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Software: Engineering success

Sep 15, 2001

Once upon a time not so long ago, one could identify a student of engineering or architecture by the drafter or the T-square they carried. But the students in the future won’t have the privilege (or the pain) as computers have long since replaced drawing boards in the industry. It is a question of time when the colleges follow suite. Information technology has not only changed the way the engineering industry draws but also the way it designs and manufactures. As businesses increasingly compete on a global scale, they are faced with the challenges like shorter time to market and superior quality. To meet these demands organisations have to increasingly rely on technology to provide the cutting edge. At one end, while the computers have replaced drawing boards in the design department with CAD (computer aided drawing) software, information technology at the other end has improved the speed of manufacturing with computer aided manufacturing (CAM) solutions. The drawing that is made on CAD software can directly be read by some other software, which can instruct the machines to perform operations as per specifications in the drawings. For example, once a design has been produced with the CAD component, the design itself can control the machines that construct the part.

The most critical process in engineering, design, has a lot of new tools at its disposal thanks to the use of enormous processing speed of computers. Complex analysis techniques like the finite element analysis (FEA) are gaining more and more popularity thanks to software that not only perform the complex calculations but also provide graphical output, which makes it a lot easier to interpret the results of the analysis. As drawing, design and manufacturing become more and more IT enabled the Indian software industry has looking at a vast set of opportunities. Although the mechanical CAD/CAM market size declined by 4% in FY00 compared to FY99, Gartner Dataquest forecasts a five-year CAGR of 6% in the period between FY00 to FY05. The markets are expected to be of the size of US$ 4.5 bn in FY05.

A small sample
(Rs m) FY00 FY01 Change
Satyam 384 786 104.7%
% of total revenues 5.7% 6%  
Infosys 176 380 115.4%
% of total revenues 2.0% 2.0%  
Geometric Software 319 449 40.8%
% of total revenues 100% 100%  
Rolta 1,775 2,352 32.5%
% of total revenues 100% 100%  
Total revenues 2,654 3,967 49%

While western companies dominate the drawing, design and manufacturing software and solutions markets, the role that Indian software companies are adopting currently is that of providing add on software and customization according to clients needs. However, as the requirement is to model real life objects i.e. geometry, as there is a tremendous opportunity waiting, if the companies manage to move up the value chain and create products in the domain.

The CAD/CAM boquete
Design 3D Modeling, Assembly modeling,
Legacy data conversion, Interference studies,
Tolerance analysis
Analysis Mesh generation, Linear/Non-linear Static, Dynamic,
Optimization, Buckling and Fatigue simulation
Manufacturing NC Part programming , Tool path generation
(for controlling computerised machines)
Software Design automation, Customization,
Interfaces to CAD/CAM/CAE
and PDM, Translators
and migration tools
Specialized Services Creation of library of standard parts, Service tutor,
Web-based services,
Computer based training (CBT)
Source : Infosys

This is one area that the Indian software companies have not concentrated on. Infact, very few Indian companies are exclusively focused on this domain. This is partly due to the entry barrier being high on account of technology skills requirement. Consequently, not many companies have created intellectual property and whatever little presence there is, is to provide services like customization. But gradually the software sector in India is making its presence felt in these markets. Some companies have managed to create software that works as add-ons with the dominant products in the markets.

Geometric Software is one of the very few Indian software companies that focuses on this market. The company did manage to create intellectual properties in translations technologies and sold it to Spatial Crop. The other Indian software majors that have revenues from this area include Satyam and Infosys. Infosys has a offshore engineering development centre (OEDC). These companies provide services like design, analysis, customization, and legacy data conversion. These services are provided using CAD applications including Pro/Engineer, Unigraphics, CATIA, IDEAS and Mechanical Desktop.

The need to manage information about the products or the parts like approvals for drawings, version control and proper co-coordination so that the proper version goes for manufacturing has given rise to the area of product data management (PDM). This another area in which all these companies are looking too grow significantly.

As information needs becoming more and more real time there will be an increasing need to use geometry by departments that have never done so in the past, like procurement. According to Mr. Manu Parpia, MD, Geometric Software viewing objects in solid form, and manipulating them would become more of an everyday affair rather than being the domain of a select few. This translates to the fact that that geometry must be integrated to the enterprise software. For example, those in the supply chain (take procurement for example) need to see the part. There might be a need make some change to the part or need to do some referencing with the part. Therefore, access to the geometry of the part is critical. This is dealt under a field known as collaborative engineering. Collaborative engineering makes collaborative commerce, towards which organisations are increasingly moving, possible.

The other opportunities that stare in the face of the Indian software industry is the conversion of all CAD work from 2-D software to 3-D software and use of the Internet to collaborate design all over the world. Thus, there is tremendous opportunity waiting for the Indian industry. Though the growth rates from these areas are nowhere near those for application software development, however, the quality of work that is far more technology intensive more than makes up for it.

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