Engineer Brian Fudge of medical device manufacturer Respironics (www.respironics.com) faces demands that rattle most design engineers: He is under orders to find ways to shorten design time for the company's respiration products. Critical to that task, of course, is finding ways to ease communication among design team members and share information. Fudge is doing that through an intercompany website he has set up for one of his projects.
As he describes it, after documents are released he scans them as a pdf. Then, he puts links on the site to the documents that are related to the project, such as product specs, design specs, hazard analysis, and bills of material, among other documents. Who looks at the website? Virtually everyone at the company who is involved in the project: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, manufacturing, clinical staff, quality staff, document control, marketing, and purchasing. Everyone on the team has a link on their desktop to the site.
The website is modeled after samples he saw at a Stanford Advanced Project Management course he attended. The website allows a look at several aspects of a project, including schedule, scope, resources, what the team has done, what they're working on, what's coming up next, and project risks. There are also pages for task lists and potential technologies to consider.
Fudge is a proactive and resourceful guy who has found a way internally to speed up communication while he tries to make sure everyone is up to date and that the team can identify potential problems early so they can solve them. He even uses the website as a format for running project meetings, bringing his laptop and a projector to meetings to make on-the-spot updates that he then saves to a server. He says he doesn't have a tangible number on any time savings in product development as a result of his website, but he definitely believes it has been a good aid in communication. "I look at it from a risk perspective," he says. "We have a super-tight schedule, and any little bump in the road can cause delays."
No system is perfect, and Fudge knows his isn't. So he is looking for suggestions from other engineers who have tackled communications and design time problems. You can send them to this page and we'll make sure he gets them.
Meanwhile, check out the Respironics home page. It's attractive and well organized. One of the coolest elements is on the left navigation bar. You'll find a button there that says "Clinical Information." It leads to interesting information about the company's products and how people use them. For example, there's a bibliography compiled by the company's medical education team that lists key articles and research on sleep-disordered breathing. The ease of use holds lessons for vendors who want to make it easy for engineers to find information on their products.
If you want to easily find information on automotive technology, then attend the Design News E2E Online technical conference on Automotive Technology, scheduled for May 17. Francois Castaing, former vice president of engineering at Chrysler and the person who inspired development of the Viper and the cab-forward concept, is the keynote interview, and he'll give his views on the industry's toughest technical challenges. Register at www.designnews.com/e2e.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.