By Jean Thilmany
In this age of mechatronics and control systems, design, electric, software, and system engineers need to coordinate efforts and work together much more regularly than in the past.
In the future, expect to see more homogeneous teams made up of software and mechanical engineers—as well as the system engineers that oversee their efforts. Those types of teams, along with the embedded systems they create, are already regularly seen in the aerospace, medical device, and automotive industries.
In other industries, engineering work is still separated by type. Design engineers work on their part of a device, software engineers another, and electrical engineers yet another. The engineers provide their own, separate solutions that are integrated into the overall design.
But that’s changing.
“One of the first things our customers ask for is tools that let people collaborate and exchange ideas across the whole engineering department: mechanical, systems, electrical, software. Everyone,” said Stefano Rizzo, SVP of strategy and business development at Polarion Software, which makes the application lifecycle management software used by software engineers.
In response, a few vendors have investigated integrating ALM, used to track software engineering projects, with the product lifecycle management system that mechanical and design engineers use for product management. According to a December 2013 VDC Research report, the rise of software-driven products make this type of integration priority.
“Over the past 10 to 15 years, software has become a part of almost every manufactured product,” Rizzo said. “You can’t really say that piece of code is a part, but it has it’s own complex lifecycle not addressed by PLM.
This spring, Polarion and Siemens announced an integrated Polarion ALM and Siemens Teamcenter, used for PLM, product.
Features include combined requirements management, and traceability functions.
But blended product management products like these won’t likely be embraced overnight. That’s because merged systems mean mixing engineering cultures, Rizzo said. “People form a way of seeing their work,” he explained. “Software engineers see their work as functional. They need to implement a function. But product engineers built a part, a piece, not a function of the part.”
These are early days and it’s yet to know how these two cultures will fare, working together within the same management system and merging identities. It’s safe to say companies implementing this shared technology can expect a few bumps in the road.
No matter what types of management technologies they rely on, engineers won’t spend much longer working on their separate pieces puzzle pieces and linking them up later to make the whole picture.