Overcoming the Challenges to Global Design Collaboration


Off shore manufacturing and engineering centers are a reality for today’s manufacturers. Manufacturing organizations undertake global product development efforts for many reasons, aside from the original intent to cut costs. Global product development (GPD), when done efficiently, can accelerate time-to-market, reduce product development costs, maximize productivity, increase product quality, foster innovation, and optimize operational efficiency.

The highly dispersed and globalized nature of product development has drastically changed the way products are developed. Today’s global design teams must work together and collaborate on designs across times zones as well as geographical, cultural, and functional borders. Though global design efforts can yield long-term benefits, they also add new communication, control and collaboration challenges as well as increased risk of IP theft.

As a result of these changes, the ability to efficiently and securely collaborate with global design teams and supply chain partners is of paramount importance. Without the right tools and standardized processes in place, collaboration between these global design participants becomes nearly impossible. If manufacturers use unreliable communication methods, such as the manual transfer of design data between disparate systems, then effective collaboration cannot happen, causing confusion, mistakes and costly delays.

Let’s take a look at some of the best practices of global product design collaboration.

Establishing one “source of truth.” Design collaboration between globally dispersed teams requires digital environments that support collaboration, communication, and coordination. These environments must also facilitate leveraging cross-disciplinary ideas, knowledge transfer between design team members, and the secure sharing of digital design data between parties.

Establishing a single data source for design data is essential. This digital infrastructure facilitates collaboration among cross-disciplinary team members and provides a way to trace sharing of product data, keeping IP secure. By enabling all the design team members to have instant and secure access to the data they need—when they need it—keeps projects on schedule and streamlines review cycles.

Support of multi-CAD environment. Often globally dispersed teams use different design tools and processes, adding to the complexities of collaboration.

In the Aberdeen study, “Working with Multi-CAD? Overcome the Engineering Collaboration Bottleneck” 82% of the best-in-class product development firms reported using three or more CAD formats in their design process, more than half of which reporting doing so in order to work with suppliers and design partners.

To better support collaboration with partners, companies must have the ability to support a multi-CAD environment, however, the “best-in-class” firms are supporting this environment by standardizing on one CAD application. They also have the ability to deliver and receive data in many formats, using visualization tools or direct translators of native CAD files.

Standardizing tools and processes. Tools and methods used to facilitate global collaboration are varied and range in complexity from simply standardizing processes to the implementation of data management technology, such as product lifecycle management (PLM) systems. These systems keep valuable design data secure in a centralized vault and control access to that data. According to the Aberdeen study, to further support collaboration and maintain proper version control, best-in-class companies are using PLM to ensure that design data is centrally located and synchronized across distributed locations for all CAD systems.

Managers play key role. Management plays a vital role in the success of design collaboration among the global team by facilitating the distribution of work to the various design centers and ensuring that tools, training, infrastructure and standardized processes are in place. One high-level manager should be put in place to monitor the overall activities of the dispersed team to ensure that each group is fulfilling their obligations to the project in a timely manner and has the proper tools with which to accomplish those goals.

Assign an on-site facilitator. Many companies have had success in creating a collaborative GPD culture by transferring a manager from a central location to a new, remote design center for up to two years to educate the local team on the product development processes and to act as a liaison with the home office. The remote center may also send engineers to the home office for similar reasons.

Image by IceNineJon

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