Microsoftâ Solutions for:

The Digital Nervous System for Engineering in the Manufacturing Industries



Abstract............................................................................................................................. 1

Executive Summary............................................................................................................ 2

Who should read this white paper?........................................................................... 2

The engineering business challenge.......................................................................... 2

The IT challenge............................................................................................................. 3

Engineering, Economics and the PC................................................................................... 4

Engineering complexity................................................................................................. 5

Cost of ownership.......................................................................................................... 6

Applications Momentum.................................................................................................... 8

Engineering and the Internet............................................................................................. 9

Engineering Applications on Microsoft® Windows NT®................................................. 11

Computer Aided Product Development.................................................................. 11

Windows NT – UNIX interoperability....................................................................... 13

OLE/DM......................................................................................................................... 14

Product Data Management (PDM).......................................................................... 14

Computer aided concurrent and collaborative engineering............................... 15

Electronic product design.......................................................................................... 17

The electronic parts catalogue................................................................................. 18

The Digital Nervous System for Engineering.................................................................... 19

Integrated Engineering............................................................................................... 19

Windows DNA for Manufacturing............................................................................. 20

Key components of the infrastructure.................................................................... 21

The Integrated Engineering Workstation................................................................ 23

Conclusion....................................................................................................................... 24



Manufacturing enterprises throughout Europe face demanding challenges, fierce international competition and rapid change. The European Common Market has created great new opportunities while removing the protection that used to be afforded by national tariff barriers. The plethora of national standards and currencies is being rationalised to advantage in the long term but all the changes have to be managed in the short term.


'The search for new sources of revenue through innovation and where business genius lies.'


Peter Martin, Financial Times 1997

In pursuit of excellence, manufacturing companies seek to operate with efficiency, speed and precision. Enterprises maintain their competitive edge by increasing the quality of their products and services and shortening the time scales of their processes, preferably without increasing their cost base. They do this by providing their people with the right computing tools and the right information with which to make fast decisions. Information Technology is now fully recognised as a key weapon in responding to business challenges, and the effectiveness of a company's IT systems is a primary concern of all management.


Microsoft® envisages a manufacturing company’s computing and communications infrastructure as a digital nervous system which empowers the whole extended enterprise - generating, storing and making available the right information at the right time for effective decision making and control at every level. Microsoft’s technology framework for implementing such a digital nervous system is Windows® Distributed interNet Applications architecture, or Windows DNA for manufacturing.


The purpose of this white paper is to show how Windows DNA is deployed within manufacturing enterprises, with particular emphasis on the engineering function and its information interfaces with the rest of the manufacturing value chain. It describes how Microsoft’s technology provides a platform for integrating the many applications solutions required within and around engineering, while reducing the costs of implementing, developing and maintaining the IT infrastructure.


Executive Summary


Engineering puts heavy demands on the computing infrastructure:

powerful conceptual design and design documentation applications on the desktop, integration of many different applications, management and communication of product and project information across networks of customers and suppliers, and increasing integration with the sales and marketing, and manufacturing functions. This white paper shows how these demands can be met, effectively and economically, by realising the digital nervous system vision through Microsoft’s comprehensive computing architecture, Windows DNA for Manufacturing.


Who should read this white paper?

Anyone concerned with selecting the right applications for engineering, or integrating those applications with the rest of the computing and communications infrastructure will find this paper useful.


The engineering business challenge

Engineering companies are today more than ever confronted by constant changes and challenges in their market place. Customers demand a greater variety of high quality products at competitive prices on a global basis. Competitive conditions dictate that manufacturers must respond faster and more flexibly to demands for product customisation, changes in quantity, bespoke packaging and tight, customer specified, delivery schedules. As companies strive to compete, they are forced to re–model their businesses and focus attention on costs, efficiency and flexibility in every part of the organisation, including the network of customers, suppliers and industrial partners that constitutes today's extended enterprise.


Manufacturing - the business challenge



The IT challenge

Manufacturers have thus entered a new era in which the ability to access and manage information rapidly and efficiently throughout the extended enterprise is the key to competitive success, even survival. The traditional linear manufacturing industry scenario - a 'flow line' from raw materials to component supplier to engineering to production to distributor to retailer - is fast being replaced by an interactive, dynamic, customer driven, business model that demands real-time access to all the information needed for concurrent decision making at every level in the virtual organisation. We call this the Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise. It can be achieved only by IT systems which support the integration of applications, information and communication to the fullest possible extent.


