As indispensable as computers are in electronics design, they have too often failed in this context to support long-term business objectives. To date, there has been scarcely little effort to comprehensively capture and reuse the content of engineering calculations — whether data, formulas or variables — in project management, reporting, and regulatory compliance.
Too often, organizations lose track of engineering assumptions and the data that contributed to it. Traceability and accountability have largely been left in the hands of paper systems, or within tracking software operating separately from the engineering process.
But what if there were a way to incorporate reusability and accountability directly into the same work that produces the actual design? In other words, if the numbers used to create the final result of an engineering calculation are self-verifying, then design and accountability become one in the same process. By doing the design work, the engineer is simultaneously making the work recordable, traceable, manageable and reliable.
Combining accountability and design into the same process would not only increase the productivity of the individual engineer, but also improve the efficiency of the overall organization. This approach would enable the efficient decentralization of product development and manufacturing, faster time to market, more effective reuse of ideas and policies, better implementation of standards, and more effective compliance.
To support this decentralized collaboration, information must flow easily, coherently and instantly among different kinds of systems. XML makes this possible. Momentum behind XML has grown at a startling rate since its conception in 1996. The engineering community, however, is only now starting to realize its potential benefits.
The basics of XML
eXtensible Markup Language, or XML, should sound familiar by now. Although many understand the broad concepts of XML — enabling diverse platforms to interoperate and software to be portable — it’s important to know exactly how to apply it in engineering solutions.
XML is a flexible system for storing and verifying information, and it promotes robust information exchange. The potential impact of XML on business productivity will rival that of the relational database management system (RDBMS) on the business world more than 20 years ago. Just as the RDBMS created new business opportunities by improving the way users viewed, managed, and ultimately used different types of data, XML increases efficiency in engineering collaboration by enabling information to be shared more effectively.
Because XML is a meta language, a language for describing other languages, it allows organizations to create their own custom descriptions for exchanging information in their domain. At the same time, it allows organizations to transform raw information into meaningful, structured content that is easily exchanged with others in the same field, regardless of computing environment.
In this way, XML will provide what could be the biggest step forward to date in engineering collaboration. It will eventually give every product design — and every engineering method and value underlying it — meaning and traceability, enabling on-time product development, product quality, regulatory compliance and auditability. This emerging best practice of capturing engineering methods and values to make product development more broadly manageable is known as calculation management.
A deeper look into XML
XML’s premise is that every piece of information, even the most granular, can include metadata that explains its purpose and significance, as well as other identifiers that allow it to be tracked and vetted. A numeral on a web page, for example, is no longer just pixels to the computer displaying it; it’s a robust piece of data that can be captured, processed, managed and fully leveraged.
XML makes it possible to provide contextual information in a manner similar to a database, along with the traditional content found in most electronic documents. The additional information can control any type of property, including display, functionality or fields for use in other specialized applications. For example, there can be fields for project name, originator, reference source, keywords, units, or values. XML makes engineering calculations usable and visible without embracing a proprietary file format.