The study revealed two very important differences among the three groups: 

  1. The most progressive companies spend less. 
    The most progressive companies spend an annual average of $1,038,000 less than the least progressive companies on prototyping and testing, change orders, and PCB respins (see Fig. 3). They also save $491,500 per project and 183 days per project annually by executing fewer PCB respins. This information seems to confirm that adopting new technologies does, in fact, pay off. 

2. The most progressive companies use a hybrid approach. 
The most progressive companies use cloud-based electronics CAD applications at a significantly higher rate than the two other groups, but not in isolation. Some use file-based, locally installed applications in addition to cloud-based tools, while others use electrical CAD applications connected to on-premise servers. This kind of hybrid approach is not considered a best practice because it can make workflows more complex. But these results demonstrate that the practice can work when manufacturers use new technology to keep everyone on the same page.

Figure 3: By executing fewer PCB respins, the most progressive save time and money in product development.2

Leveraging cloud solutions to streamline product development 

Manufacturers are integrating more circuit board systems into smart products. Often, more circuit boards can mean more problems, such as faults, overheating, and signal integrity issues. To solve these issues, manufacturers use a more collaborative approach to share the digital definition of a circuit board and allow all stakeholders to work on the same design seamlessly. 

Traditional email file-based strategies tend to fall short because emails are easily lost or accidentally deleted. Design files attached to emails quickly become outdated, creating problems with version control and running the risk of engineers working on obsolete versions. This is why the most progressive manufacturers—those who have adopted more advanced IT systems—rely on a mix of file-based, locally installed, and cloud-based solutions to share files while keeping everyone in sync (see Fig. 4).2 

Figure 4: The most progressive manufacturers augment email and local solutions with a cloud-native approach.

One of the most critical points of collaboration is between mechanical engineers and electrical engineers. According to recent research, the most progressive organizations use cloud-based solutions to share definitions between electrical and mechanical engineers. This helps ensure that electrical components fit within the product’s enclosures, for example, and facilitates fluid cooling analyses to prevent overheating and mitigate other risks.

Figure 5. Native ECAD & MCAD design unification for concurrent stateless design in Fusion 360 – enabling simple to use advanced design verification & validation such as heat/cooling analysis.

Cloud-based solutions also make it easier for information to flow freely between mechanical and electrical engineering teams as design modifications are made. Manual file-based export and import exchange systems are unsuitable because engineers can’t see what has been changed from the prior iteration. To avoid confusion, they may wait until late in the development cycle to exchange ideas, but this tactic often leads to costly project delays. 

The exchange of design modifications with a cloud-based solution is much more frictionless, allowing mechanical and electronics engineers to share designs earlier and more often, improving the product development lifecycle and preventing costly late-stage changes and delays (see Fig. 6). 

Figure 6: The most progressive manufacturers augment traditional approaches to sharing designs between mechanical and electrical CAD applications with cloud-based solutions.2

Every manufacturer of smart, connected devices will have a slightly different process for product design and development. However, all manufacturers can benefit from three simple recommendations, according to our research: 

1. Understand whether and how increased design complexity is affecting the product development lifecycle.

2. Evaluate the impact on time and cost of respins with the current process.

3. Consider augmenting electrical CAD applications with cloud solutions to facilitate design sharing and collaboration.

Ready to see how cloud-based tools can positively affect your workflow? Check out Fusion 360, the most unified cloud-based multi-discipline development platform for PCB, MCAD, CAM, data management, simulation, and collaboration.

download-fusion-360

Sources:

1. Lifecycle Insights’ 2020 Engineering Executive Strategic Agenda Study

2. Lifecycle Insights’ 2020 Product Development IT Ecosystem Benchmark Report

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