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Internet reshapes product data management

Internet reshapes product data management

One of the remarkable features of the Internet is that it doesn't matter what computer platform you're working on. Whether you use a Macintosh, UNIX workstation, PC, or whatever else, you can send electronic files to someone anywhere around the globe-and they will be able to see what you've sent. This has opened a new world of possibilities for design engineers-and a more productive world at that. As designs have become more complicated, for colleagues scattered geographically, and engineers more pressured to get products to market faster without sacrificing quality, the Internet is having a profound effect on product data management (PDM).

The Internet is allowing companies to get closer to both their customers and suppliers, resulting in products that are designed in a truly collaborative manner. Here, Design News asks three leaders in the PDM market how the Internet is affecting the way engineers manage product development projects, the Internet's impact on the role of the design engineer, and what their respective companies are doing to help engineers weave their way through the World Wide Web.

The push to more collaboration

Ron Schmitz, vice president of Metaphase marketing and product planning, SDRC.

There is a huge potential for the Internet to change the way engineers do their processes. One of the best ways is through the term "collaboration." Engineers can collaborate, and the result will be an optimized design. Collaboration means taking the product development team and helping individuals become more valuable members of that team. We see our customers including suppliers on those teams. The Internet and the technologies around it can help that happen. We're seeing a big push in product design through collaboration. The Internet is also becoming a mechanism for building knowledge bases. Engineers and their companies can ask, 'What products did we develop? Why? And how can that information be used in our next endeavor? 'The Internet collects that information. We can see that through product and solution templates, as the team supports the new design.

The Internet will really help firms break their in-cycle time. We've seen over the years that when companies used CAD they wanted to take 40% out of their cycle time. With the dynamics of the Internet and e-business technology like we provide, we have the potential to cut their next 40%. Companies are moving to market faster-they want that next cut.

We're hopefully providing a better environment for design engineers to do their jobs. The knowledge base that we discussed earlier will provide a big advantage; we're giving them more resources. Their jobs don't change so much, but because of the Internet they have better access to a broader team of people, better tools, and better resources to get their jobs done.

At SDRC, we're doing a number of things. We're making sure our products can be deployed on the Internet. In addition, we have a new e-business framework, which allows our customers to do transactions over the Internet. We're also using the Internet to conduct business with our customers. We want to make it easy for our customers to do business with us. We're providing capabilities to our customers that enhance the product development process through the Internet. We're also using those same technologies for our business.

From 'one to many' to 'one to any'

Rajiv Khoshoo, director of the iMAN Line of Business for Unigraphics Solutions Inc.

The Internet is heterogeneous; and its connectivity is as seamless as possible. That enables a huge number of possibilities. First it offers a reduced cost of connectivity and it allows us a paradigm change from 'one to many' to 'one to any.' This has significant implications. In the last decade, every company went into reducing their number of suppliers and parts. Engineers can have intelligent data mining applications to see who's doing what. The core competency parts, what the Internet allows us to do, are what I call "collaboration."

The real breakthrough comes when a product development partner is developing a product at the same time concurrently at different locations. The changes in one place are noticed immediately. To keep things in sync in three different locations, you have the issue of global systems, local rules. Based on collaboration, based on what work is going on in each site, there is a product data management system now that can give what's needed.

One of the big advantages of the Internet is the information, the specifications; it's so easy to do competitive benchmarking and find out what everyone is doing. The customer has also become extremely close to the developer.

I think the biggest benefit is better product innovation. The next benefit is the "right to market;" getting the right product to market very quickly. The biggest benefit that happens as a result of this is reusing the information. Designers already have good connectivity. A few years ago an engineer spent 80% of his time looking for old designs. Now, that is significantly reduced.

Engineering disciplines have generally bred specialists. We'll still need specialists, but you have the growth of generalists coming up. These are people who are savvy about this technology and know how to leverage knowledge and information created by others. The role of the design engineer is changing. With Internet savvy generalists, there is no excuse anymore at the end of a development cycle to say, "I didn't know that part existed."

Our company's main responsibility is our product. We are considered a leading supplier of these technologies, and more importantly, we just don't send a technology message, it is also a usage message. Our message also says, "Let us help you implement it so it is useful to you." For example, in the iMAN area, we have RAPIDiMAN, in which we help customers develop and install best practices. The whole implementation plan is very important to us.

The focus is external

Stacey Lawson, senior vice president of marketing, PTC, with responsibility for developing and implementing marketing strategies for the Windchill product line and e-commerce initiatives.

The most profound way that the Internet is affecting product data management is by allowing companies to be more externally focused. They are trying to get closer to their customers in product development and to get personalized variations of their products. The Web is allowing companies to drive product configuration into the product data management environment. On the supplier side of the supply chain, as products get more complex, more (60 to 80%) is being outsourced. The engineering team can share information with their external suppliers, and their combined knowledge brings more innovative products to market.

On the customer side, companies benefit because the Web gives them the ability to capture customer requirements early and increase customer loyalty. On the supplier side, the focus is on capturing the supply team. When you have multi-tiered supply teams, that chain captures innovation. The ability to truly collaborate, and have interactive exchanges, results in lower costs and innovative products.

I think the design engineer becomes more important in many ways as companies start to manage their products as assets. More people are contributing to procurement, and the heart of the asset is the engineering knowledge. As that product knowledge becomes more important, the engineering function becomes a more visible asset to executive management.

PTC has introduced a web-based environment called Windchill, which allows the enterprise to collaborate across the supply chain and engineering. We feel the marriage of our CAD tools with Windchill lets engineers step into the role I just mentioned earlier. They will be able to capture that knowledge and share it with the entire enterprise.

The PDM approach of the past has changed with the Web. It's no longer about trying to homogenize into one environment. Over the last 10 years, product development has been very diverse; many people are working with different companies with different technologies. You have to be able to link people working in heterogeneous environments. The future of PDM isn't one system; it's about being able to link into a lot of different systems and to be able to accommodate the diversity that exists. Windchill allows linking into these diverse systems. Its strength is a combination of technologies that let you link to the Windchill environment and into other data for all users. We felt we needed to link into multiple CAD environments, the Internet, and provide a full set of applications. Not just CAD, it can be an enterprise resource planning (ERP) environment or a legacy mainframe that happens to be a company's mainframe procurement system; whatever a company has as their legacy system.

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