Canadian Plastics

Virtual Collaboration

The concept of collaborative product design is the organizing force emerging from the struggle to bring geographically dispersed and organizationally diverse suppliers together in a fast, effective pr...

October 1, 2000   By Cindy Macdonald, associate editor



The concept of collaborative product design is the organizing force emerging from the struggle to bring geographically dispersed and organizationally diverse suppliers together in a fast, effective product design process.

“Design, develop, build and service. These steps used to all take place within the four walls of an OEM,” explains Robin Saitz. “Now, the numbers we hear from analysts suggest that 40 to 80 percent of design functions are outsourced. The challenge arises from differing business systems and the manufacturer’s desire to pursue innovation which may prompt them to switch suppliers.”

Saitz is director of strategic marketing for Windchill Netmarkets, a business unit of Parametric Technologies Corp. The unit was formed earlier this year to bring PTC’s Windchill collaborative product design solution to both private and public Internet marketplaces.

PTC is not the only company addressing this niche. CoCreate Software has a collaborative design solution called OneSpace that allows real-time viewing and editing of CAD files by mulitiple participants.

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These products give all the parties in a design chain the tools to see and manipulate the same CAD file, in real-time, without all being in the same room. Don’t mistake them for a CAD file translator. What they really permit is an efficient exchange of ideas. The best part is, thanks to Internet communication tools, processors and moldmakers generally won’t require expensive software to participate in collaborative product design.

FULL-FUNCTION VERSION SCALED

DOWN FOR INTERNET

At the high end of the functionality scale, PTC’s Windchill offers over 35 modules for all aspects of product development, from conception to after-sales service, with a strong foundation in product data management (PDM). Windchill is an enterprise solution aimed at large, global OEMs. DuPont and Royal Appliances are among its users. As a supplier to a Windchill user, you would require a scaled-down Windchill client package to participate in collaborative design sessions.

The barriers to entry for online meetings have fallen even lower now that Windchill is exploiting the Internet medium. The Windchill Netmarkets framework, designed for Internet exchanges, allows companies to work closely with suppliers in a secure environment without letting suppliers through their firewall into the enterprise’s business system.

PTC recently announced a partnership with WebEx Communications Inc. that Saitz says “takes our capabilities one step further. Users can now share a CAD model.” WebEx’s Meeting Centre services will be part of PTC’s Windchill and Windchill Netmarkets products, and will allow users to share applications, presentations and documents.

“Because WebEx allows participants to share applications, users will be able to retreive a CAD model, make changes to it, and even turn control over to other participants,” explains Saitz.

SUPPLIERS AND DESIGNERS MEET

BuyPlastics.com has chosen Windchill Netmarkets as the technology framework for its site, which will be a B2B design collaboration marketplace for the plastics industry, expected to be operational this month. As BuyPlastics.com envisions the market, the host of a project purchases the site’s services to allow all project members the space and tools for collaborative design. Thus, cost to participants would be nominal.

“BuyPlastics.com is a virtual forum for OEM designers and their engineering staff to meet with their suppliers,” explains Ed Rivera, chief operating officer of BuyPlastics.com.

“The whole notion of collaboration has been around for a long time. But it’s the ubiquity, affordability and efficiency of the Internet that’s creating new opportunities now.”

At BuyPlastics.com, web-based design collaboration, process and project management, document storage, information management, and visualization of any CAD file are combined to allow companies to bring products to market more quickly.

“We expect an OEM designer will initiate a project, and invite suppliers to participate or bid. Suppliers can be invited by e-mail, they then register and upload to the project environment. As the project matures, it can be terminated and the information is dispersed,” explains Saitz.

Injection molding machinery manufacturer Ferromatik Milacron has joined the BuyPlastics.com web site to give OEMs access to its processing technology early in the design cycle.

“We were immediately interested in the BuyPlastics.com concept when we heard of it,” says Hermann Plank, managing director for Ferromatik Milacron Europe, USA Sales and Service.

“Extending our technology to OEMs, especially early in the product design stage, can only benefit both us and the plastics designer.”

FIX PROBLEMS ONLINE, REAL-TIME

Another collaboration tool, CoCreate’s OneSpace software, has the unique ability to make changes to the CAD model in real-time, within the shared, virtual conference environment. If one participant moves or changes the model, all participants see that change immediately, real-time. “The ability to manipulate a model real-time is very data-intensive, so we have some proprietary technology to do that,” says Don Boxley, product marketing manager for OneSpace.

“In our virtual conference environment, you not only detect issues, you get to solve the issue.”

Some market observers have called OneSpace’s ability to modify a CAD model online “co-modeling”. OneSpace says it is the only supplier of such a solution that can be employed irrespective of the particular CAD or PDM environment in use.

OneSpace uses its own modeling kernel based on dynamic modeling technology so that participants can make changes to the model without being concerned about parameter constraints of the original system. The modified geometry can be saved in any OneSpace-supported CAD format. In addition, the collaboration session notes can also be saved.

“The majority of our sales have been in the electronics, telecommunications and automotive markets,” says Boxley. “The product is most useful for companies that have a complex supply chain and fast product life cycles.”

Like Windchill, it is possible to participate in OneSpace sessions with only the client software, which sells for about $895 U.S. CPL


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