Selecting a new MCAD system – a how-to guide for small-medium customers

Recently we published a whitepaper sponsored (partially paid for) by PTC. Nevertheless, this paper is completely unbiased. The paper provides a rational approach to selecting a new CAD system. We define a CAD system to include 3D and 2D design, inherent analysis, connection to specialized analysis, an integrated CAM system, and a workgroup product data management (PDM) system. In my view a PLM system is most useful after the design is complete and the product released to the manufacturing process.

We focus our energy in this report on the process of justifying a new system and making decisions based on business needs first, then developing the technical and functional requirements to support those business needs. The best we can do in a paper of this length is to provide overview guidance to customers making such a decision. Yet we have tried to distill our years of expertise into this paper. We hope you will find the methodologies presented by the author clear and usable.

First we discuss a CAD system, why it is important and why a company might consider switching to a new one. Then we launch into the how-to of going about the selection and many things to consider along the way.

Over the years, we have observed and been involved with the complexities of such a decision. We can only provide you with our sage advice and recommendations of a process to follow. It is up to you to work with our recommendations and bend them to fit your company. Notice I said, bend, not discard. We take you from the early decision stage, show you how to get started in organizing for the process, and guide you through the various stages.

The process follows a suggested path to develop requirements in order to judge the software that best fits your needs. We suggest the development of management requirements, leading to functional requirements, then to technical requirements, and give guidance on how to work with vendors to make the final decision. We conclude with advice on what such a system should cost and some suggestions for implementation. The appendix contains some interesting advice on a technique for evaluating vendor proposals.

As a consultant who has observed and been involved with many such decisions, I can assure you that selecting a CAD system for small businesses is a difficult process. The bigger and more complicated the company, the more difficult it seems to be. Why is that the case? Because a mechanical CAD system is the most important tool of product development. A business must focus on its business; it needs to determine what the proper business process is. Then it must consider the tool to meet the process and requirements. It’s not about strategy; it’s about the business of running the business. A well-implemented tool will support the business plans. This is the fundamental message of this paper.

It all starts with the business objectives in mind, starting with a determination of whether a new system is warranted or not. This encourages a business case that carefully ties the software strategy to the strategy of the business as a whole. Without this business alignment, the selection process will likely be focused strictly on the technical merits of the software system and disregard evaluation criteria that are critical to the successful implementation (and return on investment) of the PLM solution.

After determining the need and building the business case for the new solution, the author recommends a number of steps to organize and conduct the evaluation process. Assembling the proper team for the selection is an important step, including the development of a cross-functional team and an executive steering committee to drive the process. This team will quantify the company management requirements, functional requirements, technical requirements, and integration requirements. Then this team will drive the process to select a vendor partner and a solution based on these requirements.

The paper further identifies a process to evaluate potential vendor partners, including the importance of the vendors’ long-term strategy in addition to current offerings. The evaluation should include an assessment of the vendor’s ability to support the company during the implementation and beyond, including an understanding of design strategy of the company and the ecosystem of partners and solutions that are aligned with the potential software vendor. Finally, the paper identifies a number of potential solution providers and offers some advice on how much a company should plan to spend on a solution of this kind to help ensure a realistic cost for the business case.

An executive summary of the paper is available at http://www.cad-portal.com.

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