Newton, MA Who said Bill Gates is not a team player!
Microsoft recently announced that it has adopted collaboration software that should make it easier for far-flung engineering teams to work together in design of several of the company's products.
The Redmond, WA behemoth will soon begin using CoCreate's OneSpace collaboration tool to streamline the engineering process for its mice, keyboards, gaming units, and other input devices. The goal: to cut development costs and design time by two-thirds.
Like many companies, Microsoft outsources the design of several of its products. Gates and company have been seeking better ways to communicate design ideas and parameters with its design-chain partners. "We're trying to communicate complex, innovative product ideas to design and supply chain partners who don't speak English as their first language," says Kennard Nielsen, Microsoft's manager for the outsourced products.
They're betting that CoCreate's (Fort Collins, CO) OneSpace will help. It lets users share documents and 2D or 3D models online, regardless of their CAD source, viewing, editing, and changing those designs in real time. Engineers use it to mark up data, make and document decisions, manage meetings, and integrate it all into their product-data-management systems. (http://www.cocreate.com/cocreate/index.cfm)
Microsoft likes to think of itself as a leader in adoption of leading-edge technologies. While it was a little slow in adopting collaboration tools—automakers, for example, have used them for some time—the company's move nevertheless could be a boon to the collaboration industry if for no other reason than the fact that companies, like people, like to follow a leader. And this may be one case where no one will be able to accuse Microsoft of blocking competitors from benefiting from something it does.
Collaboration as a concept is not proprietary. It can take lots of forms, most of them informal, such as teleconferences, email, and lunchroom conversations. But there are plenty of formal tools for those who think they need them. Several CAD companies—including PTC (www.ptc.com), EDS PLM Solutions (www.eds.com), and IBM/Dassault (www.3ds.com)—have created products that enable engineers in different locations to view models and review each others' design work, and they have been promoting them mightily. Most of those products wrap collaboration capabilities into larger product lifecycle management tools. CoCreate has shunned that strategy, opting to develop a standalone collaboration product that President Bill Gascoigne says offers the only method for realtime collaboration on a real design model.
"It's clear that sooner or later, all successful manufacturers will need some design collaboration tool," says Nielsen. His prediction is in line with what other industry insiders are saying. One research firm, two years ago predicted a 61% growth in spending for collaboration tools.
Engineers at audio-electronics manufacturer Phoenix Gold agree at least on the concept of collaboration, formal tools or not. Acoustics Engineer Bill Hasbrook and his engineering team used Autodesk Inventor (www.autodesk.com) to develop the company's new Titanium 12D Elite Speakers. To get feedback from others on the design, Hasbrook projected raw designs on a big screen in brainstorming meetings with the company's own marketing, manufacturing, and purchasing staff to get feedback. Then, he sent the files to tooling vendors for comment and action. Result: a 71% reduction in production time.
But, Mike Venegoni, engineering systems supervisor for Markandy, Inc., believes he needs something more than a projector and email for collaboration. He uses PTC's Pro/Collaborate software to enable design brainstorming. "We can see data before and after we change it in one location, and we have automatic change notification," he says.
Markandy (Chesterfield, MO) manufactures large printing presses. The designs are complicated, Venegoni says, and some of the design work is done by engineers off shore. "Previously, it was hard to control file-revision history," he says, "and doing it by email didn't work."
That control of file revisions is critical, but it's only part of the impact formal collaboration tools can have, says Scott Berkey, president and CEO of Proficiency Software, which develops Collaboration Gateway (http://www.proficiency.com/). "Collaboration is about fundamentally changing the way products are created—moving analysis further upstream into design, more tightly coupling design with manufacturing, and more closely integrating the collaborative efforts of OEMs and their suppliers—enabling significant time and cost reduction," he says.
Microsoft's Nielsen says his company recognizes that benefit. "We want to expand our usage," he says.