Workflow Automation Software Targeted for Professional Engineering and Design Tools

Automate engineering design workflows for the purpose of optimization and knowledge capture.

Maxflow Technologies has sponsored this post.

A design optimization workflow diagram. (Image courtesy of Maxflow Technologies.)

A design optimization workflow diagram. (Image courtesy of Maxflow Technologies.)

As engineers move from design to design, they experience many of the same to-dos. They will perform these isolated tasks within the same software over and over in a process that requires significant human involvement.

This has led to the popularization of workflow automation software. Chau Le, president of Maxflow Technology Inc. said, “[This software] deals with connecting individual software programs to create comprehensive processes that can be executed automatically. The most obvious benefit of workflow automation is that it saves significant engineering costs and cuts down the time to market.”

Workflow automation has other obvious engineering advantages. For instance, the knowledge gap in the engineering community widens with the retirement of each engineer. Workflow automation solves this problem because each workflow contains everything needed to complete the process.

Optimization is another benefit of workflow automation. Once the design workflow is automated, it can be connected to algorithms that narrow down the design space towards an optimal solution.

However, “generic workflow automation tools are currently limited to simple bookkeeping and data entry tasks. They are far from able to automate sophisticated engineering workflows,” said Le. “Process automation is important, but robotics process automation (RPA) may not be the right solution. My prediction is that more workflow automation tools are going to come out with innovative technologies.”

Le explained that what sets Maxflow Technology’s automation software apart from the competition is that it targets engineering workflows. It offers a simple and economical user interface that can link engineering systems and automate the workflows between them.

Where Process Automation Fits into the Engineering Workflow

Le believes that workflow automation in the engineering space will be a growing technology. “Engineering processes are most suitable for workflow automation because they are usually well-defined, repeatable and intended to be so because they are usually standardized,” he explained.

A digital twin workflow made using Maxflow.

So, the parts of an engineering workflow that can be automated are the parts where all the information needed to execute a task is known. If an engineer can draw the workflow in a flowchart, or a mind map, then they can likely automate it. Examples include:

  • Design simulation
  • Data analytics
  • Web application

“Automated workflows are truly the digital asset of a corporation. They could potentially speed up the engineering processes by many folds—saving both cost and time to market,” Le said. “Moreover, it solves the long-standing issue of knowledge capture, which is the issue of knowledge lost when experienced engineers quit or retire. How do you capture that knowledge they have? That is a huge deal that corporations spend a lot of money to do, but it doesn’t work very well.”

Le suggests that before retirement, the engineer can build the processes they know into automated workflows. Once finished, the workflows are complete documents that the company can easily maintain, replicate and develop further.

After this level of democratization, not only will someone be able to pick up and follow the engineer’s workflow, but also in their absence they will save a lot of time doing the automated work. These automated and well-characterized workflows can then become the working mechanisms behind a digital twin.

“Digital twin, in my narrow definition, is an area where many pieces of the puzzle such as telemetry data, design data and simulation software come together. They must work in an automated way—by definition. All the pieces existed already, thus it makes sense to leverage them. This is a natural fit for workflow automation tools,” Le explained.

RPA Can’t Handle Engineering Process Automation. What Can?

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is a common automation tool. It essentially records user interactions with the computer software and repeats those actions automatically. The concept behind this: “Why should a workplace pay an employee to fill out a form 1,000 times a year, when that employee can train a bot to do it in two minutes?”

A completed engineering workflow diagram. (Image courtesy of Maxflow Technologies.)

A completed engineering workflow diagram. (Image courtesy of Maxflow Technologies.)

The challenge of RPA is that it’s designed to observe and streamline simple repetitive tasks, such as transferring data into a spreadsheet or generating reports. Once a task requires some cognitive functions, which most engineering workflows do, this technique is no longer appropriate.

“RPA is the technology used by other generic workflow automation tools,” said Le. “[The problems they solve] are mostly simple compared to engineering workflows—which can literally get as sophisticated as rocket science. In fact, I haven’t seen any company seriously considering RPA for engineering workflows.”

According to Le, there is already a workflow automation process, hidden in plain sight, that is widely accepted in the engineering field—design optimization tools. The first step of optimizing a design is to automate how to analyze its performance.

“What these early optimization tools miss is that the value of automating workflows far exceeds the value of optimization. It should be the other way around, that is workflow automation is the main goal and optimization is a nice benefit of that,” he said.

He notes that some engineering software companies are starting to shift their optimization software to focus on process automation. However, Maxflow Technologies has had this focus from the ground up.

How Maxflow Addresses the Challenges and Trends of Process Automation

Maxflow offers an intuitive user interface (UI) that is cloud-based and accessible on the web. This enables engineers to produce complex workflows quickly and easily. It also helps with the democratization and distribution of engineering software by providing app and tool databases.

“An example is LocalSolver,” said Le, “a state-of-the-art commercial optimization software.” In the video below, an engineer sets up a process workflow within Maxflow that utilizes LocalSolver. The engineer uses Maxflow’s minimal coding and drag-and-drop UI. The resulting process is as easy to understand, or create, as a flowchart. However, it performs a relatively complex engineering computation.

An engineer automates an engineering process within Maxflow.

“Users can create and publish workflows so it’s available as traditional web apps and mobile apps,” Le said. “They can create, publish and monetize their ideas and expertise. Maxflow makes it easy for engineers to create and publish new software in the form of components or workflows in a no-code/low-code fashion. Almost anyone with engineering expertise can create software and distribute it to the market.”

For instance, Le mentioned a hypothetical engineer that knows how to calculate vibrational dose values. He said, “this calculation is a requirement for government certifications. The engineer knows how to perform the calculations, so they write the component in Maxflow. Now, everyone can use it as an app. And, any time someone uses it, that engineer can get $0.10. If people run it a lot, it can generate a substantial income for that expert.”

To learn how to start making automated process automation, read the Maxflow Wiki or try it here.

Written by

Shawn Wasserman

For over 10 years, Shawn Wasserman has informed, inspired and engaged the engineering community through online content. As a senior writer at WTWH media, he produces branded content to help engineers streamline their operations via new tools, technologies and software. While a senior editor at, Shawn wrote stories about CAE, simulation, PLM, CAD, IoT, AI and more. During his time as the blog manager at Ansys, Shawn produced content featuring stories, tips, tricks and interesting use cases for CAE technologies. Shawn holds a master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.