Getting Design Collaboration Right

When it comes to perfecting product development, it’s usually the fundamentals that are often the single hardest thing for engineering organizations to get right.

Take the simple act of collaboration, for example. It’s a challenge today because the engineering landscape has changed so dramatically. It’s not enough for engineers to get in a room and bat around ideas or look over someone’s shoulder to hammer out a thorny design challenge. Today, the ideating and the problem solving involves cross-disciplinary teams, scattered across the globe in different time zones, with customers, suppliers and other partners wading in with feedback.

Introduced in PTC Creo 3.0, Unite technology supports collaboration by providing a way to work with models from multiple CAD systems within PTC Creo.

Failure to succeed at the art of collaboration comes with many risks. For one thing, designing and building products in silos opens the door to more errors and makes it far more difficult to gain consensus, impeding engineers’ ability to make decisions and turn on a dime. Without proper collaboration, there’s less visibility into the design process. There’s a higher likelihood of repetitive tasks, and there is close to zero opportunity for reuse and knowledge sharing. The consequences are enormous: We’re talking about lower quality product designs, a higher chance of project delays and blown budgets, and the possibility of missing critical customer requirements—all of which are deadly to a product’s ultimate success.

Yet while effective collaboration may be difficult, it should actually be far easier today thanks to the bounty of tools available that focus on solving this specific engineering problem. By investing in the right products and by adhering to a core set of best practices, engineering organizations can foster the kind of collaboration that’s essential to support today’s complex designs.

That said, here’s my take on the essentials for effective design collaboration:

Support global collaboration. Whether it’s because a division is located in another country or the right technical expertise is better fulfilled overseas, engineering organizations need to put platforms and practices in place to support follow-the-sun design workflows, multidisciplinary collaboration, and data sharing between diverse tools.

Simple file sharing and cloud-based collaboration tools are a start, but they don’t adequately solve the complex version control, workflow, and protection of sensitive design IP issues that are central to effective global product development. Make sure that whatever platform used as a collaboration foundation has features for securing IP without onerous restrictions, can support cross-discipline communications and workflow between different engineering domains, and most importantly, can manage multi-CAD design data since it’s a given dispersed team members won’t be standardized on the same tools.

Incorporate feedback from non-engineers. Products can no longer be designed in an engineering vacuum—suppliers, customers, even internal marketing and sales folks all need to be involved in the process. Yet none of these folks know CAD or want to know CAD. Instead of leaving them out of the design loop until it’s too late and costly to incorporate their feedback, leverage 3D viewing and visualization capabilities, conceptual design tools, realistic rendering features, and even 3D printed prototypes to showcase early designs and solicit critical input all along the way. PTC Creo View MCAD, for example, can handle the display of a single CAD model up to an assembly with millions of components, allowing non-engineers to easily and naturally participate in design reviews and digital mockups.

Foster more design iterations. Complex design problems aren’t going to be solved without in-depth design studies, involving input from multiple players. Establish workflows that integrate simulation throughout the front-end of the design cycle by making it easier for CAD users to perform their own early analysis. Also invest in tools that facilitate early and continuous design collaboration between CAD users and dedicated CAE experts as opposed to traditional workflows that get stymied by work done in silos and sequential hand-offs.

Facilitate cross-disciplinary sharing. It’s not just about connecting a team of mechanical engineers. Today’s products demand collaboration across mechanical, electrical, and software domains, which takes the concept of working together to the next level. The best collaboration platforms will support systems engineering practices, provide a forum for social interaction, and deliver the nuts and bolts of bridging the MCAD, ECAD, and software domains. PTC Windchill, for example, offers integrations that let far flung enterprises capture, control, and share design data from multiple ECAD and MCAD applications within the same environment and even within a single product structure. Moreover, PTC Creo’s visualization capabilities can be tapped to view mechanical and electrical designs in the same environment.

Accommodate multi-CAD. Studies show that the average engineering firm uses 2.7 CAD systems within their own firewalls and that doesn’t account for the tools in place among suppliers, customers, and other partners. Without the right tools, collaborating in a heterogeneous CAD environment can be a continuing nightmare of importing, fixing, and recreating models. Not only is the process time consuming and unproductive, it introduces unnecessary errors—a result of the manual workarounds.

PTC addresses multi-CAD in a number of ways. PTC Creo 3.0 includes the Unite technology to allow myriad CAD data formats to be used directly in PTC applications while its direct modeling functionality lets designers edit geometry features regardless of the source and without losing design intelligence.

Global collaboration is indeed a tall order, but with the right set of tools and best practices, it’s well within reach.

[Ed. For more about PTC Creo View MCAD, check out the review below from Desktop Engineering. Or visit the PTC Creo View MCAD website to learn more.]