Tools improve collaboration, but people make it work

  • 09-Dec-2009 03:10 EST

When manufacturing engineers are setting up production lines, Autodesk software assures them that they’re working with up-to-date files.

Though corporate executives have talked about eliminating the “throw it over the wall” mentality for decades, it’s still common in many companies. Development tools make it easier for design and manufacturing teams to share data, but adopting them still requires a strong push from management.

Better quality, lower costs, and shortened time frames are possible if design and manufacturing teams work concurrently. Most companies find they must mandate initial adoption of such collaboration and describe every success so participants will support the concept.

“A couple years ago, involvement between design engineers and manufacturing was not a wholehearted effort. Now it’s taken very seriously,” said David Vranson, Advanced Manufacturing Engineer at ITT Aerospace Controls.

The number of ways that design and manufacturing teams share data varies widely. It’s becoming easier to hold virtual meetings, but many companies feel that the benefits of gathering participants together in one room provide the best results.

“We started holding design-for-manufacturing-and-assembly events about four years ago,” said William Little, Manufacturing Engineer for B/E Aerospace. “We manually assigned values to nuts, bolts, and other parts and examined manufacturing at structured events that took about three days. Now we use Boothroyd Dewhurst software to quantify parts and put tangible values on them, letting us do everything in one day instead of three.”

Tool providers are striving to make it easier for companies to do more collaboration without taking the time to gather in one location. Design software is maturing rapidly, providing more ways to ensure that design and manufacturing personnel, working in different locations and sharing data, are working with up-to-date information.

“We recently revamped our vault to increase the ability to collaborate, understanding that people have different roles and permissions,” said Ed Martin, Senior Transportation Industry Manager at Autodesk. “When people are sharing designs and making changes, we ensure that they’re looking at the latest version of the software.”

Tool providers are also letting globalized companies move files around the globe around the clock. Web-based tools are making it simpler for teams located around the globe to hold virtual meetings.

“ProjectLink provides a collaborative space; before design engineers lock in any changes, they can get input from other people,” said Ric Prince, Director of Aerospace and Defense Product Strategy for PTC. “The partners can share data, evaluating and analyzing designs—marking them up to make suggestions.”

As outsourcing in both design and manufacturing becomes more common, companies are becoming more concerned about security issues. Companies want to keep some proprietary data from contractors who might also work with their competitors, and they certainly want to ensure that information moving across the Web can’t be tapped by hackers.

“There must be a secure way to share data outside the corporate firewall,” Martin said. “One thing that’s very important is when you put files up on an FTP site with password control, you need to monitor who sees what, limiting access to some folders.”

Though there’s plenty of software that addresses ways to improve communication, observers note that technology is not the most critical part of an attempt to design for manufacturability. Getting buy-in from executives and staff is necessary to achieve the best results.

“The idea of cross-functional teams has been around for years, but a lot of companies are still not doing concurrent engineering,” said Nick Dewhurst, Executive Vice President of Boothroyd Dewhurst. “The biggest challenge we face is cultural, not technical.”

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