Innovation doesn’t come from magic. It comes from a well structured environment that enables and encourages innovation to prosper, freeing people to take risks and try new things. We’ve seen an incredible amount of innovation in software development tools and processes in the past 15 years – in fact, several orders of magnitude greater than any 15 year period, prior. So, why haven’t tools to design and manufacture hardware seen this same explosion in innovation?

Because hardware teams are bogged down by data administration and inefficiencies. Their native development environments are complicated and rife with intertwined manual processes.

Leading versus Lagging.

The very first line of code any modern software engineer writes is “git init”. Meaning, software teams lead with revision control and set up their environment before they write any application code.

  • Conversely, hardware project management teams lag with engineering revision control. Electrical and mechanical engineers more frequently dive right into CAD first and only once they’ve reached a critical point to capture do they encapsulate their work and set up formal revision management tools.

Why is that?

CAD and BOM files are literally the equivalent of source code for hardware products. There’s no lesser value in revisioning and centralizing these files than that of software files.

Do hardware engineers just not understand the value of hardware revision control or is it because the tools are simply too difficult to set up? I’m positing that it’s the latter.

This has got to change.

The data management tools for CAD, BOM, and Supply Chain data have to be simple, low cost, and ubiquitous. Let’s look at git, the dominant revision control technology used for software text files. It’s not only free, comes by default with every Macbook, but quite literally only requires a single simple command line string to set up in less than 30 seconds. It can’t get any easier than that.

The real impact of git is that it lets hardware project management developers take risks to try new things with minimal penalty if they fail. Git provides a safety net that developers can depend on to always show them exactly what changed, when it changed, and how it changed – empowering them to quickly undo anything that went wrong. This is quite liberating for a developer and leads to greater degrees of innovation for hardware revision control.

We need to achieve this same ubiquity and simplicity of a comparable tool to manage hardware revision control and files. This is a prerequisite before the hardware project management industry can really accelerate productivity and empower hardware engineers to innovate as quickly as software teams can.

Currently available revision management tools for hardware files fall into a product category called PDM, or Product Data Management. They are sold as optional add-ons, usually at a substantial cost. Further, they are sufficiently complex to install and configure such that it takes expertise or devoted time to set up. As a result, hardware engineers procrastinate and don’t set up these tools until they absolutely have to, if at all.

So why hasn’t this been solved already?

Partly due to culture, but mostly because hardware files are predominantly large binary CAD files, often in proprietary file formats. This makes it difficult to create a universal tool that can easily read and compare files as efficiently as git does for text files.

Today, CAD files require proprietary tools, usually sold by the application provider, to do “diffs” and “merges” to clearly convey exactly what’s changed in the files. When a hardware company uses several CAD applications across teams it results in added costs for tools that are all incompatible with each other. Hence, more data administration and inefficiencies.

This is a big problem.

If hardware files don’t evolve and enable this same liberation, we will never grow and reach the same levels of innovation and efficiency that hardware teams deserve. Users should be demanding more from their CAD providers to raise the bar of expectations. There shouldn’t be so many barriers intentionally put in place to administer CAD data.

How Duro is contributing to the solution.

While CAD data is the linchpin to truly release the shackles restricting innovation, there are several other lower hanging fruits that we can start with. At Duro, we strive to make it as simple as possible to centralize, revise, and share the CAD, BOM, and supply chain data. Too many software tools are unnecessarily complicated and require weeks to months of custom configurations before hardware project management teams can even begin to see a return on their investment. Too much flexibility and variance has a measurable impact on adoption. This is a major contributing factor to the unnecessary overhead of data administration plaguing the hardware industry, today.

Data management and hardware revision control tools should just work out of the box for the majority. Duro’s PLM Professional package does exactly that. Hardware teams can be up and running in an afternoon with a complete centralized cloud data repository, customer part number (CPN) scheme, and change order workflow that are compatible with any supplier or manufacturer’s processes. In fact, Duro’s PLM software received several awards for its simplicity and efficiency for on-boarding new teams.

Are you ready to innovate?