For IT cost effectiveness manufacturing companies need IT systems which are:

·         easy to implement;

·         highly flexible in the face of change;

·         fully effective at integrating the company's processes;

·         easy to use, both by end users and solution developers;

·         affordable – to buy, to maintain and to evolve.


Microsoft's strategy is to deliver these attributes by establishing a dominant, unifying and affordable computing and communications infrastructure platform for the manufacturing industry based on:

·         the Microsoft Windows universal client/server distributed computing operating system family;

·         the Microsoft® BackOffice® family of data management servers, including Microsoft® SQL Server™ 7.0 database system;

·         the OLE/COM/Microsoft® ActiveX® object technology for universal interoperability of networked applications, including internet applications:

·         Standardised web access – Microsoft® Internet Explorer

·         Standardised Messaging – Microsoft® Exchange

·         Standardised office applications – Microsoft® Office

·         A comprehensive range of applications development tools – Microsoft® Visual Studio™.


The overall framework within which these elements are integrated is known as the Windows Distributed interNet Applications architecture – Windows DNA. This infrastructure is standardised for all applications from the design office to the shop floor. Such a universal standard creates massive synergies by removing the barriers to information flow between applications that are characteristic of previous, proprietary IT infrastructures. This white paper describes how Windows DNA is deployed in Engineering to create cost effective product development environments integrated with the total manufacturing enterprise.


Engineering, Economics and the PC


Consumers in today's markets demand ever increasing product variety, and ever decreasing delivery times. The manufacturing company that delivers fastest, without sacrificing quality or performance, wins the business. Consumers and marketing departments put those pressures on to the primary manufacturer, who increasingly passes them on to his suppliers and sub–contractors. Time is the resource in shortest supply.


Engineering comes under particular pressure. Product development cycles must be shortened while at the same time the creativity and innovation that goes into product design has to be increased. The performance of the product has to be assured without the luxury of long testing periods. Test marketing may be necessary before designs can be fully analysed. Manufacturing planning has to be started as early as possible in the design cycle to ensure the manufacturability and reliability of the final article. Sub–contractors and suppliers have to be appointed as early as possible, often on a global basis, and integrated into the product and process development programme.





















Concurrent engineering is widely practised in order to compress product development time scales. Multi–disciplinary teams of designers, technical analysts, production engineers, marketing people and process planners interact frequently from the earliest stages of the product development lifecycle, using an increasing variety of CAD drafting, 3D digital modelling, mathematical analysis, imaging, information sharing and information access technologies. 'Virtual' teams are often distributed globally across the engineering departments of the primary manufacturer, his customer, his suppliers and his business partners.


Effective electronic data communication, both internally and externally, is essential to this way of working, which itself has become vital to industrial survival. Where does the time go in the average engineering department? Circumstances vary, but the diagram on the previous page shows a typical breakdown. Accessing, organising and managing information and data is the largest fraction of the activity.


Engineering complexity

Engineering covers the most complex and varied set of processes encountered anywhere in the business world. Moreover, the range of horizontal technologies and vertical applications is much greater than is encountered in any other area of the manufacturing business. Whereas an accounting system, for instance, can be adapted relatively easily for use in many different situations, there is no way a mechanical CAD system can design an electronic circuit or a process plant.


A large number of solutions are needed to cover the full range of engineering applications. Consequently the economics of applications development for this market is adverse and, until the advent of the PC, acted to constrain the rate of development and take up by industry. The situation was not helped by the numerous different operating systems – or ‘flavours’ of operating systems like UNIX - on which applications had to be supported. Too much effort had to go into maintaining software variants rather than pushing forward the power of the solution.


The PC has changed all that. Engineers took up the first PC’s with enthusiasm because the departmental or main frame computers available to them simply did not provide personal productivity services like document preparation and engineering calculation. As the power of the PC increased, the next major step was 2D engineering drawing, pioneered notably by Autodesk, bringing with it a demand for hundreds of associated applications. This evolution of the PC as a CAD platform culminated in 1995 with the launch by several vendors of the so-called mid range 3D solid modelling CAD systems which, within three years, came to dominate a market previously the domain of high cost UNIX machines and correspondingly high cost software solutions.


As always when a major technology price drop occurs much wider usage is opened up. The smallest engineering company – literally the one man contractor - can now afford CAD technology that 10 years ago was still not available to the largest enterprises. At the same time, for the large enterprise the Windows PC has evolved to be the mainstream client/server system of choice wherever appropriate software solution strength is available.























It’s worth observing that in the last 10 years the PC has moved from being a machine for which the engineering solution developers adapted their products to being the one on which they choose to develop them. What’s more, the Windows DNA framework is at last enabling engineering software vendors to deliver internet enabled applications that can be combined to form a genuine digital nervous system to support the integrated information management requirements of today’s globally connected enterprises.

