This article discusses product data management PDM technology. This technology is a key to communicating with the suppliers and ensuring accurate design and manufacturing and allows designer and supplier to share documents and communicate back and forth. To meet the trend, a system that tracks design changes and allows engineer and designer to study them together becomes crucial. The vehicle maker wanted to standardize the way products are designed across both its truck and bus divisions. The technology is intended to help designers and engineers work more closely together, even if they are working in separate locations on unrelated parts of a truck or bus, and to keep track of changes in the highly customized part models. As a method of doing business changes, so does the technology needed to do that business. Although the answer is not in yet on PDM’s role in a changing marketplace, answers about how it fits into new supplier–customer business models are expected over the next few years.
Many companies, small and large, are implementing PDM, or, to use a similar term, product lifecycle management, technologies and expecting great things: faster time to market, closer collaboration, better-quality products, and an improvement in productivity. That is the view of Daratech, a market research and technology assessment firm in Cambridge, Mass., that specializes in making projections about the computer-aided engineering market.
"PLM is being trumpeted against a backdrop of relentless supplier consolidation, realignments, and changes in business practices," according to Daratech's president, Charles Foundyller. Changes in the workplace and the way business is done dictate the use of the new collaborative technology. And today, everyone talks about quicker time to market: Products go from design to manufacturing in a much shorter time than in the past. That means supplier and customer must be in continuous contact. But, with both the business climate and technology changing so fast, the jury is still out on whether the PDM systems can deliver.
For his part, Ed Parnagian, development engineer at a Philips Medical manufacturing site in Andover, Mass., said that the system his department recently purchased has helped keep the schedule on track and saved money, as promised.
With the recent implementation of collaborative PDM software that allows engineer and supplier to work together on designs in real time, engineers at the Andover office have saved money both in travel costs and in mistakes caught before they could get farther along in the design cycle. The company-whose parent, Philips Medical Systems of Best, the Netherlands, has offices in 100 countries-makes medical monitoring equipment: everything from a diagnostic ultrasound system to defibrillators used in emergency rooms. The devices must be tough to hold up in an environment where doctors, nurses, and paramedics don't exactly make it a top priority to treat their equipment with kid gloves, Parnagian said.
Designing For Robustness
Because of time and cost pressures in producing finely calibrated medical equipment, Parnagian's group works with suppliers around the world. A key to communicating with the suppliers and ensuring accurate design and manufacturing is the PDM technology that allows designer and supplier to share documents and communicate back and forth, Parnagian said. For this, his department last fall implemented a product called OneSpace Collaboration from CoCreate Software Inc. of Fort Colhns, Colo. The department had already been using CoCreate's OneSpace Designer for computer-aided design.
A medical device consists of a number of different components-made by suppliers around the world-that must work together perfectly when finally assembled. The collaboration system lets designers work together to ensure accuracy, even before parts are produced, Parnagian said.
"You've got the electronics, the software that controls the electronics, and the less-glamorous mechanical packaging that pulls everything together and keeps it protected from the medical environment, which is one of the nastiest environments short of under the-hood or military," Parnagian said. "The medical community looks at medical equipment as tools . Clinicians are there to save lives, so they don't worry about how they're handling the equipment. It has to work, no matter how hard they are on it.
"If a piece of equipment falls off the stretcher, as long as it doesn't injure the patient, the doctor or nurse doesn't care; they just expect it to continue working," he added. "It's sort of like a combat situation. All it lacks is the mud. And you get into the mud when you get into the prehospital, or EMT, market."
Because they have to take such abuse, the equipment must be designed for what Parnagian called robustness. For instance, one Philips Medical supplier manufactures the connector block, which accepts the electrical connections that monitor the patient. When the doctor or nurse puts an inflatable cuff on your arm to take your blood pressure, he or she plugs the end of the line into the connector block. If the medical equipment falls off the side of the stretcher while a patient is being raced to the emergency room, the connectors in the box can break off, Parnagian said.
"If they knock it off, they have about 15 pounds of electronics behind it, with the box, and a thumb sticking out of the side with cables. If it lands on that thumb, it's going to break the connector that's plugged into it," he said.
For that reason, the device comes with an insert that quickly replaces the broken connector without the doctor or nurse needing to make changes to the rest of the medical machine.
Tracking Off-Site Design
Amphenol-Tuchel Electronics GmbH in Heilbronn, Germany, designs the inserts that fit into the connector block. Parnagian described the process of working with the supplier to come up with an accurate design that appears to strike a bargain for both Amphenol-Tuchel and Philips Medical.
"A fellow in Germany might look at our designs and say, 'There's a problem.' So I want to be able to look at the same digital image he's looking at to see where he's pointing on the part," Parnagian said.
This is where the PDM software is extremely useful. Customer and vendor can upload designs and view them together, via the software, in real time, which saves design time, according to Parnagian.
