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August 1, 2001
6 Min Read
Cyberspace site opens the lines of communication for workcell design.
Contrary to the bleak picture of e-business painted recently by massive dot-com failures, certain areas of Web technology are in an expansion mode. Product development portals, the sites that host online design collaboration, are among them. According to Forrester Research (Cambridge, MA), these sites play into a trend toward continuous product development. In former times, this strategy has also been called simultaneous engineering, concurrent engineering, or more recently, collaborative product development.
A not-entirely unexpected growth area for this technologyâ€”the combination of software, data management, and services known as online collaborationâ€”is its adoption by those who design turnkey systems for making molded parts. In the process, suppliers who use these tools report breakthroughs in communications with OEM customer, molder, moldmaker, and resin supplier. And at the end of the day, the result is a better molded part produced more quickly and at less cost.
Demag Ergotech USA (Strongsville, OH) is one of the first such suppliers to stretch the envelope surrounding online design collaboration. In working with its medical device OEM customer to turnkey two identical workcells, Demag took advantage of an offering from Conferos. Called ProductSync, it is a CAD-neutral tool that allows all members of a geographically dispersed design team to connect in cyberspace both in real-time and on an asynchronous basis.
Seeing the Need
Michael Sansoucy, technical sales manager for Demag, began using ProductSync halfway through the workcell design project for which Demag was selected as a turnkey supplier. "We weren't able to make full use of virtual collaboration, because the service became available several months after we began the development process," he explains.
By the time Demag was able to connect all of the interested parties, Sansoucy had already seen a true need for the technology. "Four different locations participated in the workcell design process: Demag Germany, where the machine components are built; Demag USA in Ohio, where machines are assembled; a European moldmaker; and the medical OEM on the West Coast," he says. "Decisions had to be approved by all four participants, and the global nature of the project really hit home when it came to approving the mold design."
Here's what could have happened if Demag had been able to use ProductSync from the start, according to Sansoucy. The moldmaker posts a mold design on the website. Immediately, everyone on the project team is notified by e-mail that the design is there, including the OEM customer. The moldmaker requires a signed document before actually building the mold, so it includes an approval form on the project website that can be printed out and faxed. The OEM downloads the mold design, and then signs the approval form and faxes it back. This process would conceivably take 48 hours.
What actually happened points out the pitfalls of global design projects. The mold design was sent by express courier to Demag Germany, forwarded to Demag USA, and then forwarded to the OEM. The OEM then sent approval to the moldmaker, along with documentation copies to both Demag facilities. The entire process took one week, and nearly forced the project into delay. "We met the deadline with one day to spare, but if we had exceeded the time limit, the mold build would have been delayed," he adds. "If any of the three contacts had been out of the office, it could have caused a serious setback."
A walk through the process
1. Users dial in to the Web conferencing center that is part of the ProductSync package.
2. Team members are then taken to the project home page by the session leader to begin the meeting.
3. A search function helps to identify all documents that pertain to the project.
4. Each project also has a page that lists separate parts related to it, along with links to those parts.
5. During a Web conference, the host can specify what level of interaction each participant will have. For example, at a certain level, a participant can mark up product geometry and make changes that all team members view in real time.
6. Using a product data management system powered by PTC's Windchill, the system records information for each document created, including its title, status, creator, type, and number of revisions.
Many of the details of this project are proprietary. However, Sansoucy is able to speak about some of the criteria. "We are responsible for the machine, mold, chiller, material handling equipment, conveyors, and mold protection cameras. The mold is a multicavity, modular type using a hot runner system. We are also responsible for the cycle time and yields on each workcell. If we do not meet a specific goal, we pay a penalty."
Demag's OEM customer believes that turnkey systems will be more common in the future. "They have told us that they want a workcell that will guarantee a good part and a fast cycle, relying on our technical expertise," Sansoucy says. "Machine manufacturers are becoming project managers as requests for turnkey systems become the wave of the future."
The first point in the project when Demag used ProductSync was in January of this year, but without the moldmaker's involvement. Several months later, the moldmaker began to visit the site as well. What it brought to the project was instant access across several time zones. "We drastically cut our faxes, FedEx packages, and e-mails," he says, "while avoiding air travel altogether. And everyone received updates instantly."
Another main appeal of Web-based collaboration for Demag is its data security. While general e-mails can be intercepted by third parties, hosting services provided by vendors such as Conferos are based on secure transactions with password protection. "This guaranteed privacy is the key," he says. "Without it, we would not collaborate over the Web."
Sansoucy notes that there are other uses for this technology. "We are actually using ProductSync now to share sales presentations," says Sansoucy. "Our field reps can download them and also have access to updated reports. Normally, these are distributed by CD, but we had to wait for a certain amount of changes to make it worth the effort of burning a new set of CDs." As for e-mail, most presentation files are too big to send this way. So, he makes changes to the presentations quickly and distributes them seamlessly over a password-protected ProductSync site.
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