In two competitive analyses, Business Research Group (BRG) compares Windows NT Server 4.0 to Novell NetWare used with UNIX and to Sun Microsystems Solaris running on SPARC servers. The NetWare/UNIX study reveals that Windows NT Server cuts the cost of providing clients with file/print sharing and application support by nearly 20 percent. The Solaris study shows that Windows NT Server on Compaq servers expands the scope of transactional and web-based systems for 50 percent less than Solaris on SPARC servers.


In a third study BRG surveyed 400 IS managers that used servers for distributed, web, or client/server applications in workgroups or departments ranging in size from 100 to 3,000 users. When compared to Solaris/SPARC users, Windows NT Server users spent 50% less overall on labor, equipment, and services; 36% less per server; 46% less per user; and 68% less on value-added software including development tools, databases, applications and utilities.


Source: Microsoft web site


The ‘rise and rise’ of the PC in the engineering industry is illustrated by the chart alongside, including the shifts from UNIX to the PC and the shift from earlier versions of Windows to Windows NT. With the advent of the 64bit PC systems in the near future this transformation of engineering to the PC is forecast to reach 90%.


Cost of ownership

A few years ago there was a rather sterile debate about the cost of ownership of the PC versus the traditional computer systems then current. It was based on the fact that many people bought PC’s on the basis of first cost only, and then were surprised to find that, like any significant computer system, they required a modicum of administrative overhead. Moreover, many IT departments had still to learn about supporting PC networks as distinct from more centralised computer systems that preceded them.


Nevertheless, as the PC has grown in power and breadth of application, Microsoft has devoted increasing effort to creating the administrative and development tools built into Windows NT and the Windows DNA framework. Now the PC has matured it is reasonable to assess the relative costs of NT based installations against other brands of client server systems. Some recent studies provide useful up-to-date comparisons for those concerned with cost justifications (see pull out text on previous page).


Applications Momentum


Nearly all third party applications software vendors in the engineering domain now have well proven versions of their products for Windows NT. Many have completely rewritten their products 'from the ground up' so as to optimise performance in the Windows NT environment and make maximum use of Microsoft's systems engineering tools and technology. Some products are available exclusively on Windows NT, a fact that confirms its status as the de facto operating system standard for engineering.


Engineering solutions today must support integration across the extended enterprise – market requirements analysis, product planning, design, engineering analysis, product development, product quality, project management and product data management. To do so successfully these solutions must be implemented within a highly efficient and cost effective computer and communications infrastructure. Microsoft's strategy for engineering is to create such an infrastructure and to make it a unifying standard throughout industry.


Engineering - The Wealth of Applications


This comprehensive availability of applications, all operating within a single, standard operating environment, has a major effect on productivity, both of the individual and of the enterprise. That having been achieved, the next jump in enterprise productivity will be produced by ease of access to applications and information over intranets and the internet. All the core business processes of manufacturing – material purchasing, design, engineering, production, sales, and distribution – are impacted by the internet. That’s why internet technology is included at the heart of Microsoft Windows DNA.


Engineering and the Internet


Manufacturers, customers and suppliers need to work more closely in order to satisfy today's time to market pressures. Collaborative engineering between manufacturers, their customers and suppliers is now standard practice in the automotive and aerospace industries, and becoming so in most other industries. This way of working demands effective electronic information transfer. Whereas traditional EDI has been inflexible and costly to implement, Microsoft ActiveX internet/intranet technology, together with the built in distributed object networking capabilities of Windows NT, provides an affordable, flexible basis for collaborative engineering and electronic commerce, and for truly object oriented business information systems.
























“34% 0f corporate PC’s (desk tops) will have internet access by the end of 1998”


Source: IDC 1998


“Growing demand for internet, intranet and web commerce technologies by Europe’s top 500 companies led the growth in information technology investment in Europe last year”.


Source: Spikes Cavil 1998


“Almost three quarters of US companies surveyed said their companies had an intranet.”


Source: IDC 1998


In 1996 an AMR survey of manufacturing companies showed 51% intending to connect with their customers over the internet before 1998, and since then the proportion has increased (Source: Cambashi Ltd). The internet is transforming the economics of information access and electronic commerce. The big attraction is their use of de facto standards for communication and object technology. As a result, web pages have become a standard way of providing information over networks, with web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer a standard way of looking at them and extracting the information.


