Are you struggling to manage your CAE team effectively? Here is our project management best advice to help you out.
CAE managers the world over face many of the same concerns when it comes to running their teams. Apart from the usual challenges facing project managers of every stripe, these engineers must also source top-level talent to handle cutting-edge technical problems, many of which require expertise from a range of engineering fields.
CATI has long-standing experience as both an engineering consultancy and a value-added reseller (VAR) for CAE software, including Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE, SIMULIA (Abaqus), and CATIA. This means we’ve worked closely with CAE managers from many different industries, all of whom face similar management problems. Common problems CAE managers encounter include the following:
- Their team is struggling to keep up with incoming work and they need a way to grow their capacity.
- Their methodologies are inefficient and they need help restructuring them.
- They need to hire new engineers, but don’t know what skillsets to prioritize.
- They have to make tradeoffs with their budget, and don’t know what the best investments are.
- Their tools are insufficient to solve their current problems.
- They are facing a difficult engineering problem and don’t have someone with the requisite expertise on staff.
- They’re new to their position as a manager and aren’t sure how to handle the above challenges.
We’ve drawn on our experience successfully managing CAE projects for over a decade to identify and answer some of the top challenges facing project managers in our field. Whether you are new to your position and need guidance in assembling your team, or have worked in CAE for many years but are continually beset by recurring difficulties, we hope this guide helps you find some of the solutions you’re looking for.
1. Look for the right soft skills in new hires to complement their engineering expertise.
Staffing is a primary concern for almost any business, but in high-level engineering, finding the right team members is essential to effective project management. When we bring new people on, we look for several qualities beyond their engineering ability that have proven to be reliable indicators of a team member who doesn’t just possess the academic qualifications for the job, but the mindset and soft skills as well.
Of these qualities, the ability to be a versatile team member and learn on the job is one that is often overlooked. We look for people who can switch tracks easily, so that rather than being locked in to one specialty, they have the multidisciplinary expertise to handle a range of projects. When engineers are adaptable and versatile, their managers can more freely delegate complex work and avoid overloading any one person or bottlenecking the team’s throughput.
2. Ensure clear communication with employees and clients.
Of the soft skills mentioned above, communication is the most essential part of project management, and it must be handled well between all parties—clients, managers, and employees. It should always be clear what everyone’s tasks are, who’s responsible for what aspects of a project, when deadlines are, and who should be contacted for questions.
Furthermore, we have always found that keeping our clients in the loop helps forestall any questions or anxieties they may have about how the work is progressing. We stress to our engineers that they should communicate with the client on a regular basis about when they should expect results, when projects are ready for them to review, and about any questions they may have. This isn’t just good customer service, it’s also good a business practice in establishing trust and clear expectations. We also encourage open, candid communication between managers and employees, so that any potential hiccups on our side are always addressed early and head-on.
3. Create a supportive and collaborative office culture.
Project management isn’t only about moving work forward; it’s also about creating an office environment that leads to productive, engaged employees. Solving CAE problems often comes down to teamwork, with multiple engineers working together to work through a puzzle. Without a collaborative environment, it’s hard for engineers to get the input they need on their projects.
What has worked well for us has been to have an open format, in terms of being able to bounce ideas or potential issues off each other. Our team members know they can go to anyone else on the team who might have knowledge and experience to share on how to build methodologies for a specific project.
We also recommend an egalitarian company culture, which is to say that we would never consider a senior engineer to be off limits, or value the newest team member’s contributions less. We know that everyone on our team brings a different background and a different level of experience. Our access to our shared group knowledge means that when someone comes to us with a project request, we know that someone on our team will have worked in that industry or on a similar project, and those team members can easily jump in to help.
4. Hire adaptable, tech-savvy engineers who can keep ahead of the technological learning curve.
Another hiring challenge faced by many CAE managers lies in finding engineers who possess the requisite computer skills for their job. An engineer should at the very least be able to operate FEA and Office software efficiently without requiring additional training, but we also look for a tendency toward self-learning. CAE software is complicated stuff, and an engineer with strong technical fundamentals and an inquisitive nature will pick up new tools quickly and, over time, get even better and more advanced with the tools already in their repertoire. These individuals not only bring efficiency and capability from the moment of their hire, but also bring valuable growth potential. Finding people with both a depth and range of knowledge and a hunger to know even more is no easy task, but it pays big dividends in the long run.
In our own offices, unless the customer specifies otherwise, we use Abaqus to perform most of our analysis. However, we also pride ourselves on being software agnostic and on staying current with the latest technology trends in FEA (such as multiphysics and cloud platforms). If a customer needs us to use a specific software, such as LS-DYNA, NASTRAN, or Optistruct, we have the capability to handle these requirements to meet their needs. If they’re interested in pursuing novel solutions that may be unfamiliar to them, such as topology optimization, we have the experience to guide them.
5. Keep pace with new software and developments, including product updates, new features, and increased efficiencies.
The rapid rate of technological change poses several challenges for CAE managers. Given how quickly new solutions hit the market, keeping up to date can seem like a futile effort. Even the most experienced CAE engineer can be caught flat-footed by emerging technology if they don’t keep up with the latest developments. Staying current is easier said than done, especially for managers with a lot of projects underway. It can even feel like an unrewarding endeavor, especially for those who feel comfortable with the current versions their software. As users settle into a product and get used to the way it works, many develop custom methodologies and workarounds for accomplishing specific tasks. If moving to a new system means abandoning these processes, it can seem like an unattractive prospect.
