Collaboration, which can be defined as working together in a shared context to produce a business result, is not a new concept. In fact, when collocated, collaboration among work teams is natural. Unfortunately, with constantly changing business models and mounting pressures for better products sooner, older ways of “collaborating” just don’t work. Ubiquity, Interoperability and Intellectual Property Protection make Acrobat 3D work well, where other solutions fall short.
Collaboration can be thought of as working together in a shared context. It is not a new concept. In an historic model of product development, the design and engineering team was often collocated. In the more enlightened firms, manufacturing engineering, production managers, and even creative designers were often located in the same space, breathing the same air. At worst, they were likely a short walk away. The ‘mockup area’ was likely in the same room, or maybe just down the hall. As electronic processes and systems began to replace physical mock-ups and paper drawings, product development process began to change. Forms of electronic collaboration began to emerge, but not without considerable pain.
CAD Made Things Worse
As 2D and 3D CAD replaced drafting methods, collaboration became less a natural way of working. Eighteen inch displays were not conducive to the rich exchanges that were possible around large drafting tables. Formal design reviews began to emerge. The adoption of 3D designs eventually replaced the physical mock-up with its digital equivalent, the digital mock-up (DMU). Usually, these initial reviews relied upon pushing data to group of people who had the responsibility to assemble the emerging product design into a configuration that made sense. At this first stage, data exchange, where “dead data” is pushed to others was the only level of collaboration available. Despite elaborate release procedures, considerable effort and frequent problems with missing or wrong data plagued these design reviews.
With the advent of product data management solutions, it became possible to allow engineers and designers to work together in the “shared context” of the shared emerging 3D design data. Configuration rules and automated release procedures within PDM systems enabled sharing of the “data of record” or work-in-process at any point in the development cycle. Engineering changes, which were always challenging, became more somewhat more manageable with the advent of PLM. Formal design reviews began to improve, and informal reviews once again started to become a more natural way of working.
But Then Business Models Changed
Some of the most important recent trends in manufacturing include vast changes in supply chain relationships, global sourcing and numerous joint venture activities. These trends work together to define innovation networks that involve high levels of coordination across the entire, extended enterprise to bring new products to market. Innovation networks rely heavily upon very high levels of electronic collaboration. Large OEMs have adopted a strategy of basing product platforms in various regions and sharing work globally to leverage the unique skills and capabilities in all regions. The products designed in one region will be sold and even assembled in other regions, with parts provided by a vast global supply chain. When it works, this approach is accelerating the adoption of new technology and greatly improving quality. For example, a given supplier’s local manufacturing process is considered up-front in product design to improve quality.
A Next Step in Collaboration
To make this strategy this business model work, it became necessary, somehow, to broaden access to systems and procedures. Things that worked internally to each region, now had to be made available outside. This business model cannot work without with just data exchange. As a result of the trend to work-sharing and global integration, the traditional process of pushing designs out to suppliers to be manufactured has started to give way to massive data sharing across the entire enterprise. However, this “data sharing” comes at a very high cost and is fraught with technical and administrative issues. Suppliers and joint venture partners are often directly connected to the systems and processes of the OEM. Access administration and intellectual property protection issues abound. Conformance to export controls regulations, vastly expanded product data management procedures, challenging telecommunications and access to business systems are brought into the equation. In many cases, vast amounts of money have been spent to modify legacy systems that were never intended for outside access to make them accessible across the supply chain ad joint venture partners.
Something More is Needed
The next phase in the evolution of electronic collaboration will be a move to a fully collaborative model that will embrace both synchronous and asynchronous sharing in a much more natural, people-centric way of collaborating. Both informal and formal methods will be supported. This model will be characterized by portable interfaces driven by high levels of ubiquity and security.
Acrobat 3D to the Rescue
Different vendors offer viewers specific to their format. Collaboration is only possible in homogeneous environments. Acrobat 3D can ‘Reader enable’ PDF and other native files for collaboration workflows. The Adobe Reader has nearly 100% penetration. And here is an example of a PDF being enabled for review, comment and analysis in the free Adobe Reader:
In addition, Acrobat 3D, and specifically the PRC format, are based upon world-class technology and support very high levels of interoperability through reading all major CAD formats and enabling the export of precise data. Here data is being exported as an IGES model:
Existing systems offer security within the context of their own environment. IP protection is handled through legal rather than technical means. PDF, as a secure container, can offer IP protection for most media types including 3D models that is persistent in all computing environments. Here is an example of security policies being applied to a 3D PDF: