As if that werent enough of a challenge, what about having to develop the design and manufacturing plan among an outsourced team of nearly 200 dispersed suppliers and engineers that dont share a common IT network, let alone use the same CAD software?
That was the situation MooBella faced in trying to marry its portfolio of patents to a working machine design that would bring the companys frozen ice cream treats to the mass market, according to Jim Baxter, vice president of operations and quality for the Taunton, Mass., startup.
MooBella is a venture-capital-funded company that operates with nine employees, who in turn collaborate with an outside engineering group as well as with suppliers such as machine shops, injection molders and tooling companies to design, source and eventually build the MooBella Ice Cream System.
"Outsourcing is our model—we farm out everything were doing and MooBella serves as the contract house, the owner of the intellectual property," Baxter said. "Our issue is, How can we effectively collaborate with organizations outside of our own, whether theyre 10 miles away or 10,000 miles away?"
The solution for MooBella came not in the form of a pricey, complex corporate network, Baxter said, but rather with a simple CAD data-sharing tool called eDrawings, available online for free from SolidWorks.
MooBellas VAR partner, SolidVision, recommended the tool after evaluating the companys collaboration needs. SolidVision recognized the limitations of standard networks for keeping everyone current on the same design iteration, Baxter said, and was realistic about making technology demands on a technically disparate, and often budget-constrained supply base.
"When we began discussing the issue of collaboration in light of an extended organization and the problems it invoked, [SolidVision] brought eDrawings to our attention," Baxter said. "It was their recommendation that this would solve our networking issues."
Those networking issues became very apparent years ago, when MooBella entered its design phase for the ice cream machine in earnest around 2000, Baxter said. But MooBellas story began in the early 1990s—when founder Paul Kateman embarked on his mission to devise a new and more cost-effective way to produce high-quality ice cream.
Traditional batch processes for making ice cream are limited to producing one flavor at a time and also require a significant investment in refrigeration technologies, for both warehouses and in the distribution channels, Baxter said. Over the years, Kateman and the MooBella team built a portfolio of patents around flash freezing, aerating and mixing that would serve as a foundation for a machine design that would be capable of mixing and dispensing the ice cream.
"We are completely changing the way you make ice cream," Baxter said. "We make it in one serving at a time, which changes from flavor to flavor, and weve completely eliminated the need for minus 20-degree warehouse and distribution capabilities. Now ice cream can be made fresh for the consumer."
Yet turning those patents into a real operating piece of equipment is where the design challenge gets tricky, Baxter said. MooBellas outsourced model further complicates matters, he said, because an extended team needs to share CAD files and conduct iterative design sessions in a timely fashion.
Prior to eDrawings, those design sessions happened conventionally, with suppliers visiting the MooBella headquarters, or with Baxter hitting the road to check in with the extended team. The process was time-consuming from both a travel and resource standpoint, Baxter said.
eDrawings, in concert with the SolidWorks CAD platform, has eliminated that lag time and resolved many of the data-sharing and collaboration challenges, Baxter said. Today, Baxters internal team regularly exchanges two-dimensional drawings and three-dimensional CAD models and conducts design reviews without getting on a plane or spending a day on the road.
MooBella engineers simply call up an eDrawings view of a component and can review it and mark up changes with a design partner or supplier who is accessing the same file from across town or across the country, Baxter said.
Besides the enormous amount of time and money eDrawings saves in the design process, the tool also injects a level of accountability that wouldnt be possible by sharing files over a traditional VPN without making an additional investment in CAD vaulting or PDM (product data management) software, said Tim Sheehan, vice president of sales and marketing for SolidVision, a SolidWorks VAR located in Oxford, Mass.
"One of the biggest challenges with machine design is that you go through a series of design iterations, many of them failures, before you finally succeed in what youre looking for," Sheehan said. "You cant necessarily do that over a VPN because of the need for version control. It would require too much software for a VPN to do that."
In addition to making the recommendation for eDrawings, SolidVision has played a key role in training suppliers on the software (although Sheehan said the tool is fairly turnkey and requires minimal instruction) and helping the engineers with CAD-related issues.
With the collaboration and the work of the MooBella supplier base, the MooBella Ice Cream System is now in pilot testing at a number of venues, with initial machines slated to roll off the production line in July 2007 and nationwide expansion set from there.
The first systems are designed for food service environments such as hospital and university cafeterias, where there are personnel available to stock, service, and clean the machines. Baxter said future designs of the machine will address other types of venues such as grocery stores, stadiums, and airports, where there arent always people around to administer the systems.
Baxter said the future of the MooBella Ice Cream System hinges on the companys ability to deliver the machines to market in a timely fashion. Thats why the ability to collaborate more efficiently with suppliers is so critical, he added.
"Being venture-capital funded, time is of the essence," Baxter explained. "The sooner we get our components made and tested and prove out the machine to be totally functional, the sooner we stop development, get into manufacturing and start generating revenue."
Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer in Newbury, Mass. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Case File: MooBella, Taunton, Mass.
- Organizational snapshot: A nine-person company, building a vending-style machine to deliver up to 96 variations of ice cream
- Business need: An effective way to collaborate with nearly 200 suppliers, most of which didnt run the same CAD software
- Technology partner: ComputerVision, a SolidWorks VAR, worked with MooBella and its engineering partners
- Recommended solution: eDrawings, a free CAD viewing and markup tool offered by SolidWorks
- ROI: MooBella has been able to eliminate much of its paper-based engineering change order process and cut back on costly travel
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