A general push to shrink the time it takes to get a product to market is being slowed by the difficulty most manufacturers have in electronically sharing design data with suppliers.
Newport News Shipbuilding Corp. orchestrates the design, building and repair of U.S. Navy ships by trading stacks of paper in person, faxing specifications and corresponding via e-mail with its subcontractors. Ideally, the company would send that data electronically, said Stephen Hassell, CIO at NNS.
"For us, the Holy Grail is when we can truly collaborate with engineering information," said Hassell, in Newport News, Va. "[But] the technology is not at a point where you can seamlessly share that data online."
Currently, NNS sends and receives basic engineering specifications electronically, but to share more complex dimensional data, NNS and its suppliers would have to have the same make of CAD software—and it may have to be the same version in the same configuration.
"You would have to sync up once and then do upgrades in lock step," Hassell said. "A lot of the components we buy are heavily engineered. Its not a shop online, point-and-click experience."
Parametric Technology Corp. and Structural Dynamic Research Corp., which make product data management software that enables some sharing of design information among manufacturers, are broadening their footprint with deeper-reaching collaborative offerings.
PTC plans to enhance the Web-based business-to-business, collaborative applications in its Windchill design automation suite. "People are looking for CAD tools to be inclusive—to reach out and grab a part from a supplier [and incorporate it into a design] ... thats the whole way that PTC is going," said Jim Heppelmann, executive vice president of Windchill Solutions. The Needham, Mass., company expects to announce collaborative CAD tools within the next month.
Meanwhile, SDRC earlier this month announced a new collaborative product management suite called TeamCenter as well as a relationship with supplier-enablement software provider i2 Technologies Inc.
TeamCenter gives customers the ability to collaborate on the planning, development and support of products.
The Web-based suite has five applications that enable the creation of an electronic workspace that lets manufacturers and suppliers build, capture and share product requirements. In addition, the applications also allow users to draw product information from dissimilar application systems and integrate that data into seamless views.
SDRC and i2 agreed to co-market their products as a collaborative product management solution.
The two companies also will build integration interfaces between SDRCs TeamCenter and Metaphase data management products and i2s TradeMatrix OCN (Open Commerce Network) so users can move data among products, said officials at SDRC, of Milford, Ohio.
TradeMatrix OCN extends i2 solutions to enable access to real-time information from trading partners and online marketplaces.
SDRC, which is being acquired by Electronic Data Systems Corp., and Dallas-based i2 have begun working together to develop the integration interfaces, with the first products expected in late summer.
Disk drive maker Seagate Technology Inc., which uses SDRCs Ideas CAD tool and Metaphase Express product data management suite, plans to implement various applications from the TeamCenter suite.
"Pieces of [collaboration] have been done before, but they havent been put together in a product suite before," said Pete Diepersloot, senior engineering director at Seagate, in Scotts Valley, Calif.
Cargo Lifter AG, a logistics service provider in Brand, Germany, is using PTCs Windchill to tie together requirements management, project management and CAD tools to enable engineers to collaborate at will within the enterprise.
The goal for Gregory Opas, head of engineering support at Cargo Lifter, is to enable outside parties to input their own data into the companys applications.
"If we give our suppliers access to that, its a big step forward," Opas said. "Were going to further increase that collaboration, so not only is the supplier able to read information through a Web browser, [but it is also able] to post data governed by a workflow."
Despite his satisfaction with Windchill, Opas said some suppliers still have concerns about security when sharing data with outside parties. And, like Hassell, he worries that Cargo Lifter cant get all of its users on the same CAD tools. "We found that 50 percent use a mix of tools," Opas said. "For geometry, its not so much time and money; the problem you introduce [with conversion] is errors."
Seagates Diepersloot said he is cautious about which TeamCenter applications he will deploy first.
"[SDRC] talked about project collaboration—its like Microsoft [Corp.s] Project, except this kind of project collaboration does that kind of stuff on an enterprise level," Diepersloot said. "Its exciting, but it requires that you get your culture ready for it. Even though the software is ready, you cant deploy it one, two, three. It takes some time to get your culture ready for a thing like that. Its a mind-set change and a change in how they do business.
"Ultimately, its all about time to market," he said. "If we can gain a day, then were well ahead."