How much time do you waste trying to synchronize activities and documentation across different disciplines?
What about fixing problems due to inconsistencies between diagrams and reports coming from different engineering departments?
Engineering organizations frequently suffer from the “silo effect,” which hinders the communication and collaboration necessary to succeed today. As Gillian Tett wrote in her 2015 book The Silo Effect: The Perils of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers:
“Many large organizations are divided, and then subdivided into numerous different departments, which often fail to talk to each other—let alone collaborate.”
For engineering firms, the silo effect has many potential consequences. Here are three of the worst:
- Wasted time. Did you shudder just a little bit at the two questions that opened this article? You’ve likely experienced first-hand the time-wasting associated with unsynchronized and inconsistent documentation. And that’s not counting the time and effort required to transport data among multiple applications at various phases of the design process.
- Poor design decisions. When data isn’t shared among disciplines, engineers have only limited information available. This means they can’t always make the best decisions for their part of the project.
- Lost revenue. The ultimate consequence of siloing happens at the bottom line. Engineering firms where collaboration is par for the course are more efficient, can take on a wider variety of projects, and do better work. This all leads to better business outcomes.
There are many ways to bust the silos within an organization. In engineering, the best way to start is by busting the silos that exist in your data.
It’s common for engineering firms to use several different software applications during the design process. For example, process engineers may use a commercial application, while instrumentation engineers use software developed in-house. You can encourage closer communication and collaboration between these and other departments by adopting a tool that is powerful enough to span the entire engineering design process.
Engineering Base is one such tool. It eliminates problems associated with the silo effect by supporting simultaneous, real-time engineering activities across all departments.
The two key features that make Engineering Base so powerful at combatting the silo effect are its object-oriented architecture and its centralized database.
Every piece of information in Engineering Base is represented as an object, which is a data structure that can be manipulated by different functions. Each object has relationships with four types of elements:
- Drawings and reports
- A list of the object’s attributes and specifications
- A list of rules
- Other objects in the database
The video below shows this architecture in action by illustrating how to create a new motor for a plant. As you’ll see, once you create the motor (the object), you can then easily manipulate it in a variety of ways.
The second element isn’t so much a feature as it is the fundamental concept behind Engineering Base: it puts the data first.
In Engineering Base, all of the objects are stored in the same central database, so they can be accessed and used by engineers across teams, disciplines, timezones, what have you. The value of this is particularly apparent during one of the most challenging phases of the engineering design process: change management.
Housing all of the data in the same repository makes design changes easy. As you saw in the motor example in the video, once the motor is in the database, any change you make will be instantly reflected across all documentation, including all diagrams and reports.
This saves a huge amount of time updating diagrams and reports. It also reduces errors and ensures that engineers have all of the information they need to make design decisions available at their fingertips.
Of course, silo-busting involves more than just choosing the right software. In many organizations, it also involves a change in mindset to one that prioritizes communication. Selecting tools that support a collaborative engineering environment is a crucial first step in this transformation.