Concurrent engineering is a work methodology based on the parallelization of tasks (i.e. performing tasks concurrently). It refers to an approach used in product development in which functions of design engineering, manufacturing engineering and other functions are integrated to reduce the elapsed time required to bring a new product to the market.
A publication in 2008 described the concurrent engineering method as a relatively new design management system that has had the opportunity to mature in recent years to become a well-defined systems approach towards optimizing engineering design cycles. Because of this, concurrent engineering has been implemented in a number of companies, organizations and universities, most notably in the aerospace industry. Beginning in the early 1990s, CE was also adapted for use in the information and content automation field, providing a basis for organization and management of projects outside the physical product development sector for which it was originally designed.
The basic premise for concurrent engineering revolves around two concepts. The first is the idea that all elements of a product’s life-cycle, from functionality, producibility, assembly, testability, maintenance issues, environmental impact and finally disposal and recycling, should be taken into careful consideration in the early design phases.
The second concept is that the preceding design activities should all be occurring at the same time, i.e., concurrently. The idea is that the concurrent nature of these processes significantly increases productivity and product quality. This way, errors and redesigns can be discovered early in the design process when the project is still flexible. By locating and fixing these issues early, the design team can avoid what often become costly errors as the project moves to more complicated computational models and eventually into the actual manufacturing of hardware.
As mentioned above, part of the design process is to ensure that the entire product's life cycle is taken into consideration. This includes establishing user requirements, propagating early conceptual designs, running computational models, creating physical prototypes and eventually manufacturing the product. Included in the process is taking into full account funding, work force capability and time. A study in 2006 claimed that a correct implementation of the concurrent design process can save a significant amount of money, and that organizations have been moving to concurrent design for this reason. It is also highly compatible with systems thinking and green engineering.
Concurrent engineering replaces the more traditional sequential design flow, or ‘Waterfall Model’. In concurrent engineering an iterative or integrated development method is used instead. The difference between these two methods is that the ‘Waterfall’ method moves in a linear fashion by starting with user requirements and sequentially moving forward to design, implementation and additional steps until you have a finished product. In this design system, a design team would not look backwards or forwards from the step it is on to fix possible problems. In the case that something does go wrong, the design usually must be scrapped or heavily altered. On the other hand, the iterative design process is more cyclic in that, all aspects of the life cycle of the product are taken into account, allowing for a more evolutionary approach to design. The difference between the two design processes can be seen graphically in Figure 1.
A significant part of the concurrent design method is that the individual engineer is given much more say in the overall design process due to the collaborative nature of concurrent engineering. Giving the designer ownership is claimed to improve the productivity of the employee and quality of the product that is being produced, based on the assumption that people who are given a sense of gratification and ownership over their work tend to work harder and design a more robust product, as opposed to an employee that is assigned a task with little say in the general process.
Challenges associated with concurrent design
Concurrent design comes with a series of challenges, such as the implementation of early design reviews, the dependency on efficient communication between engineers and teams, software compatibility, and opening up the design process. A concurrent design process usually requires that computer models (computer aided design, finite element analysis) are exchanged efficiently, something that can be difficult in practice. If such issues are not addressed properly, concurrent design may not work effectively. It is important to note that although the nature of some activities during a project imposes a degree of linearity--completion of software code, prototype development and testing, for example--the concurrent organization and management of the project teams can still yield significant benefits based on the improved sharing of information as each functional area progresses.
Service providers exist that specialize in this field. Not only training people how to perform concurrent design effectively, but also providing the tools to enhance the communication between the team members. Organizations such as *European Space Agency's Concurrent Design Facility make use of concurrent design to perform feasibility studies for future missions.
Concurrent engineering elements
Include members from various disciplines involved in the process, including manufacturing, hardware and software design, marketing, and so forth.
Concurrent product realization
Process activities are at the heart of concurrent engineering. Doing several things at once, such as designing various subsystems simultaneously, is critical to reducing design time.
Incremental information sharing
It helps minimize the chance that concurrent product realization will lead to surprises. As soon as new information becomes available, it is shared and integrated into the design. Cross functional teams are important to the effective sharing of information in a timely fashion.
Integrated project management
It ensures that someone is responsible for the entire project, and that responsibility is not abdicated once one aspect of the work is done.
Several definitions of concurrent engineering are in use.
|“||Concurrent Engineering (CE) is a systematic approach to integrated product development that emphasizes the response to customer expectations. It embodies team values of co-operation, trust and sharing in such a manner that decision making is by consensus, involving all perspectives in parallel, from the beginning of the product life cycle.||”|
The second one is by Winner, et al., 1988:
|“||Concurrent Engineering is a systematic approach to the integrated, concurrent design of products and their related processes, including, manufacturing and support. This approach is intended to cause the developers from the very outset to consider all elements of the product life cycle, from conception to disposal, including quality, cost, schedule, and user requirements.||”|
Currently, several companies, agencies and universities use CE. Among them can be mentioned:
• European Space Agency Concurrent Design Facility
• NASA Team X - Jet Propulsion Laboratory
• NASA Integrated Design Center (IDC), Mission Design Lab (MDL), and Instrument Design Lab (IDL) - Goddard Space Flight Center
• CNES - French Space Agency
• ASI - Italian Space Agency
• EADS Astrium - Satellite Design Office
• Thales Alenia Space
• The Aerospace Corporation Concept Design Center
• STV Incorporated - 
• German Aerospace Center Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt
• JAQAR Concurrent Design Services
• EPFL Space Center
- ESA's Concurrent Design Facility
- Open Concurrent Design Server
- Product Life Cycle
- Product lifecycle management
- Ma, Y., Chen, G. & Thimm, G.; "Paradigm Shift: Unified and Associative Feature-based Concurrent Engineering and Collaborative Engineering", Journal of Intelligent Manufacturing, DOI 10.1007/s10845-008-0128-y
- Kusiak, Andrew; Concurrent Engineering: Automation, Tools and Techniques
- Quan, W. & Jianmin, H., A Study on Collaborative Mechanism for Product Design in Distributed Concurrent Engineering IEEE 2006. DOI: 10.1109/CAIDCD.2006.329445
- Kusiak, Andrew, Concurrent Engineering: Automation, Tools and Techniques
- “The standard waterfall model for systems development”, NASA Webpage, November 14, 2008
- Kock, N. and Nosek, J., “Expanding the Boundaries of E-Collaboration”, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol 48 No 1, March 2005.
- Ma, Y., Chen, G., Thimm, G., "Paradigm Shift: Unified and Associative Feature-based Concurrent Engineering and Collaborative Engineering", Journal of Intelligent Manufacturing, DOI 10.1007/s10845-008-0128-y
- Royce, Winston, "Managing the Development of Large Software Systems", Proceedings of IEEE WESCON 26 (August 1970): 1-9.
- Kusiak, Andrew, "Concurrent Engineering: Automation, Tools and Techniques"
- Rosenblatt, A. and Watson, G. (1991). "Concurrent Engineering", IEEE Spectrum, July, pp 22-37.
- Winner, Robert I., Pennell, James P., Bertrand, Harold E., and Slusarczuk, Marko M. G. (1991). "The Role of Concurrent Engineering in Weapons System Acquisition", Institute for Defense Analyses Report R-338, December 1988, p v.