Microsoft's strategy is to embrace the best implementations of internet industry standards, to develop and faster innovative technology and to further promote integration of the Windows world with that of the internet. Its internet/intranet architecture is already well established and its office applications in Office 97 are internet–enabled to allow web documents to be created quickly and easily. A growing number of third party engineering applications are enabled in the same way using Windows NT, ActiveX and OLE/COM technology.


Engineering Applications on Microsoft® Windows NT®


Engineering applications fall into three distinct classes, with some overlap, putting different demands on the evolving PC and Windows technology:

·         compute intensive – geometry, solid modelling, numerical analysis and advanced image processing;

·         data intensive – notably digital mock-up and product data management;

·         communications intensive – on line catalogues, video conferencing and collaborative engineering.

For all but the largest applications, typically in automotive, aerospace and process plant design, the Windows NT workstation and the Windows NT server can now provide the resources required in all three classes of application, though, as with any other system, data communications applications are constrained in some countries by the cost of bandwidth.


Let’s look at some of these application areas in more depth. More information on the Microsoft technology referenced in the following sections can be found in the next section.


Computer Aided Product Development

Rather than CAD we prefer the term CAPD because it emphasises the integrated nature of the product development process. For related reasons analysts have started using the term CAx to avoid stringing together CAD, CAM, CAE etc. when discussing products that are increasingly integrated and web enabled.

“In less than 3 years mid-range (NT-based) systems such as SolidEdge, SolidWorks and Mechanical Desktop have achieved a level of geometric modelling and drawing productivity that the high-end (UNIX) systems took a decade or more to accomplish”


Engineering Automation Report,

August 1998


The biggest recent application development in this area was the launch of the so-called mid range, Windows NT-based solid modelling systems in 1995. These systems developed so rapidly that they are now referred to by analysts as ‘Mainstream’, with UNIX-based systems labelled ‘High-end’ – and, by inference, less numerous on the ground. Such has been the rate of take up that Mainstream NT-based systems now account for 35% of solid modelling systems in use.


The war is over in terms of major innovations for solids (and) parametric modelling. Solids is a commodity.


Ken Versprille

DHBA Annual Symposium

Nov 1988


The High-end vendors have all moved rapidly either to buy up or develop mainstream solid modellers - so rapidly that NT-based core solid modelling products are now considered a commodity in some quarters. It’s notable that Dassault in producing the recently launched CATIA V5 have standardised on the Windows user interface design for both the NT version and the UNIX version.


“One well known but unsolved problem with CAD systems is their inability to store non-shape information such as tolerances in a more useful method beyond basic textual notation in a drawing. As a result many companies using CAD employ spread sheets, usually Microsoft Excel, to record tolerances and carry out tolerance analysis within the spreadsheet program”.


Engineering Automation Report



Although cost benefit considerations weigh heavily with users there are other fundamental benefits inherent in the way this new generation of CAD systems has been developed. Vendors realise that users now want a large number of applications closely integrated with the core solid modeller – engineering analysis, product version management, high performance visualisation, animation, and so on. They want a product development environment, not just a design and drafting system.


The common Windows DNA framework obviously makes that much easier and all the mainstream solid modelling developers have a policy of publishing API’s fairly freely in order to accelerate the process of integration. Rather than merely linking applications third party vendors often integrate their technology into the modeller using Microsoft® Visual Basic®. Seamless integration is rapidly becoming mandatory.


Time to market and product quality imperatives nowadays demand increasing use of engineering analysis and simulation as a fundamental part of the product development process – virtual prototyping. Until recently this was considered a ‘high end’ application, but no longer. Stress, thermal, kinematics and dynamic analysis are running from the same menu bars and sharing the same solid model.


This does carry a danger: designers are not necessarily engineering analysts. Already some vendors are responding to the danger by creating ‘design advisor’ products that can be customised for a company’s own product family by analyst/engineers, if necessary using a high end analysis package to ensure a full understanding of the product’s behaviour. The key point is that Windows NT is now more than capable of supporting on-line real-time analysis and simulation for many of the components and sub assemblies that typically cause failure in machinery and electronic equipment.


Windows NT – UNIX interoperability

The high-end vertical UNIX applications for large-scale automotive, aerospace and plant design will persist for the foreseeable future, if only because of the engineering man years invested in their advanced features and the large amounts of engineering and business information contained in them. In performance terms, the dividing line between high-end UNIX-based CAPD and the new generation of well integrated NT-based engineering applications is steadily disappearing as the Intel computer and Windows NT continue to evolve though many companies will have other reasons to retain some UNIX systems for a number of years. Interoperability has therefore become an important issue.





















