Concurrent Engineering

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.



The concurrent engineering method is still a relatively new design management system, but has had the opportunity to mature in recent years to become a well-defined systems approach towards optimizing engineering design cycles.[1] Because of this, concurrent engineering has gathered much attention from industry and has been implemented in a multitude of companies, organizations and universities, most notably in the aerospace industry.

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.[2]

The second concept is that the preceding design activities should all be occurring at the same time, or concurrently. The overall goal being that the concurrent nature of these processes significantly increases productivity and product quality, aspects that are obviously important in today’s fast-paced market.[3] This philosophy is key to the success of concurrent engineering because it allows for errors and redesigns to be discovered early in the design process when the project is still in a more abstract and possibly digital realm. 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 physical realm.[4]

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, subject areas that are extremely important factors in the success of a concurrent engineering system. As before, the extensive use of forward planning allows for unforeseen design problems to be caught early so that the basic conceptual design can be altered before actual physical production commences. The amount of money that can be saved by doing this correctly has proven to be significant and is generally the deciding factor for companies moving to a concurrent design framework.[3]

One of the most important reasons for the huge success of concurrent engineering is that by definition it redefines the basic design process structure that was common place for decades. This was a structure based on a sequential design flow, sometimes called the ‘Waterfall Model’.[5][6] Concurrent engineering significantly modifies this outdated method and instead opts to use what has been termed an iterative or integrated development method.[7] The difference between these two methods is that the ‘Waterfall’ method moves in a completely linear fashion by starting with user requirements and sequentially moving forward to design, implementation and additional steps until you have a finished product. The problem here is that the design system does 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, as mentioned before, all aspects of the life cycle of the product are taken into account, allowing for a more evolutionary approach to design.[8] The difference between the two design processes can be seen graphically in Figure 1.

Fig. 1 – “Waterfall” or Sequential Development Method vs. Iterative Development Method

A significant part of this new 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 plays a large role in the productivity of the employee and quality of the product that is being produced. This stems from the fact that people 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.[4]

By making this sweeping change, many organizational and managerial challenges arise that must be taken into special consideration when companies and organizations move towards such a system. From this standpoint, issues such as the implementation of early design reviews, enabling communication between engineers, software compatibility and opening the design process up to allow for concurrency creates problems of its own .[9] Similarly, there must be a strong basis for teamwork since the overall success of the method relies on the ability of engineers to effectively work together. Often this can be a difficult obstacle, but is something that must be tackled early to avoid later problems .[10]

Similarly, now more than ever, software is playing a huge role in the engineering design process. Be it from CAD packages to finite element analysis tools, the ability to quickly and easily modify digital models to predict future design problems is hugely important no matter what design process you are using. However, in concurrent engineering software’s role becomes much more significant as the collaborative nature must take into the account that each engineer’s design models must be able to ‘talk’ to each other in order to successfully utilize the concepts of concurrent engineering.

Concurrent engineering elements

Cross-functional teams

Include members from various disciplines involved in the process, including manufacturing, hardware and software design, marketing, and so forth

Concurrent product realization

A 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.

The first one is used by the Concurrent Design Facility (ESA):

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 Pennell and Winner, 1989:

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 cost, schedule, quality and user requirements.

Using C.E.

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[1]

German Aerospace Center Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft – Und Raumfahrt Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft Und Raumfahrt

JAQAR Concurrent Design Services

EPFL Space Center

See also


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Kusiak, Andrew; Concurrent Engineering: Automation, Tools and Techniques
  3. ^ a b Quan, W. & Jianmin, H., A Study on Collaborative Mechanism for Product Design in Distributed Concurrent Engineering IEEE
  4. ^ a b Kusiak, Andrew, Concurrent Engineering: Automation, Tools and Techniques
  5. ^ “The standard waterfall model for systems development”, NASA Webpage, November 14, 2008
  6. ^ Kock, N. and Nosek, J., “Expanding the Boundaries of E-Collaboration”, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol 48 No 1, March 2005.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Royce, Winston, “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems”, Proceedings of IEEE WESCON 26 (August 1970): 1-9.
  9. ^ Kusiak, Andrew, “Concurrent Engineering: Automation, Tools and Techniques”
  10. ^ Rosenblatt, A. and Watson, G. (1991). “Concurrent Engineering”, IEEE Spectrum, July, pp 22-37.



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on Thursday 11th August 2011 2:52 pm EDT
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