There's no doubt that the general public is gaga over public
social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
Many are moving beyond the debate over whether these platforms have utility for
business and are showing real use cases with quantifiable benefits.
Yet rather than push such social networking sites onto their
engineering audience by integrating them with their core platforms, companies
like Siemens PLM Software
and others are talking up how to apply social networking concepts to existing
design tools to foster new ways of collaboration intended to streamline the
product development process.
In the latest example, Siemens PLM Software announced that
Teamcenter now supports the latest Microsoft SharePoint 2010 release to deliver
an array of social networking functionality to the PLM platform. Specifically, Teamcenter
Community and Teamcenter 8.0, built on top of SharePoint 2010, deliver
capabilities as wikis, blogs, directory capabilities and other collaborative
functions to enhance different aspects of the design process. Such
capabilities, for example, can help dispersed design teams orchestrate
engineering change orders more efficiently by delivering all the necessary
information-from task lists to 3-D CAD models-to a single shared workspace
accessible by all team members with functionality like instant messaging and
video chats available to facilitate the process. "There's lots of information
in a change package in Teamcenter, but sometimes it's not enough for someone to
be comfortable to sign off on a change," notes John Gearty, a technical
consultant for Siemens PLM Software. "With this, you're not holding up the
By exploiting new capabilities in the SharePoint 2010
release, Teamcenter Community can provide additional social product development
functionality. There is now an ability to sort people based on social distance,
meaning how they are connected in a collaborative networks, along with new ways
for searching through expert directories to seek out colleagues by skills or by
projects. There are also additional features for co-authoring content with
peers, useful for things like design reviews, and tagging capabilities much
like what's offered in mainstream social network platforms.
"We are talking about the use of social networking concepts
to enhance product development-we are not suggesting that anyone rely on
Facebook or Twitter to design the next-generation smart phone or corporate
jet," notes Bill Boswell, senior director, Teamcenter Marketing, at Siemens PLM
This kind of approach makes sense given that many engineers and manufacturers
have security concerns related to sharing critical product-related intellectual
property (IP) out on an open network.† An
Design News survey conducted earlier this year showed that most respondents
were cautious about using sites like Twitter or Facebook in their day-to-day
engineering and product development roles.
Nevertheless, Boswell is confident that social networking
concepts can enhance the product development process in a number of ways. Here
are a couple of scenarios he suggests:
Dynamic digital gathering spaces that mimic the
real-world conversations that have traditionally happened in hallways or break
rooms. Given that product team members are scattered across the globe, virtual
collaborative spaces dedicated to various product development initiatives can
enable team members to find everything related to a project in one place, from
shared documents to contact information and project timelines. The addition of
social networking concepts like profiles, wikis, blogs, status updates and
online meetings merely enhance the virtual world of collaboration and make
things happen quicker.
Shared applications or multi-user work. This
enables true application sharing where two or more users can simultaneously
access the same application or document-or CAD model-on their computers similar
to how people in different locations can play multi-user games over the
Internet. This type of social collaboration lends itself to virtual design
reviews, where shared visualization software, for example, would allow CAD
models regardless of format to be displayed on-screen as a virtual assembly for
viewing, exploding or annotating as team members sit in a teleconference.
Aerospace giant Northrop
Grumman is a Siemens PLM Software customer availing itself of many of these
social network concepts available with Teamcenter 8.0 and SharePoint 2010. The
company has rolled the capabilities to multiple internal sites as well as to partners
and customers, allowing them to share product-related information and materials
in a more effective manner, according to James Ayers, CAD/CAM leader and
community collaboration SIG leader. "We were fearful about adoption, getting
users to use the tool, but what we should have feared was [mass] adoption from
the viral wave of people requesting to get on the tool," he says. Moving
forward, Northrop Grumman plans to extend the social capabilities of Teamcenter
with instant messaging and presence management capabilities, among other
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