Archive for March, 2007

About Collaboration, Readers and Such

Lets talk about collaboration in manufacturing. I am going to ask you to think broadly about collaboration. I once tried to define the term “collaboration” by saying that it is “working together in a shared context to achieve a business objective”. I often think about pictures of design and engineering rooms the way they looked 40 years ago. You’ve seen the pictures… a bunch of slightly overweight guys wearing white shirts, ties with Windsor knots and pocket protectors. Some might be wearing white socks, which is easy to see because everybody’s pants are so short. Usually, if you look closely, you will see the supervisor wondering though, probably looking for a guy wearing a blue shirt to send him home.

Here’s the thing about the picture… everybody’s work is right there on the drafting table in plain sight. Sure, there is some version control, but for the most part, ad-hoc collaboration is going on all day, at least for those guys in the room. Do you remember when people actually worked this way? Well, I don’t either. But I have heard stories about it. When you combine the openness of the design activity, and the physical mock-up, frequently in the same room, there was some excellent collaboration going on. What changed? Some will say it was CAD/CAM. I can’t disagree that CAD set collaboration back, but I will argue that the thing that really changed was the business model.

First, we need to consider the business environment. The picture I painted of the design rooms of 40 years ago, represented a form collaboration for those people in the room, but lets think a bit more about what was really going on. These guys were designing things without really considering supplier capability, and they seldom had to worry about parts they were designed by someone else half way around the world. With products designed across the planet to leverage global resources, new models of collaboration area necessity. Forty years ago, engineers didn’t concern themselves with design for manufacturability, so collaboration with manufacturing engineering and plants wasn’t considered. Today, it is essential. Other changes include regulatory compliance, which is a growing challenge for most firms. I believe end of product life issues related to environmental issues will be the next crisis in manufacturing. What we want is“virtual co-location”… how can we create an environment that works across corporate sites, non-CAD smart business areas, joint ventures and suppliers, but with the advantages of ease of collaboration like that design room of 40 years ago?

The answer lies in leveraging IT investments and CAD assets. Using Acrobat 3D and harnessing the reach of the Free Adobe reader extended project teams can quickly, securely and cost effectively accelerate the design collaboration process. Extpensive, and complex CAD and visualization tools are not needed to reach beyond the current environment. Some would talk about tools “used to read a PDF”, and they would even suggest alternatives to the Adobe Reader. Well, comparing tools to read PDF’s to the Adobe Reader is an apples to oranges comparison. The simple truth is that Adobe Reader embodies considerable functionality such as view and comment collaboration, which is available to all users when enabled by the originator of the PDF. Acrobat 3D capability is no exception. The ability of a user to view, measure, section and respond to comments is of course fully supported in the Adobe Reader. The ubiquity of the reader, and its capability… hundreds of millions of copies distributed each year, is what makes this natural, people centric collaboration tick.