Fortunately, new technologies often offer streamlined ways to accomplish many of those tasks that remove or mitigate the need for alternative workarounds. New software can introduce new simulations (like optimization) or conveniences (like improved contact methods) that weren’t possible before, and even offer raw speed improvements. Even when those old workarounds are important, a good VAR can keep tabs on what the new updates mean processes and techniques, and can help restructure or retire old methodologies to improve FEA efficiency.
6. Fully leverage VAR support and training opportunities, including webinars and learning resources from your CAE software provider.
Working with a VAR means you have access to experts in implementing software. The best way to leverage that support is to use it as much as possible. Talk to your VAR about software questions, or how to build a model for your use case. They can walk you through the solution, or direct you to the training resources you need. Knowing the software and keeping up to date with changes and trends in FEA is part of their job, so work closely with them to tap into the latest expertise and advice.
At CATI, our expertise spans many industries. Our customers are all over the map, including automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods. This means that our engineers think broad-spectrum. We draw on these experiences when handling support questions for our clients, allowing us to implement software solutions for a range of customer questions.
7. Consult experts when making major purchasing decisions.
CAE managers face many of the same issues with hardware as they do with software. The technology underpinning cutting-edge hardware development is becoming so powerful that something you buy today can be antiquated in 3–6 months. Understandably, this makes it very difficult for many CAE managers to predict what hardware to purchase if they want to balance system performance with product lifetime. These decisions, when made without the appropriate consultation, can easily result in buying non-optimized equipment, or the wrong thing entirely. These are expensive but avoidable mistakes.
We can assist companies in making purchasing decisions with benchmarks and advice, but every organization varies depending on their budget, what models they’re building, and what their IT environment is. We can also connect companies with experts and suppliers who can help them with very large scale purchases.
8. Maximize your staffing budget with on-demand resources.
Many of our customers come to us because they don’t want to invest their budget on building a CAE team within their company. Doing so is not always cost efficient, especially if they don’t have an ongoing need for those team members. To avoid employing a team of engineers with a lot of down time on their hands, they turn to us to handle projects as they come up.
Working with a VAR helps companies mitigate risk by helping them manage fluctuating demand under uncertain business conditions. Beyond this, a VAR removes many of the more complicated HR and budgeting challenges associated with finding qualified engineers. It’s no coincidence that several of our earlier points were directly related to hiring. A VAR takes care of that staffing need for you, and saves you the burden of having to budget for salary, benefits, and onboarding training.
We’ve worked with customers who have long-term requirements, where we’re able to work with them on a time and materials-basis. This arrangement means they know they have a reliable CAE team on standby when they need one. For other customers with a well-defined scope of work, we can operate on a fixed cost basis. This allows every customer to make the project choice that is most cost-effective for their budget.
9. Develop methodology that can be used repeatedly for future projects.
Developing a simulation that is accurate to the real world, reliable within a wide range of inputs, efficient in its solve speed, and easy to setup is no easy task. If the simulation is something you intend to run more than once, you want to have a solid methodology you can go back to. The end product of a CAE project isn’t just the pass/fail result of the simulation, but the whole system you create to produce those results from your source data.
Over the years, we’ve spent quite a bit of time helping customers create custom methodologies for their CAE teams. This often happens when they’re bringing on a CAE team to work on a specific project. In these cases, we’ll run the project ourselves, present it to them, and then train their CAE team. With that knowledge in hand, their team can take it back to their organization and implement it. If they’re repeating the same project many times, they can use our method development over and over again. This is a training service we’ve been able to offer our clients for many years, and it has proven to be an effective way of helping them devise methodologies for their projects.
10. Demand the highest quality input data to demand the best results.
Finally, CAE managers need to know how to ensure their simulations will yield accurate, usable results. For this to happen, they need to ensure they have good data from a physical test in order to set up a proper simulation model. Bad data will only lead to models based on incorrect assumptions. It’s very much a case of garbage in, garbage out.
Running correlation studies during the FEA methodology development process can help ensure that the data used to create the simulation models yields accurate results. Correlations studies ensure your analysis work is a reliable springboard from which to make critical engineering decisions, more than just sensitivity studies. If you don’t have the correct understanding of what the loads or boundary conditions are for a particular design, or how changes to these conditions affect outcomes, it will be difficult to deliver quality outputs. It is also important to note that correlating more complex real life physics, like thermomechanical behavior and fluid-structure interaction, is becoming easier thanks to advancements in FEA technology
High-quality data is also a matter of process: every company benefits from having good organization and data hygiene, because then everyone knows where the latest files are, labels are consistent and understood by all, and changes are never a mystery. This can avoid significant delays and costly mistakes, especially as critical data passes from one person to the next.
Contact us if you need help managing your CAE workflow.
Managing a CAE project is no simple task. Even the most qualified engineers know when to reach out for assistance in solving an unusual problem or working through a larger project load. Successful project management relies on managing both internal and external department resources. That means hiring and training in-house personnel so that they remain at the forefront of engineering expertise, but it also means finding CAE partners (like your software VAR and your overflow/supplementary consultants) who can help the people of your department produce better results with lower resource expenditures.
As FEA consultants and VARs of Dassault Systèmes CAE simulation software, our specialized expertise delivers improved end results by freeing up internal resources and improving the turnaround time on projects. We can improve the efficiency of your department, which frees both budgetary and human resources for other business opportunities.