6 Project Management Tips for Working with CAE Consultants
Hiring CAE consultants is a major investment. It represents a real opportunity to up your productivity, but it has to be handled correctly. Here are six project management tips for getting the most out of hiring a company like CATI for engineering services.
To start with, it can be very helpful to go into the process with a strategy to make the costs of consulting pay off for as long as possible. Good consulting yields net returns from the get-go, but that’s still leaving productivity on the table if you can structure the process with a greater plan in mind:
1. Develop an easy-to-use, long-term resource.
Hiring outside help has a good bit of overhead. You have to get them up to speed with your people, transfer the necessary information, evaluate and critique their work till it meets your needs. The best way to minimize these costs is to make them a one-time investment that reaps rewards again and again.
You can do this by finding a consistent niche for your consultants in your development process—identify one thing they can do for you, and always leave that thing to them. Make sure they have a full understanding of your preferences and expectations and how their work will be used, and don’t change it up. This way, they can develop efficient, reliable working processes of their own that are always valid and never raise questions, only produce results.
Maintain consistent points of contact—when the same people work and communicate regularly, they get to know each other and their interactions are more efficient, methods and habits become familiar, and miscommunication becomes less likely.
Take an efficiency- and consistency-minded, long-term approach to integrating this augmentation to your FEA services staff, and invest in this new resource like it’s a member of your team. Soon enough, your efforts will be reflected in the work: you will be able to toss a task “over the wall” and get back exactly the results you wanted, in a fraction of the turnaround it took the first time.
2. Seek replicable analyses and maximize their usage.
One of the strengths of simulation is that you can simulate just about any idea, as much as you want, with great scalability. So if you go through the trouble of developing a great CAE services testing methodology, it makes sense to use it as much as possible.
Identify aspects of your development process that could benefit from a lot of iteration or variation, and then put appropriate effort into developing a precise, correlating model. From there, you can easily and confidently trial endless variations—different bolt torques, weld patterns, materials, temperature conditions, extrusion thicknesses, rib patterns, geometric changes, etc.
Once all the intellectual work is done for a quality analysis, all that’s left to run multiple iterations or model variations is the simple labor of meshing new CAD or tweaking parameter numbers. With a little planning, you can dramatically multiply the returns on your FEA investment.
When it comes to execution, managing the successful integration of CAE consultants into your product development process largely relies on effective communication. As such, the following tips are our advice to keep a project moving in the right direction toward the best results, without delays.
3. Have a thorough conversation.
Make clear your needs and expectations and explore them with the consultant if necessary. This will affect how an FEA engineer approaches a modeling and analysis setup. Your timing and accuracy concerns, when weighed against each other, determine how simplified or complex the model will be.
Ultimately, what are you trying to know with the simulation? Many times, companies seek answers to questions in roundabout ways, when there may in fact be new technologies or techniques that give more accurate and direct results. Is there any chance the scope or breadth of the project could change partway through? An analyst can take steps to prepare for that and potentially save a lot of work hours down the road. Will you be wanting the solver input files at the end of the project? In that case, maybe you’d like the consultant to conform their deck construction to your company practices. Will you be presenting live results to your client later? You may want your consultant to post-process in your preferred software so that you can use their results visualization templates. Thoroughly answering foundational questions like these will get the project started off on the right track, yielding better, faster results.
4. Document important interactions.
It is to everyone’s benefit to have a written record of critical details that can be easily referenced by anyone at any time. It also serves as a record of accountability and reasoning, such that it will never be a mystery in retrospect how the project got from point A to point B.
5. Be a responsive communicator, and make sure your engineers are, too.
Slow responses between parties can bottleneck any project, consultative or not. It is not uncommon for progress to hinge on decisions made during the simulation setup process. If someone has a critical question or a clever or timesaving proposition that can be immediately considered, it’s important to get on top of that.
6. Make sure data transfer is clean, prompt, and comes from a consistent source.
Moving from CAD to CAE requires care be taken to avoid hiccups, regardless of whether or not both parties are within the same organization. Geometry could be broken, the parts could be the wrong version, critical data structure could’ve been flattened, important connectors could have been omitted, duplicate or extraneous parts could have been left in. The simple solution is to just take a few seconds to double check the export before sending it off, which doesn’t always happen when people are in a rush.
Assign a single, consistent party to export, check, organize, and transfer data. They should also remain easily reachable to resolve any potential issues. The same principle applies to other relevant analysis information, such as material data, connection specifications, and load cases. There may even be math to double check. Mistakes do happen, so pick a sole responsible party to collect, verify, and disseminate the necessary information.
And there you have it! We’re confident that if you keep these ideas in mind, you can get the most out of your engineering services consultants. With a clear long-term utilization strategy, disciplined communication, and solid engineering, a CAE services team like CATI can transform your productivity!