24-hour product development
While scenarios for sharing design data may invoke grandiose thoughts of enhanced collaboration or disparate design center interactions, sometimes all a company really needs to do is make it easier for two engineers sitting in the same office to work together on a project.
Just ask Black Diamond Equipment , a Salt Lake City-based manufacturer of climbing and skiing equipment. Many of its products require input from both industrial designers and mechanical engineers, and up until a few years ago, the company used several different CAD systems to develop its products.
"Some would serve this purpose well and some would serve that purpose well," says Joshua Dees, VP of MIS for Black Diamond, referring to the CAD systems. "None of them served all of our purposes well. As you can imagine, it created nightmares [when] translating this file to that file."
As Dave Mellon, Black Diamond’s VP of products, explains, when you move files to different CAD systems, "you’re going to lose a lot of the history about a part and how it was built. Being able to contain all that and see the entire history—how someone built the part over the last eight to 10 hours—as you open it up is helpful."
From many to one
To retain its product design history, Black Diamond decided to make the switch to a more powerful CAD system that would support all of its engineering needs. It chose NX from Siemens PLM Software .
Describing NX as a unified solution, Paul Brown, senior director of NX product marketing, Siemens PLM Software, says its tools for styling, mechanical design, manufacturing, and analysis are available through a single system, "making it easier for [Black Diamond] to share data and get the data through the whole process."
Having successfully addressed its engineering collaboration problem, Black Diamond had other data-sharing capabilities it wanted to look at next. Along with engineers working on products at Black Diamond’s home office, the company has product and marketing managers working in other parts of Salt Lake City, as well as in Reinach, Switzerland, and Zhuhai, China.
Being able to effectively share data about products in all locations is critical to Black Diamond’s success.
In the past, the company used to store much of its product data—e.g., product concept records, product briefs, forecasts, and pricing information—in folders in Microsoft Windows file directories. But concerns about security and file versioning control—as well as the potential for misplaced or unintentionally deleted files—led Black Diamond to another Siemens product, called Teamcenter.
Teamcenter lets Black Diamond centralize its product data so users from all locations can access it. The benefit is a much greater level of versioning control and security than seen with the folder-based system.
Moreover, says Dees, the value of Teamcenter is it’s Web-based. "It’s a challenge to share Windows file systems around the globe," he says. "It’s a lot easier to share applications if you can go into the Web application and download files from the database server."
This is particularly important for a company that relies heavily on being able to design around the clock to bring products to market faster. With better design-data sharing, Black Diamond engineers in China and the U.S. can collaborate on, for example, a new line of ski boots, so that the company is in essence working 20 hours a day developing and delivering its products.
"Without the NX platform and without the ability to work around the clock, there’s no way we would have been able to pull off a launch of a product line like boots in the time period that we did," says Mellon.
While Black Diamond can speak to the value of Siemens products such as Teamcenter and NX, Siemens isn’t the only vendor offering data-sharing capabilities. Dassault Systemes, for example, offers several solutions. One of these is called 3DLive.
Unlike CAD viewers, which allow non-engineers to open CAD files without installing expensive CAD software on their computers, 3DLive offers "much more than a view-only look at the CAD model in of itself—it establishes a rich environment of information," says Brian Chambers, a business strategy director for Dassault.
"You can set up collaborative review sessions based on the 3DLive view of the product model and do interactive sessions remotely via the Web with other engineers—and with other functional organizations—to view and mark up the data, and move portions of the CAD model from one user environment to another," Chambers explains. "It can be quite interactive."
Interactivity is important because sharing design data and using it to collaborate often involves more than a one-way journey from the CAD system to members of the product development team or outside the organization to supply chain partners.
As Hardeep Gulati, VP of product strategy for Oracle PLM , points out, the movement of product data should be bidirectional.
Take the case of an engineer picking parts when designing a product. While it’s natural for the engineer to evaluate the technical attributes of a potential part, procurement concerns—such as pricing or availability—may not be considered if that information isn’t available to the engineer. And once the product is designed and sent to procurement, it can cause delays to learn at that point that a component is no longer available, or is too expensive.
"When designers are picking the CAD part, you want some of that supply chain data to be visible to them while they’re making selections," says Gulati.
With the Oracle Agile PLM solution set, Gulati adds, "[designers] have all this supply chain information available during the parts-selection process in the CAD tool. They can annotate some of those attributes and supply chain information right into the CAD tool."