Computer-aided design (CAD) solutions remain a crucial technology tool of design engineering teams at manufacturing organizations, and such teams have long used digital technologies to share and collaborate on CAD models among themselves. However, a need for wider collaboration around CAD has emerged in recent years, driven by trends such as globalization, decentralization of design teams, and expansion of the product design process across multiple supply chain partners.
"Collaboration has taken on a new meaning," said Diego Tamburini, who leads manufacturing industry strategy at San Rafael, Calif.-based software firm Autodesk. "It's not just about having design teams together on a teleconference reviewing a design online, said Tamburini, speaking with Design News. "It's now about orchestrating the work of multiple disciplines." Emerging are collaboration systems that are modeled on social media, allowing for participants to communicate in less structured formats across the product lifecycle.
Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO of SolidWorks, a subsidiary of French software firm Dassault Systemes, says better collaboration systems are needed -- solutions that can integrate engineered designs into the larger product value chain.
"Engineers can no longer just make a quality product that performs satisfactorily a given set of functions and expect it to be successful," Bassi told us. "Instead, they must engage with the global user community to see how the product is actually being utilized and perceived, and ensure that it delights the users. The era of linear processes is over, innovation happens globally and simultaneously, data and systems must be always up to date, and anything has to be shared instantly across the globe."
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Dassault is building such a collaboration system as part of its cloud-based SolidWorks Industrial Design (SWID) solution. The system is devised to bring together the design team, customers and suppliers in an open innovation process. It is the second SolidWorks application for Dassault's 3DEXPERIENCE platform.
Parrot, a Paris-based maker of drones and consumer electronics products, has used SWID for its geographically distributed engineering teams. Bassi said "Parrot's teams took advantage of the application's social collaboration capabilities, which allowed teams in France and China to seamlessly work together, a task that would have been more complicated and time-consuming without the collaboration technology." He stressed that computer-aided design today must take place within a broader strategic structure of customer-centered product development. While improvements in CAD products themselves might be relatively incremental, they are part of a larger design environment that is ripe for innovation. "One distinct area to improve innovation," Bassi told Design News, "is to learn about your customers so businesses can adapt and adjust the way they design and build products for every market. The innovation process should consist of the integration of market intelligence, content, community influence, internal knowledge, manufacturing insights, and supplier and customer insights."
Al Bredenberg is a writer, analyst, consultant, and communicator. He writes about technology, design, innovation, management, and sustainable business, and specializes in investigating and explaining complex topics. He holds a master's degree in organization and management from Antioch University New England. He has served as an editor for print and online content and currently serves as senior analyst at the Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations.