The Global Language

Dec. 8, 2005
3-D design technology unites far-flung process managers.

There's no doubt about it -- outsourcing is continuing full-throttle in the manufacturing sector. But AMR Research recently observed that as outsourcing becomes the norm, manufacturing will become a services industry. The urgency for organizations to speak the same language as their customers and suppliers is greater than ever. 3-D design technology provides the universal language that manufacturers, customers and suppliers can speak to each other.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. companies' foreign direct investment nearly doubled from 2003 to 2004 after several years of stagnant spending levels. In the automotive industry, GM will increase outsourcing to India tenfold by 2008.

Additionally, a Deloitte study shows nearly 40% of manufacturers surveyed intend to expand operations to Asia, which is in sharp contrast to investments in Europe. That said, manufacturing's growth in Eastern Europe is hardly slacking. I've read reports that automakers and suppliers have invested upwards of $24 billion into Eastern European plants since 1995.

Robert Kross, vice president, Autodesk's Manufacturing Solutions divisionBut I anticipate a rude awakening for anyone expecting a global supply chain to materialize with increased spending. For all the talk about the global supply chain, the reality is that clusters of links may connect a few locations, but they hardly circumnavigate the globe.

It is high time manufacturers seek a universal language -- one that can bridge gaps in location, culture and expertise while connecting manufacturers with customers and suppliers. If a 2-D picture is worth a thousand words, 3-D models are worth a thousand pictures. The parameters, functions, elements, geometry, materials and surfaces of a 3-D model make up a visual lexicon, syntax, vocabulary and expression that can communicate form and function without words.

Companies such as Parker Hannifin and Rockwell Automation are using 3-D design technology as a universal language to communicate better with suppliers and customers around the globe. The manufacturers' components are virtually cataloged in 3-D and can be dragged and dropped into 3-D models by customers who are designing new assemblies or modifying existing assemblies. Entire systems can be easily designed, refined, tested and even sold without producing a single physical prototype. Because 3-D can be interpreted by non-engineers, input and feedback becomes relevant, and engineering becomes a two-way street.

Autodesk Inc.
At A Glance
The National Institute of Standards and Technologies has estimated that inadequate supply-chain technology costs the automotive industry $5 billion annually. Electronic data interchange (EDI) comes in dozens of customer-specific formats -- a standard that's hardly a standard. It doesn't take complicated enterprise technology to circle the globe. Manufacturers can start today with 3-D product design. With the speed of the Internet, 3-D models can be zipped instantly across land and sea, using universal formats, such as DWG and DWF. By using 3-D as a universal language and exchanging data in universal and interoperable formats, manufacturers can overcome barriers of language, geography, borders and time.
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