How They Do It

Dec. 21, 2004
Collaboration, integration require investment in several systems.

Peeking into the future of new-product development, we see a highly collaborative, virtual environment designed to speed time to market, increase innovation, improve quality and reduce overall development costs. While business investment over the last few years has favored production, enterprise and customer applications, manufacturers are now investing in tools to support product development. A look at the systems and strategies leading-edge companies are rolling out can benefit any company looking to differentiate itself in the future via new product innovation. Though development systems are highly specialized to specific products, a core of major components likely will be present for all, supporting real-time collaboration of a fully integrated cross-functional product creation team within a supply chain:

  • A 3-D solid modeling computer aided design (CAD) system for virtual product creation. These systems are evolving to the point where a designer can enter part performance objectives and initial designs are created automatically. Computer-aided engineering analysis, dynamic-motion simulation and factory-floor simulation tools also will add functionality and support collaboration between product-development functions such as design and engineering, and with production. Critical to this success is a single data set for geometry and business information such as bill of materials that all participants operate from either regionally or globally. This will provide an "enter once, use many," environment free of errors and wastes of translation and re-entering of data. It is the mother lode of information for collaboration internally and with supply-chain members.
  • A product data management system (PDM) providing access to all team members, including those in the supply chain, to the single, universal data set and supporting information. Data-change alerts will travel through the system immediately, while the gigantic files required to represent part geometries and assemblies will likely be updated once a day for version control.
  • A design collaboration tool that allows geographically distributed teams, including supply-chain members, to jointly view and participate in joint design sessions on the same 3-D model in a Web-based virtual space. With this software, solid model files are compressed to about one-tenth the size, allowing them to move about at Internet speed. These systems are seen as a real boon to collaborative product development across a supply chain and also among functions. For instance, tooling providers can participate in joint virtual sessions through design iterations to ensure product configurations are optimized from a die, tooling and fixture standpoint. Some companies also are exploring virtual-reality environments for joint design visualization.
  • A supplier-management system connecting the product-development function with procurement and supply-chain management to organize new-component quality and supplier readiness to manufacture. Vendor selection for these tools is less critical than system integration, according to Lockheed Martin Corp., which is leading development and production of the next line of defense for the United States and its allies-the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jet. The project involves Baltimore-based Northrop Grumman Corp., Britain's BAE Systems PLC and more than 80 subcontractors. "It's hard to say that you get competitive advantage by picking one or the other of the various tools," says Larry Mestad, senior manager, JSF airframe systems engineering and integration team, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas. For this phase of the project, Lockheed Martin chose to integrate a multi-vendor, best-of-breed combination of tools from Dassault Systemes SA, Suresnes, France and EDS PLM Solutions, EDS Corp., Milford, Ohio. "The way that tools are put together and interact with each other, that is the unique feature and where competitive advantage will be gained or lost," says Mestad. You want a fully integrated team with all disciplines working together supported by a common set of tools and data that allow real-time sharing of data and product information at all sites."
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