Overcoming Design Complexity with Increased Productivity from your CAD Solutions

By Chad Jackson

Manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to design innovative products. These products incorporate more electronic and software components. In a modern world, this means they are subject to increasingly stringent, requirements. The result? Added complexity for the design process; more complexity means more difficulty.

The aim of Lifecycle Insights’ CAD Usability Study was to better understand these industry trends. Our findings confirmed that complexity has increased in several areas of product design. Because of this, design teams must adapt accordingly and must do so on tightened timelines. This shift has led to executives seeking design productivity improvements. If manufacturers don’t keep up, the competition will quickly catch up, and even overtake.

Mechanical Design – Increasing Complexity

Products with only mechanical components are no longer the norm. They now incorporate more electronics, electrical systems and software than ever. One would therefore assume that mechanical design is becoming simpler, but in reality, the exact opposite is true. Mechanical design is difficult because engineers must take requirements from other domains into account.

Findings from the CAD Usability Study confirmed this fact. Study respondents said complexity is increasing in:

  • the products integration with software,
  • product integration with electrical/electronics (E/E) systems, and
  • managing product CAD data.

Manufacturers have to adapt to this rising complexity. Boosting productivity is a good way to do that, and new features in CAD software solutions can help.

A “business as usual” attitude will leave any manufacturer behind the curve. The moral of the story? Adaptation is non-negotiable. Companies that can manage design complexity effectively will take market share from manufacturers that fail to adapt.

Integration with Electronics and Electrical Systems

Consumer demand for smart, connected products has increased dramatically in the modern world. This means more software functions which are enabled by modern electronics.
Moreover, these products have to include electrical and electronic (E/E) systems, which power such electronic components. A single design may need to include touch-based user interfaces, logic controllers, electrical power systems and wiring. Integrating these components into traditional mechanical products is not an easy task for design teams.

Mechanical engineers need to solve enclosure design with space and thermal constraints. The integration of E/E systems into mechanical products also requires close collaboration between mechanical, electronics, and electrical engineers. This further complicates the design and testing phases of product development, which, as a result, become more time-consuming. It’s no wonder that more than two-thirds of survey respondents reported that E/E system integration is increasing product design complexity.

Integration with Software

Software is another area where product complexity has skyrocketed. Products are now mainly driven by software applications. For example, cars used to have exclusively mechanical components. Nowadays, modern cars incorporate a host of software-driven components, including everything from touch screens to smartphone applications. Design teams have to plan and incorporate these components into their product design to keep up with emerging technology.

These new software features improve the user experience but complicate the design process. Products need to have the components necessary for software integration. Processors and chips are essential product components, whilst wireless communication requires antennas and more electronics. Additionally, on-board sensors are needed for a variety of product functionality. There’s certainly no shortage of moving parts.

Customers expect that their product will operate seamlessly and design teams must prepare for this expectation. Each mechanical component has to interface properly with the right software functions, requiring more testing. Mechanical engineers and software engineers need to stay in close contact throughout the process.

Executives have confirmed that software is complicating product development. Some 72% of study participants said that software integration increased product design complexity.

Managing CAD Data

CAD data is vital to the success of any product design project. Modern products need electronics, electrical, and software systems, which generate a lot of CAD data. Managing all that data is causing headaches for manufacturers; about 68% of research participants reported that managing CAD data has recently increased in complexity.

In addition, mechanical and electrical components are dependent on one another. When electrical CAD components change throughout the design process, the relevant mechanical CAD component must also change. The process works in the other direction too. This interdependence means engineers must manage these changes with care to avoid issues. Different departments own each CAD component and its associated data. The data is also saved in different formats in each CAD, further complicating data management.

That’s not all. Organizations must track other types of data along with the CAD. This can include product rendering, related simulation results and product requirement documents. Similarly, when a product design changes, most of the data must also be updated. Properly managing all this information is a complicated task.

Mismanaging CAD data is a costly mistake. Poor management leads to design errors, product launch delays, engineering change orders, and more. These problems affect business performance and the bottom line viability, meaning you want to avoid these outcomes at all costs.


Heightened product requirements have increased product development complexity. Manufacturers must navigate the issues that come with these new requirements. One way to do that is through increasing the productivity of CAD solutions.

To handle increased complexity, organizations need certain capabilities in their mechanical CAD and data management systems. These include:

Tighter integration with ECAD:
Today’s mechanical products contain complex E/E systems, so mechanical CAD has to work in tandem with ECAD. Synchronizing the domains increases efficiency and productivity.

Improved packaging capabilities:
Products need space for sensors, antennas, electronics, and route cables and wires. Engineers need CAD software that can handle this design integration.

Robust data management capabilities:
Design teams must be able to track and manage a broader range of digital definitions, reaching outside mechanical design. A company’s data management must include tracking artifacts from other domains and disciplines, including simulation and requirements management.

Manufacturers realize that failing to adapt to these complexities will lead to disaster. New CAD software allows manufacturers to better handle these design complexities and innovate with ease.

Read the full Lifecycle Insights CAD productivity research report

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