Collaboration: An Important Technology For Manufacturing

Collaboration is an extension of CAD/CAM, leverages the ubiquity of the Internet and allows members of a supply chain to work together to design, build, market and deploy products and services. It enhances supply chain visibility; accelerates business velocity; creates barriers to entry; and enables new business models.

Columns From: 12/2/2003 Modern Machine Shop,

Collaboration is an extension of CAD/CAM, leverages the ubiquity of the Internet and allows members of a supply chain to work together to design, build, market and deploy products and services. It enhances supply chain visibility; accelerates business velocity; creates barriers to entry; and enables new business models. It doesn’t discriminate against location, system platform or supply chain activity. The idea is to unleash information and achieve unprecedented levels of supply chain integration. This enables all supply chain members to use the same information to plan and develop businesses.

In the past, most engineering and production was done at one location. Today, companies often have operations distributed around the world, and production facilities and designers are often in different locations. Increased use of outsourcing and supply chains further complicates the issue. In 1998, companies farmed out 15 percent of manufacturing, while in 2000, they outsourced more than 40 percent, and the percentage continues to increase. As a result, new ways to share information must be employed.

The globalization of manufacturing means that companies should be able to design anywhere, build anywhere and maintain anywhere at any time. Collaboration is critical to ongoing success in extended enterprises.

Collaborative technologies improve the visualization and communication of the information needed to support the product definition life-cycle by providing an environment within which team members can work with product and process information in an online, shared session. Often, these technologies combine tools such as e-mail, view and markup, and digital mockup with conferencing techniques to create shared working sessions. People can view and evaluate product information simultaneously, sharing ideas and solutions.

Collaboration tools use Web technology and the Internet to allow people in different facilities to interact, resolve problems, reach consensus and otherwise work together online. This is quicker and more effective than phone conversations, faxes or mail, and it is more economical and efficient than getting together for a face-to-face meeting.

Manufacturing engineers can also employ collaborative tools during planning to help improve production processes, plant designs and tooling, and to allow earlier impact on product designs. Collaboration can be used for reviewing designs and change orders with the design team; interfacing with tooling designers; verifying tooling assembly and operation; reviewing manufacturing process plans and factory layouts; discussing manufacturing problems with suppliers; and coordinating tooling among dispersed sites.

In larger companies, collaboration is becoming increasingly important in design and manufacturing. Everyone knows something, but no one knows everything. There is an evolution from individuals working independently to functioning in workgroups, as well as enterprise collaboration and collaboration throughout a supply chain. Within a supply chain, sharing knowledge is becoming paramount.

In a 2002 CIMdata survey of more than 180 companies done in conjunction with an investment banking firm, 79 percent of respondents reported that they support collaboration practices, and 84 percent stated that they are planning to begin new collaboration projects within the next 12 months. Moreover, 70 percent of the respondents expected to maintain or increase funding levels for collaboration solutions in 2002 versus 2001. According to the survey, the top justifications for investing in collaboration projects are to:

  • Shorten the design process.
  • Achieve faster time to market.
  • Reduce design and manufacturing errors.
  • Improve communication with suppliers.
  • IBM/Dassault Systems, EDS, PTC, Matrix One and SAP were the vendors most often selected to provide collaboration solutions. More than 48 percent of respondents said that current programs had met or exceeded their expectations, with only 13 percent reporting that programs had returned lower than expected results.
  • However, there are barriers to collaboration. They can be defined in terms of four types of friction.
  • Cultural friction: individuals or companies are reluctant to share information.
  • Technology friction: companies have a difficult time sharing information because of disparate systems and technologies.
  • Organizational friction: firms must re-orient their work culture to be more flexible and cooperative.
  • Business friction: the business process that has been created to provide market differentiation makes it difficult to collaborate.

With careful planning and effort, most of these barriers can be overcome or minimized, and benefits can be achieved.

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