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Independent consultant finds system that matches client's needs
By Susan Maclean"Therefore, Manavue recommends that you......." After reading pages of discussion, considerations and arguments comparing CAD, CAD/CAM or PDM product and against product, clients of Manavue Inc. come to a final statement that sounds like a judge's pronouncement. That's no coincidence. Manavue's opinion is unclouded by bias or conflicts of interest, assures president Ramez Zalat. Consulting is the independent company's only source of revenue.
Zalat, an engineer, became involved in CAD systems around 1984 when he was responsible for implementing a new CAD system at a consulting engineering firm where he worked.
"What I realized, as time went by, was that most of the problems we were experiencing during implementation were not of a technical nature," he recalls. "They were not related to machines or software. It was really a matter of how to digest this technology, manage and understand the issues that were involved with this new way of doing things."
He saw an opportunity for consulting services to help companies select, plan and implement the technology. In 1988, he launched Manavue. Today, he is joined by two other engineers. Other specialists are added to the team on a project basis as needed. Manavue's client list includes Alcan Wire and Cable, Bell Canada, Ingersoll-Rand Canada Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Canada Inc. Services are offered in either English or French.
Clients often begin with a statement followed by a question. "We're planning to select a new CAD system. Which product on the market would best suit our needs?"Clients are usually - but not necessarily - in Quebec and have at least 100 employees. Smaller sized companies typically shy away from consultants. "I can very well understand," Zalat sympathizes. "We hear in the market that with a consultant you know where you start, but you never now where you will end. Unfortunately, to some extent it may be true."
Zalat and his team begin by studying a client's design and engineering operations. They look at what kind of parts people are designing, what specialities they are handling and where the bottlenecks are. Their goal is to fully understand the maximum opportunities in process improvements that can be expected with a new CAD system.Over these past 11 years, Manavue has developed very detailed matrixes for the evaluation of the product.
<>"We have a matrix for almost every frequent application: the basic CAD, 2D, solid modelling, surfaces, manufacturing with CNC, piping, electrical wiring, etc.," says Zalat. "We have matrixes for all these applications and each of these applications can go up to almost 60 or 80 criteria. When we evaluate a product for a given client, all these criteria are weighted based on the very specific opportunities that we may have been found for the client. "All the products are the same from one client to another," he adds. "CATIA is the same whether it is used by client A or client B. What makes the difference are the needs of one client versus the other. We'll focus more on one aspect of the evaluation and we'll weigh the different criteria based on their very specific opportunities."
But isn't there one software or hardware combination that does more often fit the bill? "A few years ago when people were more often in the 2D world, it was hard to recommend something that was not AutoCAD," he replies. However, he has found that for the past six or so years, 3D and 3D modelling have taken a bigger share of the market, bringing more differences between packages.
"Different products fit different needs," he continues. "You have some products that are more suited for sub-contractors or people who just design parts, while some other products will be more fitted for clients who do assemblies. You will see some sort of differentiation that the products offer in relation with that. So, there is an opportunity for services like ours."
Evaluating CAD data management or product data management (PDM) software is not so easy. "When you buy these products, some of them will come out of the box with a lot of features and some others will come out of the box like a tool-kit, with very few pre-developed features and the tools to develop your own features. When they are custom, it means that they have to be developed."
Manavue then considers what efforts are required for the customization. One product can use very advanced language that does not require sophisticated programing skills. Another would require some specific programming skills.
Zalat views the PDM market demand as equivalent to the solid modelling demand about four years ago. "People are still looking without still making the step ahead. It's really the buzz word, but I'm finding in Quebec there is still some resistance to jump ahead with these systems." He attributes that hesitancy to the high price tag and horror stories about PDM implementation. "It is understandable," he adds. "PDM products are supposed to match your business processes."
Another challenge with PDM is the need for concensus about an organization's methods and procedures. "This is the hardest aspect of our business life," he admits. "Two managers do not always share the same perception about what should be the processes or even what are the current processes."
So, what are the bottom line benefits of Manavue's services? He claims that Manavue's involvement results in the selection of a system that best fits the client's requirements, taking into account the critical productivity factors specific to the client engineering environment. It also maximizes the efficiency in utilizing a system to increase productivity and accelerate the design process. As a result, he says the overall effect is an eight or 10 per cent reduction of the operating costs and a payback for Manavue's services reimbursed within two or three years."Although a system could have gorgeous features, we will not recommend it if these features will not reduce the bottlenecks specific to a client's engineering environment," Zalat replies. "Our focus is on the real opportunities for improvement in the operations."