Collaboration software for product design has been touted as the next business revolution. It enables engineers within a company as well as external suppliers and OEMs to communicate throughout the design cycle, resulting in higher quality products, fewer change orders, and shortened time to market. In today's virtual world, such capability is quickly becoming a necessity. Many large companies now insist that their suppliers have some sort of collaboration capability.
Goldman engineers built the Millennium Machine using CATIA V5 from IBM and SmartTeam Product Data Management (PDM) system. Such a combination allows total integration between prime contractor, suppliers and customer.
Mark Totten, manager of integrated data environment for Lockheed Martin's Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems' Surface Systems unit (Moorestown, NJ), says that collaboration is absolutely essential for their company. "We are a systems integrator," he says. "We don't make a lot of the components that actually go into our product."
One Lockheed ship design, for example, involved approximately 2,200 people from around the world, including 600 engineers, 30 subcontractors, 1,300 suppliers, and various other support personnel. "Collaboration and communication are key to providing our customers the best product possible," says Totten.
For such an undertaking, Lockheed relies on Windchill from PTC to link everyone together.
Although they haven't had Windchill long enough to take a ship design from "womb to tomb," there are segments of the design cycle where Totten says his group has seen significant benefits.
When Lockheed prepares a request for proposals (RFP) for large jobs, they bring all the contractors together to discuss the approach and bidding of the job. "We typically throw all the contractors into a room for about three months," says Totten. This involves substantial travel, lodging, and cost-of-living expense.
Today, Lockheed begins an RFP by setting up a secure Windchill environment where specified team members can see the proposed job, submit outlines, and discuss the proposal online. "We start building strategies before we ever get together," says Totten. "Using this approach, we save at least a month to a month and half in traveling costs."
For ship repairs and upgrades, customers can access and approve Lockheed's proposed upgrade designs online long before they are implemented. They can also accept delivery of the final design and repair documentation through the secure environment. "This not only significantly reduces our design cycle time, but we can train the users on the technology before it is ever installed," he adds. "We've seen typical improvements of 20 to 30%."
Collaboration also allows Lockheed engineers to evaluate more design alternatives. "In the past, we could create and evaluate three different designs for one project in a two-year period," says Totten. By making the necessary information accessible to more parties, Lockheed engineers can evaluate more alternatives, faster.
Although several of Lockheed's subcontractors also have Windchill, many do not. To ensure collaboration, Lockheed as the prime contractor provides access to the system.
A necessity. "If we want to survive as a company, this is the only way to go," says Jack Lowry, group vice president of IT and materials for the Goldman Industrial Group (North Springfield, VT), a major manufacturer of machine tools for automotive, aerospace and other industries.
The Goldman Industrial Group (www.bryantgrinder.com) went from a paper-drawing environment, where several design engineers did not even have a PC, to a completely integrated network infrastructure with IBM CATIA V5 3D modeling solution, the SmarTeam Product Data Management (PDM) system, and the Baan 5 Enterprise Resource Planning solution.
For Goldman, the technology overhaul was a matter of survival. Many of Goldman's customers insisted that they be able to "collaborate" with them. Automotive companies are trying to drive out 50% of all production costs, says Lowry. "They are looking to the suppliers to help them do this by including them more and more in the decision-making process." Integration minimizes change orders, speeds up the design cycle, and ensures sufficient ordering and scheduling of parts.
"We are an engineering-intensive company," Lowry explains. "Integration software allows us to leverage skill sets across the company, avoiding project delays."
Another big benefit is that the parts actually fit when they are brought together for assembly. "Information is shared seamlessly between our engineering and business processes," he adds, so there are no surprises at the end of a project.
A different approach. "Collaboration means many different things to different people," says Raj Ahluwalia, manager of E-engineering solutions at Visteon (Detroit, MI). "Primarily for us, it is the use of product information management (PIM) and visualization tools to facilitate simultaneous engineering."
Visteon builds automotive parts for Ford, GM, Chrysler, Jaguar, Honda, and Fiat, to name just a few. The company has more than 20 major design centers all over the world, along with many manufacturing plants, all with people who need access to the product design data. Visteon employs as many different CAD programs as required by its customers, and Metaphase as their PDM system.
Because of their complex company structure, Visteon had three basic needs: to distribute data in a platform- and CAD-neutral format; to exchange information between de-sign centers, manufacturing plants, suppliers, and customers; and to archive the information.
The company implemented EAI's Vis visualization software products from UGS, because of their ability to convert any CAD file to a neutral format.
"I don't want to worry about what kind of CAD tool the design is generated in," Ahluwalia continues. "I just want to look at the design."