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Connecting manufacturers’ design chains

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ONLINE collaboration services unlock the value of digital information by helping man-ufacturers connect with project teams and manage data through the entire life cycle of a project. Design information about a product is published on a secure, hosted website where any supply chain partner around the world can review or revise it.

For example, a designer in Australia saves design data into a program hosted on a secure website, from where a client in the US can access it via his/her web browser and make revisions. A factory in India then logs into the website, is able to see who made the latest revisions and consequently begin making the product from the most up to date plans.

This is exciting news for Australian manufacturing. Claiming 58% of all exports in 2000-01, the largest portion of any industry, Australian manufacturers operate truly global supply chains and therefore stand to greatly benefit from this technology.

Online collaboration makes manufactur-ing operations more cost-effective by dramatically increasing the efficiency of communication throughout the supply chain. Online collaboration tools allow manufacturers to:

1. Rapidly develop new and innovative ideas through a Collaborative Product Development process

2. Maintain high quality while reducing costs by minimising mistakes and facilitating ad-hoc collaboration

3. Deliver products to market faster by instantly leveraging design data across the entire design chain

The key to good collaboration involves a three-stage progression: connect, personalise and optimise. Hosted services connect the extended manufacturing enterprise to critical design information, personalise the information for non-designers and empower companies to optimise their product development process at their own pace.

Connectivity

Online collaborative services enable connectivity through a single-source solution, meaning that design data is published to a central website only once and it can be reused many times by many different types of users without compromising its integrity.

Project data is published only once, but it can be used over and over by different project members. This greatly reduces communication costs due to proliferation of stale data through multiple faxes, file transfers, and express mail when collaborating on projects. Most importantly, the design chain is always working with the most current data.

The data reaches downstream users through advanced streaming technology that has been optimised for mechanical design and manufacturing applications. Users can even quickly access large assemblies over a standard 56K modem connection. Gone are the days of lengthy CAD file downloads, printing of drawings or purchasing of a CAD package or viewer simply to engage in collaborative design and manufacturing.

Personalised data

A key concept embodied in this type of service is personalised design data. This allows a designer, by simply saving design files to a central online site, to automatically extract the design information embedded in CAD files - including graphics, parts, assemblies and properties - in discreet, logical components.

When downstream users of the data request access from a browser, the information can be displayed in a format and presentation that is meaningful to them.

For instance, the procurement specialist may see only the product's bill of materials (BOM), the salesperson sees only animations and cost information, the designer sees the complete product structure, and the shop floor worker sees only assembly instructions-all from a single data set.

The data reaches its downstream users without the need to purchase additional software, pay for custom software development, or reengineer business processes. Moreover, users may be located inside or outside the company firewall, making this type of service a true "virtual enterprise" solution.

Optimised operations

Online collaboration solutions need to address the requirements of the typical functions in a manufacturing enterprise, but users should also be able to optimise business processes on their own schedule. From the outset, online collaboration should be designed for easy customisation by customers and other third parties, using standard technologies such as XML (extensible Markup Language) and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition).

More importantly, users should look for a service that does not require them to re-engineer their business process first. Users should be able to enjoy the benefits of connectivity immediately, deploy personalised solutions at their own pace and evolve to the optimisation stage as their needs and resources dictate.

Increased efficiency in global operations and shrinking geographic boundaries provide Australia with the opportunity to take the lead in adopting technologies, such as online collaboration, that will place the country at the forefront of the worldwide manufacturing industry. Manufacturers should seek out a solution that will be

most appropriate for their individual needs, and that will support their existing business structure.

*Peter Leihn, Product Marketing Manager, Autodesk 02 9844 8000.

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