Microsoft is committed to helping organisations achieve interoperability. Rather than advocate “rip and replace,” Microsoft’s technology helps customers evolve their IT infrastructures in a way that leverages new technologies and products. This solution improves information sharing, reduces computing costs, and capitalises on past investments.


PTC develops products for both Unix and Windows. Approximately 50% of (PTC’s) new business is Windows NT based. Intergraph’s NFS tools will provide developers with quick and easy access to resources on both Unix and Windows NT from a single work station”.


News Release

CADCAM Magazine

February 1999

Windows NT already includes advanced directory-security services, enabling users to log on once to gain access to all servers and services on the network and administrators to maintain a single, centralised database of all user/group accounts. Windows NT 5.0 will extend this functionality to a fully interoperable distributed services infrastructure allowing cross-platform directory access and synchronisation.


Windows NT users can take advantage of UNIX systems as print servers and file servers, allowing organisations to take advantage of existing UNIX disk space. By running Network File System (NFS) client software on their PCs, users can see and access a UNIX file system as if it were a local drive. (Developed originally by Sun Microsystems, NFS is a file system used on most UNIX systems, and it has become the de facto standard for sharing resources across multi-vendor UNIX platforms). NFS client software for Windows-based PCs is available from a wide range of third parties.


Now Microsoft has packaged the primary interoperability tools into one low cost product called Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack, making it easier for users integrate Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows NT Server 4.0 with their existing UNIX-based workstations and servers. In brief, the Add-On Pack provides resource sharing, remote administration, password synchronisation, and a UNIX shell and commands within a single, integrated package. In doing so it makes practicable the use of a single technical workstation for interactive access to both Windows NT and UNIX applications, with the obvious benefit of lower deployment costs, better support of of mixed environments, and assured integration with future Windows NT-based technologies and applications.



An issue that is taking a long time to resolve is the problem of transferring model data between different proprietary applications. Users have become acclimatised to incomplete translation software such as IGES, and limited direct translation solutions, but they are generally not considered satisfactory.


“With the emergence of the industry focus on Windows-based solids modelling, and with STEP’s slow pace in addressing the critical exchange issues of form features, parameters, geometric constraints and model construction history, many Cax modelling users look to DMAC for a reasonable de facto solution.


Ken Versprille, DHBA

Engineering Automation Report October 1998

One initiative that holds some promise of alleviating the problem, if not completely solving it, is the OLE/DM standard (OLE Design & Modelling), based on the Microsoft COM standard for object modelling and administered by the Design and Modelling Applications Council (DMAC). DMAC is a consortium of CAx vendors working to develop standard object definitions and specifications and, despite some commercial hiccups, OLE/DM would appear to be the best bet on the horizon at the present time in the world of Windows.


Product Data Management (PDM)

PDM is a mine field of terminology, apparently permitting all kinds of interpretation from document management to full blown engineering project management including product configuration control, engineering process control (design sign off, etc), work flow management, document management, security and distribution and so on. The area is a minefield and one in which vendors have had limited success because of an adverse balance between development cost, implementation costs and payback time. It is notable, however, that PDM is seen by two or three of the leading CAD vendors (and several ERP vendors) as the next growth opportunity.


The reasons for this belief are understandable. A large part of engineering is essentially an information management process, albeit complex. Engineering needs PDM in one guise or other, provided the price is right.


“Within large organisations the (engineering) focus is shifting to information management systems such as PDM and ERP”


Engineering Automation Report

August 1998

Here’s where the internet enabled Windows DNA framework scores heavily, with its de facto industry standards for word processing, spreadsheets, office data bases (Microsoft Office), universal data access technology, servers for heterogeneous data sources (BackOffice), relational database system (SQL Server 7.0) and internet technology, including Active X objects and the Internet Explorer browser. On that comprehensive platform PDM developers can produce applications at a fraction of the development cost previously experienced, and with a high degree of built in compatibility with other NT-based information management systems, especially ERP.


There is still considerable debate about where and when engineering data turns into ERP data. Newer development ideas are beginning to erode the boundary between the two, encouraging an holistic view of the integrated manufacturing business, with a continuum of distributed data derived from a variety of engineering production and commercial processes.


Given a common Microsoft infrastructure this is no longer a technical issue though it is a complex information systems design issue. In practice, using the technology provided by Windows DNA, either the transition from PDM to ERP can be made seamless or both functions may become part of the same system, provided the system can deliver multiple views of a dynamically changing bill of materials (but that’s another story). Several PDM and ERP vendors are currently working to develop the seamless transition, while carefully eyeing the prospects for taking over both markets!