"Even if I were to upload the files onto a lap top equipped with my CAD software and fly to Germany to sit with the engineer there for three days, much of that time would be spent waiting for him to do something or me to do something, and that's one trip," Parnagian said. "The beauty of collaboration tools is that we're both looking at the same digital image. I can see what he's pointing at, and he can see what I'm pointing at. And there's no time or travel expenses lost."
With the collaboration system, Parnagian and his team can modify a part by making a design change in real time, while engineers at both Philips Medical and Amphenol-Tuchel are looking at the CAD image. The engineers then save their files to their hard drives or e-mail them to another person in the supply chain for viewing. The system allows designers to work on a design together, even if customer and vendor are using two different CAD systems.
The Philips Medical system resides on a CoCreate-hosted server, which means the medical equipment manufacturer didn't have to implement the software on-site. Engineers at Philips Medical tap into the CoCreate server, where the OneSpace technology resides, said Irv Christy, director of communications at CoCreate. This type of arrangement called an application service provider, or ASP, model-is useful for small companies without information technology departments to implement new software. It's also popular with larger companies that want to try it out before committing to bringing the technology on-site.
In recent years, more engineering companies have been having a larger portion of their parts designed by a supplier, according to Christy. He said one Co Create customer that makes water purifiers, for instance, has moved over the past two years from designing 80 percent of its products in-house to outsourcing 80 percent of design. Engineers at the company set the specifications for the parts and products that need to be designed, and then shop for suppliers that can meet them.
"So engineers become project managers," Christy said. "We saw 10 years ago that people were outsourcing manufacturing and now they're outsourcing design."
To meet the trend, a system that tracks design changes and allows engineer and designer to study them together becomes crucial, according to Parnagian.
Although the technology is available over the Web and the supplier doesn't need special software, it still can mean headaches for Philips Medical. For instance, a Philips Medical vendor, a die cast supplier, chooses not to use the OneSpace System.
"The person I was dealing with couldn't see what I was pointing at," he said. "I had to edit the model and then send it with a note to say what I was talking about, and it was cumbersome. I wanted to roll the part around in real time and take it from one side of the part to the other side and rotate the image around. When you're talking about solid modeling, you do a lot of manipulating of the image."
Designers at another Philips Medical supplier have to get permission from higher-ups to access the collaborative Web site to download files found there. This can be time-consuming, Parnagian said. Sometimes, to avoid the Web access issues, Philips Medical engineers will copy the view of a solid model they want the supplier to see, compress the view with a note that explains what the designer should look at, and send it to the supplier via e-mail. But looking at a part design together in real time always beats that method, Parnagian said.
He figures the technology helps pay for itself by saving travel expenses. Since using the technology, the company was able to eliminate a trip to Germany by one engineer, he determined, saving about $3,000.
And with the technology, engineers can do without a January trip to another supplier, this one in Minnesota, he added.
"The other place for savings was in finding problems, communicating about them, and coming to an agreement on a solution rather than asking a question about the problem and waiting a day-because we're six time zones apart-to get a response back," Parnagian said. "Just think about how many questions and issues can get brought up in a meeting and how much information goes back and forth before you solve a problem to everyone's satisfaction."
He figures a one-hour meeting held via the collaborative technology is equivalent to a week's worth of e-mails between engineers separated by six time zones.
There's another benefit, too. The software allows more engineers to sit in on design meetings, and the more people who look at a design, the greater the chance a mistake will be caught early in the design process, Parnagian said.
Once, the supplier in Germany interpreted a design incorrectly. The mistake was caught by a procurement engineer in Massachusetts who was sitting in on a discussion via a collaborative session but who probably wouldn't have been flown to Germany for a meeting with Parnagian's department.
"You can get people involved whom you might not be able to justify travel for otherwise," Parnagian said. "And that uncorrected mistake, what might it have cost?"
He thinks the catch saved at least two weeks in a connector's design cycle, which meant it saved a lot of money.
Pulling Employees Together
Of course, PDM is used in many markets. For instance, the truckmaker Man Nutzfahrzeuge in Munich, Germany, plans to standardize all product development for its trucks on one product life cycle management system Man Nutzfahrzeuge is implementing the PLM system Enovia, from IBM of Armonk, N .Y., and partner Dassault Systemes of Paris.
The vehicle maker wanted to standardize the way products are designed across both its truck and bus divisions, said Johannes Mittelhammer, director of technical IT at the company.
The technology is intended to help designers and engineers work more closely together, even if they're working in separate locations on unrelated parts of a truck or bus, and to keep track of changes in the highly customized part models.
As a method of doing business changes, so does the technology needed to do that business, according to Daratech. And although the answer isn't in yet on PDM's role in a changing marketplace, answers about how it fits into new supplier-customer business models are expected over the next few years.