By Fielder Hiss
Director of Product
Dassault Systèmes
SolidWorks Corp.
Concord, MA

Global competition is an oft-cited reason for any number of ills in manufacturing, from job loss to price erosion. Viewed through another prism by savvy companies, however, globalization is something else altogether — specifically, a competitive advantage.

Fielder Hiss

While globalization can drive down prices, it also gives companies in high-cost regions a way to exploit their advantages in design skill and experience. Globalization creates new product development models based on collaboration between geographically separated teams, data reuse, and greater levels of partnering. By consolidating vast pools of talent, these development models yield innovative products that blunt low-cost producers’ price advantages and make global competition more equitable.

The foundation of these development models is data sharing. Design teams must be able to share design information regardless of their geographic location or the type of data they generate. That maximizes efficiencies and avoids confusion as design teams in different countries speaking different languages contribute to common projects. Product data management (PDM) software systems create the secure, accessible design data environments that facilitate global cooperation. A variety of other special tools can also promote collaboration, either with or without a centralized PDM system. Regardless of whether it’s built from a PDM system or a combination of other tools, this data sharing framework is where collaborative product development occurs.

Once the data sharing environment is established, the next step is to establish its common language. Providing a visual representation of product designs in a convenient, flexible manner helps overcome language barriers and incompatible data formats. This is especially important for companies that partner with outside design firms in different geographies. A new generation of easy-to-use communications tools can deliver complete 2D drawings and 3D models with multiple view, geometry rotation, and redline markup capabilities, in a compact, self-executing e-mail file attachment. They are an ideal vehicle for communicating design information to teams that speak different languages.

Dauphin North America, the American arm of one of the world’s leading office furniture manufacturers, is among the companies using globalization as a competitive advantage. The American operation modifies, adapts, and reconfigures furniture designs developed at the company’s headquarters in Germany for use in the U.S. market. The company uses its SolidWorks 3D CAD software to open, modify, and reuse designs that were originally created in Mechanical Desktop® and AutoCAD® software. The company can then use design configurations to create an entire family of product configurations from the original design. “Most of the lounge pieces we develop are single-, double-, and triple-seated sofas,” Product Designer Jake Hawkes said. “Using configurations, I can design one seat and extrapolate that design to create the others.”

The design phase is only half of the development process, however. Global teamwork increasingly demands interaction between design engineers and overseas manufacturing partners. Software developers have produced a variety of tools that automate the hand-off between design and manufacturing. These tools factor into the overall data sharing and collaboration environment. For instance, tools are available to ensure that drawings adhere to pre-set standards, that machined parts can be manufactured efficiently, that the dimensions and tolerances of parts meet industry and company standards, and other important processes. These tools eliminate the potential for confusion between global design and manufacturing partners by interrogating the manufacturability of a design and including as much manufacturing information as possible, both of which serve to minimize production issues.

The increasingly competitive nature of the global marketplace presents manufacturers with a slew of seemingly insurmountable design challenges. However, by using design collaboration, reuse, and publishing technologies to work more efficiently and effectively with strategic partners around the world, product development organizations can turn what appears on the surface as a competitive threat into a real competitive advantage.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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