A key factor promoting the wider deployment of PDM is the internet and the web. Engineering information management is at its most difficult when project teams are widely distributed, as they often are. Shipping drawings and documents around for co-ordination and approval purposes is not the way to reduce project time scales and time to market. Electronic transmission is the obvious solution but then an effective, distributed PDM architecture becomes a necessity. ‘Web enabled PDM’ gave a significant boost to user interest. The up-coming development is ‘web-centric’ PDM in which the PDM infrastructure is based from the outset on object oriented design principles and web technology, including a web browser and the ability to down load objects that will enhance client functionality.


Computer aided concurrent and collaborative engineering

These are familiar terms, referring respectively to:

·         the integration of applications so that multi-disciplinary teams can be supported to work concurrently on the same project;

·         joint working on a single project by partners, customers or suppliers, generally involving remote communication


Much has been written on these topics since the 1980’s but, until the advent of the NT workstation and web technology, the concepts could be put into practice only by the largest firms and on projects that could stand the high costs. Now they can be implemented, at least in part, using standard PC equipment bought from the supermarket that is quite likely to include a video phone and almost certainly a high speed modem for the kids!

“Achieving actual success with the web requires clear definition of roles and data requirements of individual experts, workgroups and organisations. Jim Hooker, program manager at Caterpillar Inc. underscored this lesson. He presented a vision to web-enable Caterpillars full supply chain to 300 dealers to reach customers and to 1300 suppliers. Although the adpted concepts of concurrent engineering are not new, few have endeavoured to implement them on this scale.


Don Brown

Engineering Automation Report

December 1998


Maybe not, but it pays to remember that a great deal can be achieved with standard e-mail and a web site for publishing documents. Large CAD files present a communication problem, but several good products are now available for remote viewing and annotating of drawings or models in well compressed picture formats. And security can be dealt with. This is a case where ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’ and where 60% of the potential improvement in speed of collaboration is better than no improvement at all, especially when it can be achieved with off-the-shelf standard technology.


Nevertheless, powerful tools for Digital Mock-up and Virtual Prototyping continue to develop and are now available for the Windows environment, allowing distributed groups of engineers – and other disciplines such as sales and marketing - to collaborate in optimising products by running ‘what-if’ scenarios. This is client/server software that provides viewing access to complex assemblies and project files, using standard web technology with plug ins. CAD models can also be linked to other kinds of data such as hyper linked documents, sketches, photo quality graphics, text files, audio and video, and of course to Microsoft Office.


Several vendors have developed web-oriented viewing products with picture formats carefully designed to alleviate communication bandwidth problems. These have been shown to run quite adequately over 64 KBPS ISDN connections so that distributed concurrent engineering is now becoming a facility available to quite small companies.


Electronic product design

“(For electronic products) design decisions determine 75% of manufacturing costs – roughly two thirds of which derives from decisions made early in the design process. Companies pay dearly for pre-production and prototype failures. The cost of product ‘fixes’ increase during the pre-production stage (after the first prototype). This ratio increases to 7 to 1 for errors detected during production. The relative cost to fix a product out in the field can be catastrophic, more than 20 to 1 when compared to pre-prototype fixes.


Mark Halpern

Engineering Automation Report

June 1998

EPD requires the largest range of applications of any vertical industry sector because it embraces styling, industrial design, die and mould making, sheet metal components and mechanisms, as well as electronic design at the level of circuits, semiconductors, PCB’s and systems, and integrated software engineering. With continuing miniaturisation thermal analysis is increasingly important, as is stress analysis for a range of operational, transportation or accident load cases. On top of all that, the rate of product obsolescence, especially in the consumer sector, is high and the time to market pressures correspondingly intense.


In the higher reaches of electronic design automation (EDA) where very expensive software is used there has been little tendency to switch to the PC, even where that would have been technically feasible. The highly specialised nature of the software and the economics of its development in the light of continuing changes in electronic chip technology keeps software prices high, so the cost advantage of the PC is a marginal consideration. On the other hand, at the level of printed circuit board design and layout the PC is widely used.

“Most makers of high performance electronics employ a mixture of both Windows CAD software and very costly chip design programs (on UNIX)”


Computer Aided Design Report

July 1998


For the mechanical design aspects of electronic equipment, and for the industrial design, the new generation of NT-based solids modelling systems is sweeping the field here as elsewhere. Rapid prototyping techniques are heavily used in this industry to confirm styling ideas and to produce soft tooling for prototype quantity or low volume production. Rapid prototyping equipment is invariably PC controlled.


