Secure, efficient collaboration between product firms and external partners is an increasingly critical element of the product development process. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of manufacturing and global logistics, with many firms unable to produce or move the products they needed from manufacturers located halfway across the globe.
In addition, many product firms are realizing that they must diversify their manufacturing relationships. A recent study of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on manufacturing was highlighted by the Harvard Business Review. The HBR article notes that many companies had all of their manufacturing located in one geographic area that had to be closed down due to quarantine.
The study found that the world’s largest 1,000 companies owned almost 12,000 factories, warehouses or operational facilities located within COVID-19 quarantine areas. The delays and costs resulting from this wholesale shutdown were enormous. As a result, many firms are now seeking to improve their product development technology to ensure they can collaborate efficiently with existing manufacturing partners and also seamlessly pivot to engage with new partners quickly and easily.
In the product development process, there are few steps where the stakes are as high as the handoff from a product team to their external manufacturing partner. This phase of the process requires high levels of collaboration and communication. Unfortunately, for firms using traditional file-based CAD, this handoff has often been undermined by the non-collaborative nature of their on-premise systems.
File-based CAD, designed prior to the widespread adoption of the internet, was simply not designed with collaboration in mind. Based around dedicated, on-premise workstations and servers, file-based CAD really doesn’t enable easy or efficient collaboration or sharing. In many ways file-based CAD is simply a digitized version of the paper-and-pen design process. For instance, users have no simple, secure way to share a design file with a colleague or external manufacturing partner.
As a result, many organizations have simply come to accept the delays and mistakes that workarounds to collaboration produce. For example, with file-based CAD it is not uncommon for designers to have to send a design file to a colleague or manufacturing partner via email or upload to a file-sharing service like Dropbox. When a new design change is made by a team member, a new “final” file must be sent to all stakeholders and external partners. If someone doesn’t receive it – or there is a misunderstanding and the old file is still in use – the cost can be enormous. In the case of manufacturing partners, who must cut expensive tooling and who are often located on the other side of the globe, a mistaken product run with the wrong version of a design file can mean lost time, money, and even lost customers.
Collaborating With a Single Source of Truth
To address these challenges, many product development teams are reassessing their on-premise CAD software and moving towards solutions that will improve efficiency, agility and accuracy. They are seeking tools that will help them collaborate with manufacturing partners as if they were in the same room. Modern, cloud-based product development software that enables improved collaboration has been a long-awaited solution.
With the cloud-based Onshape product development platform, design documents can be instantly shared safely and securely. The single source of truth enabled by cloud architecture ensures that all parties to a design document are always working on the latest version. There is only ever one single definitive master file at any time. The risk of human error is significantly decreased as all CAD users can now see, access and work off of the latest design document. Everyone is instantly aligned regardless of their location.
Another benefit that the cloud delivers in working with external partners is improved security for design documents. Unlike traditional file-based CAD, where a design file can be downloaded and then forwarded to anyone at any time, cloud-based Onshape provides a clear documented history of who downloaded the file and when. This improves accountability and security. Trusted manufacturing partners can be provided with secure, permission-based access where they have gated, time-limited access to a release version of the design document.
Online Design Collaboration Tools Streamline Communication Between Globally Distributed Teams
One firm using online design collaboration tools to ensure manufacturing goes smoothly is Kichler Lighting, a global leader in fashion-forward and energy-efficient residential lighting.
For Kichler, the need to address data management issues between its distributed design and manufacturing teams was one of the primary reasons for switching to cloud-based Onshape.
Ohio-based Kichler Lighting relies on Onshape to streamline collaboration between its engineering and manufacturing teams spread across the world.
“Our legacy systems were all file-based, and on top of that, they were 2D systems. So we were sending drawings back and forth with our suppliers and our manufacturing partners all over the world. It was just a cumbersome process that didn’t allow for very rich collaboration,” says Mehul Gala, Senior Product Development Engineer at Kichler.
“On top of that, we would lose our revision control to some degree. We would end up at factories sometimes where we, the engineers, were on revision C, but our team in China would be on revision D and then our suppliers would be on revision E somehow. That caused a lot of confusion,” he adds. “So (with Onshape) there was a lot of opportunity just around that single source of truth to get all the key players involved on the same page.”
The increased challenges of remote work and the need for improved technology that enables collaboration and connectivity have forever altered assumptions about existing software and systems. Firms are now seeking cloud-based solutions that empower employees, regardless of location, to stay productive and to collaborate effectively with one another. They are also using the cloud to accelerate product development by sharing design documents more efficiently and precisely with external manufacturing partners and customers.
At a time of increasing change, and the spectre of additional future unexpected Black Swan events like COVID-19, firms are shifting their focus to enable their business to become more agile and resilient. Cloud-based product development solutions like Onshape are enabling firms to address the challenges they face today as well as prepare to address whatever new challenges may emerge tomorrow.
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