Taking the Pulse of Manufacturing and Lean Startup Challenges

By Christian Kelley

This guest blog post is by John Fox,  VP of Marketing, Mainstream Engineering, Siemens PLM Software

The Solid Edge team is always looking for ways to keep a finger on the pulse of startup manufacturers, entrepreneurs and small-to-medium-sized businesses. To better understand our customers’ needs, we recently sponsored a project with global research consultancy Kelton to survey decision-makers at discrete manufacturing companies with less than $100 million in annual revenue.  The focus was to investigate how these companies manage their engineering workflow, software, and staffing in today’s tough economic climate. A few key points stood out relating to how these companies manage and make decisions around software tools, specifically CAD. (The full report will be published soon.)

The survey shows most companies have extreme difficulty predicting workloads and staffing needs. In fact, the majority reported they were unable to make effective predictions or plans regarding workloads beyond 6 months.  Yet, when projects do get underway, rapid response is critical — meeting deadlines and responding quickly are by far the top operational concerns.

These pressures appear to be forcing companies to make long term investments to satisfy short term needs. Almost two thirds of our survey respondents have had to purchase new engineering software licenses to ensure a project was completed effectively. This tension may be one reason why respondents rank “flexible licensing options” among their top motivators to change the CAD software they use.

Drilling deeper into CAD software, one of the top frustrations about current CAD offerings is companies can’t always afford the functionality they need. This is exactly why major vendors like Siemens PLM Software are starting to provide customers with a more flexible way to purchase software that’s tailored to their specific needs.

This echoes some of the themes we heard at last week’s Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco — an event designed to help entrepreneurs learn from each other and from industry experts.  The lean startup methodology is intended to help fledgling businesses move faster, shorten development cycles, and find new ways to reduce the need for large upfront investments – a category that often includes software tools. In manufacturing, more flexible licensing models mean that more manufacturing start ups and entrepreneurs can stay lean, but still use and reap the benefits of professional-grade CAD – something that has been out of reach.

David Hutton is a great example of a young engineer who has had exactly this need. He’s developed an incredibly simple, easy to repair irrigation water pump designed for small scale farmers in the developing world.  David reports that it’s possible for a farmer to increase his or her income by as much as 600% using his invention, which he calls the Flexipump.

One key element to David’s story is how he was able to get access to engineering and design tools to help bring the Flexipump to life with limited resources and no room for overhead spending. In college, David started working with the Solid Edge student edition to design his first pump. After graduation, he went to Zambia and started building and selling pumps out of the back of a truck, where he paid careful attention to how they were used.

While there, he kept coming across broken pumps that couldn’t be repaired. In fact, as David continued his research, he discovered that over one third of all water pumps in the developing world are unused because of maintenance issues.

David’s moment of inspiration came as he watched villagers repair a bicycle pump—something that every farmer and villager has, knows how to use, and knows how to repair. Inspired by the thought of a pump that would be easier for remote farmers to repair, David returned to England to update his design, but lacked the software he needed. In search of professional-grade design software, David turned back to Solid Edge, first downloading the Solid Edge free trial, and later becoming a Solid Edge subscription customer.

David is preparing to unveil his latest version of the Flexipump next month. He has several distributors on board across Africa and India and hopes of bringing more irrigation and more economic opportunity to farmers throughout the developing world.  Stay tuned for further updates following the commercial launch of the Flexipump.

As we look forward to 2014, David Hutton’s lean start up story is just one example of how we continued to be inspired by our customers. Arming people like David with the tools they need to turn their visions into reality continues to be our primary goal. With new, flexible business models, we’ll keep working to make that possible for companies of all shapes and sizes.

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at