The electronic parts catalogue

An application whose time has yet to come despite its apparently obvious attraction is the electronic parts catalogue published on the web. An engineering office typically uses dozens of materials and parts catalogues and it would seem advantageous to be able to scan them on line. The fact this has not happened to any great extent is down to economics. Paper catalogues are provided free by the supplier in large quantities so, until internet access from the desk top becomes 100%, internet-based on line delivery has been seen as an additional cost, not a replacement for paper, despite the obvious advantages of greater flexibility. In fact the optimum solution turns out to be the CD which can be produced at similar cost to a paper catalogue, distributed in the same way and becomes a convenient on-line medium on the user’s PC.


Nevertheless Component and Supplier Management (CSM) is a developing field with several companies providing structured internet services access to suppliers’ data from a normal PC. One service already has over 22 million parts on file, including drawings, specifications and related information. Other companies supply creation and access software for engineering suppliers wanting to set up web sites and users wanting to deploy the information in conjunction with databases such as SQL Server 7.0. Typical software uses familiar Windows ‘drag and drop’ to map items on to a local database.


These engineering developments are beginning to merge with the growing trend towards ‘e-commerce’, so that identifying suppliers, browsing catalogues, downloading product models, scanning specifications, interrogating stock levels and ordering goods will become closely linked on-line processes.


The Digital Nervous System for Engineering


We have already noted that engineering is the most complex of the disciplines within a manufacturing enterprise and it draws upon a very wide range of applications. All of these applications will be in use somewhere in the organisation at different times, by different people, but with a common need to share information.


Integrated Engineering

Accessing, organising and managing information seamlessly across the company's networks – increasingly, across the internet – is vital to the performance of today's engineering department. But, too often, non–standardisation of the computing and communications infrastructure is getting in the way of that performance. Departments and companies who need to collaborate often find they have incompatible brands of UNIX on their technical workstations and network servers, hindering the linking of applications. Applications which need to inter–operate cannot do so because they use different databases or different data structures. Business applications frequently run in a quite different systems environment from technical applications. Accessing all the applications required means learning to use several machines, with varying user interfaces and facilities. The engineering department is cluttered with too many hardware boxes, and suffers from too many learning curves.



What the engineer or designer needs is a single work station which integrates all the administrative and technical applications, data access and communication links he requires. What the engineering manager needs is an efficient client/server network which supports all the internal and external application, data management and communication needs of his department. That is exactly what Microsoft provides, as part of its Windows DNA for Manufacturing strategy. For more information visit


indows DNA for Manufacturing

The history of computing has been bedevilled by non–standardisation of the underlying operating systems, user interfaces, databases, and application interface specifications. The consequences of non–standardisation are restricted information flow, applications that cannot easily be integrated, and disappointing IT investment payback. Moreover, the cost of owning such systems is seriously increased by the work necessary to maintain disparate UNIX or legacy operating system environments in various parts of the company, the cost of trying to integrate applications that are essentially incompatible, and the costs passed on by applications software providers who have the expense of maintaining their applications on a variety of operating systems.


These costs create serious constraints on the rate at which manufacturers can afford to develop their IT and communications environments. Too much of the IT budget goes into non–productive systems integration, operation and maintenance overheads, rather than useful applications. And when a company re–engineers its business processes, modifying the IT systems is a major undertaking.





















By contrast, Microsoft's technology provides a powerful, integrated, multi-tier networked information systems infrastructure which is:

·         cost effective and affordable, because it is highly standardised, highly scaleable and runs on Intel and Alpha hardware, keeping down the costs of acquiring, operating, supporting and developing the total IT system;

·         easy to use, with a familiar, consistent user interface across all applications;

·         flexible, as it is highly modular and object–based, allowing reconfiguring of systems to suit changing business processes, and tailoring of data, screens and work flows to suit local requirements;

·         unifying, because it is based on a comprehensive and unified underlying set of technologies from a single source – Microsoft;

·         scaleable, because Microsoft Windows® CE®, Windows® 95/98, Windows NT® Workstation and Windows NT® Server provide one standard user interface and compatible operating system environment at all levels of a multi–tier network from the field device to the enterprise level cluster of servers;

·         integrated, because the components of the infrastructure standardise the information interfaces between all applications so that they can be installed easily and work together immediately.


Key components of the infrastructure

Microsoft Windows 95/Windows NT – a standard, hardware neutral environment, scaleable from the laptop to the enterprise server. Windows NT Server is an 'industrial strength' 32 bit network operating















·         Microsoft BackOffice – a complete suite of servers for Windows NT or heterogeneous client/server network management, including IBM mainframes, AS/400 and SNA based legacy systems, Internet connectivity and messaging;

·         Microsoft SQL Server – an enterprise level relational database with fast transaction times, optimised for the Windows NT environment, and consequently the database of choice for an increasing number of applications developers and manufacturers handling large quantities of data in PDM, MRP, ERP and SCADA applications.

