Traveling nowadays is a real bummer. Packed planes, long delays and carry-on limitations can make every travel day a bad day. But the real problem with travel for busy engineers goes beyond inconvenience. Traveling for meetings and on-site visits to manufacturing locations adds cost and time to the product development process.
So why bother to travel at all? An increasing number of engineers have turned to general purpose Web conferencing tools to meet online and replace at least some visits to far-flung design and manufacturing teams.
Mike Stoddard, a project manager for Phillips Plastics, is one of those engineers. For a recent medical device project for Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon division, Stoddard’s team and Ethicon’s engineers needed to convene to resolve some design-for-manufacturing issues.
The plastic and metal device requires complex tooling, tight-tolerance assembly operations and aggressive cost targets. “So there was a lot of back-and-forth between our engineers and their engineers,” Stoddard recalls.
“At one point, Ethicon’s engineers thought they should fly from New Jersey to Wisconsin on just a couple days’ notice to discuss some tooling issues. It would have cost them thousands,” says Stoddard. Instead, they all agreed to a virtual meeting using a popular, general-purpose Web conferencing tool from WebEx Communications Inc. The cost: from 33 to 50 cents per person, per minute. “We were able to review and mark up drawings, which is the most important thing from a problem-solving standpoint,” he says.
Engineers at Ryobi Die Casting have likewise decided to use Web conferencing, in this case the e/pop system from WiredRed Software. Lots of engineers use already use this and other Web conferencing systems, but a good deal of that use involves project teams’ recurring internal meetings, according to Tom Toperczer, WiredRed’s vice president. “An outsize chunk of our users are engineers and other design professionals, not just because of all the recurring meetings but also because their projects have a lot of visual complexity,” he says.
“But Ryobi’s application takes things to another level,” he adds. The company’s Production Quality Engineers (PQE) have adopted e/pop and high-quality Web cameras to review and troubleshoot die casting design and manufacturing issues with customers located all over the world.
Whatever Web conferencing tool you use, most of them offer multiple ways for the meeting participants to interact — including combinations of voice, multi-point video, presentation viewing and annotation, instant messaging and desktop sharing. Several of these methods can allow you to share, view and edit engineering information. You can desktop share with someone running a CAD application, for example. Or you can simply annotate drawings within presentations or other documents.
Stoddard likes the latter approach for troubleshooting and brainstorming sessions. “You don’t have to do everything in CAD,” he says. And you don’t have to do everything in person.