Manufacturing

MCAD Modeling Methods-Work Smarter, Not Harder

1 Jul, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth

Collaboration links the extended team


Industry Is Competitive. Every company needs an advantage to stay on top and assembles a team of experts for each facet of its business. But problems can arise, especially when teams works remotely. Team members in New York need a document from the team in California. The plant in Alabama needs the toolmaker in Hong Kong to make a change. The international sales force needs information from domestic marketing. Communication is an issue, especially when everyone doesn't speak the same language. And forget about time zones! How do you cope with such issues? The answer is collaboration.

 Figure 1. UGS Teamcenter software lets users access and control part files even when they come from several modeling sources.
Figure 1. UGS Teamcenter software lets users access and control part files even when they come from several modeling sources.

Work Together

To collaborate is to work together in an endeavor, even if you are not in the same physical location. This can be quite a challenge. Each person on your team has different requirements and uses different programs or information. For instance, engineering needs CAD models that are accurate to sixteen decimal places, manufacturing needs drawings for inspections, marketing needs rapid prototypes for user preference evaluations and sales needs pretty pictures for brochures. How can each department get the appropriate information?

Work Smarter

One of the best ways to meet the needs of your team is to invest in the right tools and procedures to make information available to those who need it. That sounds obvious, but many companies have underinvested in equipment and tools. In doing so, they force their employees to work harder instead of smarter. There are ways companies can meet deadlines and keep employees happy with a comparatively small investment in hardware or software. Sometimes it's as simple as rewriting some procedures to streamline a process.

Some people attempt to use their existing applications for jobs they were never designed for. One company I worked for struggled to use Word and Excel to make engineering drawings and specifications. The manager in charge didn't understand CAD, but had a working knowledge of Microsoft's products.

A recent survey done by Adobe found that most users in fact disseminate engineering information using common office software because that's all they know. For more details, see CAD Central in the March issue (http://manufacturing.cadalyst.com/adobesurvey/).

CAD Capability

To be efficient means to examine not only what you do but also how you do it. One of the first things to look at is your designers' CAD capabilities and experience. Do they understand parametric or explicit design, surface- or solid-based models, and 2D or 3D design? No matter what, somewhere down the design line you'll need to supply others with digital design data. You must know what downstream users need and how best to supply this information to them. This can be a big consideration when evaluating a CAD purchase.

Of course, CAD collaboration means more than simply transferring files. Another concern is file sharing. You must be able to make your data available to those who need it. Can the whole team see and find what they need? Some vendors offer Web portals where users can post files for others to see. Team members, such as an outside tooler, can look up the CAD files they need to reference. The sites are password-protected to limit who sees the files.

You can also FTP or e-mail files. Of the three methodologies, e-mail is the least secure. That said, millions of e-mails go out every year with design information attached just because it's so easy.

File Sharing and PDM

Sometimes you need to work on the same CAD files as other teammates. This can be confusing and is always dangerous. Confusing because you need to know which file is the latest revision. Dangerous because when more than one member of your team works on the same file at the same time, you'll find that he or she who files last wins. You may waste hours, possibly days, as someone else saves over your work. If your office has file issues, consider a PDM (product data management) system. Even a simple check-in and check-out procedure by itself can be worth whatever cost you incur. Many choices are available—some from your CAD vendor, some from third-party developers.
Figure 2. Alias PortfolioWall product offers excellent presentation capabilities. Users can arrange and show all sorts of images and mark their changes.
Figure 2. Alias PortfolioWall product offers excellent presentation capabilities. Users can arrange and show all sorts of images and mark their changes.

Be sure to look at what your CAD software vendor offers because integration is usually more complete. But don't assume that you're stuck with only what your vendor offers. Many PDM vendors can handle whatever files you generate. In fact, a good system lets you track an entire project, no matter what kind of data comes with it (figure 1). PDM can save you plenty in both heartache and money.

Be very thorough when studying your options. Pay close attention to any red tape the software imposes. If the PDM system causes too many user headaches, it's going to cost you more than it's worth.

Presentation Programs

An important part of collaboration is presenting your work, whether to other designers, clients or prospective buyers. Numerous programs can help with this. Most CAD vendors also offer presentation options either within the main CAD program or as add-ons. Alias' Portfolio Wall (figure 2), Autodesk's DWF Composer and SolidWorks' DWGviewer (previously known as eDrawings, figure 3) all allow users to share a variety of files, from 2D drawings to interactive 3D models. Recipients can review, mark up and revise drawings, maps and models with no regard for the software that created the data. Some applications, such as Actify's SpinFire for Microsoft Office (figure 4), embed data directly into standard Office software. Once it's there, recipients can rotate and view models as in a CAD package.
Figure 3. SolidWorks DWGviewer presents design information ranging from 2D drawings to shaded, interactive 3D models and assemblies.
Figure 3. SolidWorks DWGviewer presents design information ranging from 2D drawings to shaded, interactive 3D models and assemblies.

Online Conferencing

Another handy tool for collaboration is online conferencing. Plenty of services are available. As an example, with WebEx, users call in to the number provided, plug in a code that identifies the correct meeting and they're in. Users can talk to other team members, share graphics, show their desktop—whatever is needed. Services such as this can save an outrageous amount of money in travel and time. I use it for design reviews with people all over the world, and it's very much as if everyone is in the same room.

Communication = Collaboration

Communication is of course the backbone of collaboration. Whatever tools are used, users must present material clearly and concisely. The old adage, "If you can't win 'em with reason, baffle 'em with bull," doesn't work any more. Today, designers must know what they're doing and present an image of competence. They can't afford to hoard important information and dole it out only when demanded. With company resources distributed all over the globe, there must be a smooth way for teams to access what they need and when they need it. When this happens, your product hits the market in record time.
Figure 4. Actify SpinFire for Microsoft Office embeds nongraphical part information in an Office document, as well as a link to a fully interactive 3D part.
Figure 4. Actify SpinFire for Microsoft Office embeds nongraphical part information in an Office document, as well as a link to a fully interactive 3D part.

When collaboration doesn't work, no one knows where anything is, and projects suffer from misunderstandings and overruns. Team members don't have what they need and so must create their own data. As a result, accuracy suffers, deadlines are missed, product rollout is delayed and the project may be only marginally profitable. It's not that people aren't working hard, it's that they have to overcome more to get to the same place.

In the fast-paced manufacturing environment we're in, collaboration is an absolute must to make sure your team is working smarter, not harder. Of course, collaboration won't guarantee a product's success. But by implementing tools and processes to facilitate collaboration, you know your team is not wasting its time.

Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.


About the Author: IDSA


About the Author: Mike Hudspeth


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