·         ActiveX – the Microsoft technology for creating interactive objects on intranets or the Internet, including mini applications that can be down loaded from web; ActiveX allows developers to create reusable 'objects' – mini–applications and data that can be assembled to create bigger processes and distributed over the Internet or corporate intranets. With ActiveX, software developers can create components called ActiveX Controls that can be downloaded to web sites and run from any application, including browsers and many of the most popular business applications. With this technology engineers are already benefiting from 'on–line' electronic catalogues, parts selection and ordering and collaborative viewing of design documentation on the Internet.

·         Microsoft Internet Explorer – the visible part of the Internet strategy, Internet Explorer is the standard Microsoft web browser;

·         Microsoft Office – now essentially a part of the infrastructure since it provides the standard office environment in the majority of manufacturing companies;

·         OLE/COM – Microsoft's object technology which creates interoperability between applications; familiar as the basis for 'drag and drop' between the components of Microsoft Office, the same technology in the form of OLE/D&M Design and in the form of OPC (OLE for Process Control) being developed by the powerful OPC

·         Foundation of process control and automation vendors (see 'Manufacturing Operations' white paper). Available in the public domain, OLE Design and Modelling is increasingly used by third party CAD and document management application developers to add compound documentation and (using Microsoft's Internet technology) electronic document distribution capabilities to their products.


These technologies are set to transform the ease with which concurrent and collaborative engineering can be practised through the use of electronic document transmission. It’s now commonplace to incorporate Excel spreadsheets in a CAD drawing as a bill of materials; or a CAD drawing in a specification produced in Word; or to embed a pointer to a web page in any document.


The Unified Engineering Infrastructure


The Integrated Engineering Workstation

Most engineers are familiar with Windows–based word processing, spreadsheets, and data management tools. But all too often in the past they had to resort to a UNIX workstation when they wanted to do technical work such as 3 dimensional design or heavy engineering analysis. The result was that the administrative and technical applications were more or less incompatible, despite the fact that both are an inherent part of the engineering process. This particularly affects the efficiency of product data management where many types of graphical and non–graphical data need to be stored together and processed concurrently.


Microsoft replaces this unfortunate scenario with the Integrated Engineering Workstation which runs every application the engineer requires, accessing departmental or corporate data via a Windows 95 or Windows NT workstation, and providing world–wide communication with partners, suppliers and subcontractors via the Internet. Scalability means that the workstation may be anything from a notebook to a desktop PC to a power workstation with multiple processors, all networked via departmental and enterprise level servers.


Microsoft’s Vision – The Integrated Engineering Workshop


















The recent launch of Microsoft’s completely scalable, enterprise strength SQL Server 7.0 data base system and the many operational installations of mainstream ERP systems on Windows NT Server demonstrate that Windows NT has the power to provide excellent performance on complex enterprise applications. The surge in Windows NT client software for every kind of engineering application over the past few years shows the faith in Windows NT demonstrated by virtually every vendor of engineering software. And to ensure that very high powered design and manufacturing information management requirements can be met Microsoft has now developed Windows NT server clustering technology in conjunction with the leading Windows Server manufacturers.


There is no longer any ‘systems reason’ why engineering information management cannot be fully integrated with the rest of the enterprise.

The power of the Microsoft infrastructure to deliver affordable hardware, neutral scaleable computing environments, large-scale integration and global information access is now no longer in doubt. The principal hardware vendors have their NT strategies in place. Almost all applications vendors have their software on NT (many being exclusive to NT) basing their product designs on BackOffice, SQL Server, ActiveX and OLE/COM object technology. And the fourth arm of the strategy – the technical and consultancy services available through Microsoft and their business partners is fully established.

Microsoft, Win32, the Windows logo, Windows and Windows NT are either registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. AS/400 and IBM are registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation. Novell and UNIX are registered trademarks of Novell, Inc. in the United States and other countries, licensed exclusively through X/Open Company, Ltd. All other trademarks are held by their respective companies.

The information contained in this document represents the current view of Microsoft Corporation on the issues discussed as of the date of publication. Because Microsoft must respond to changing market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a commitment on the part of Microsoft, and Microsoft cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication.

This document is for informational purposes only. Microsoft makes no warranties, express or implied, in this summary.

(c) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


Technology, even cost, are no longer the constraints. All that’s needed now is a little imagination!