By Charles Foundyller
Fifteen years ago, we heard about how CAD/CAM point solutions would revolutionize the design space and the manufacturing floor. People in design spoke about drafting productivity, and people on the shop floor talked about being able to machine more effectively.
Now we're hearing that information technologies-namely, product process management (PPM), product data management (PDM), and bill-of-material (BOM) automation-can automate and link design and manufacturing as well as other manufacturing functions such as purchasing and procurement. Moreover, we're seeing how the Web is quickly becoming the backbone of these new technologies and creating huge opportunities for further productivity enhancements and collaboration.
Clearly, there is no lack of demand for such solutions. BMW, for one, has recently announced that it will integrate all functions of its manufacturing processes. And other major end users are following suit with similar initiatives.
There is also no lack of willingness on the part of CAD/CAM suppliers to expand their markets by providing systems that leverage the full power of information technology for manufacturing. In fact, most vendors have offered visions for integrating manufacturing processes either by hosting project collaboration portals on the World Wide Web or by giving users the ability to create portals on their own networks.
Unfortunately, there is a major disconnect between what users are expecting and what suppliers are able to deliver today. Indeed, users complain that the visions of these vendors don't translate into real products, that they are seeing more "visionware" than actual hardware or software.
But it's understandable why vendors do not have specific solutions to help users reap the rewards of applying information technology to manufacturing. The problem is that there are no standard manufacturing problems to solve. The processes inside BMW are totally different from those inside Toyota, Ford, or GM, for example. So, to expect vendors to provide an off-the-shelf manufacturing enterprise solution that satisfies every customer would be unrealistic.
Back in the 1960s, each individual company had its own customized general-ledger system. These systems could take a year or more to design and implement, and the cost was staggering by today's standards. Now when you buy a general ledger system in a box, you don't even consider customizing it. You simply conform your practices to the way these off-the-shelf packages work.
Alas, the industry is a long way from delivering a manufacturing data-processing framework in a box. Manu facturing is far more complex than accounting. And CAD/ CAM,CAE, EDM/PDM vendors have not yet developed the experience to say which data model you should be using or how you can best leverage the Web.
In fact, vendors can point to very few shining success stories to demonstrate an approach that will ensure productivity improvements for manufacturers. Instead, what they can offer are theories and advice about how best to leverage the technologies that are available. In this respect, vendors are moving away from selling CAD/CAM in a box-from selling seats-toward working together with users.
Vendors want to work with customers to help them integrate their processes and bring the full power of information technology to bear on the product-creation process. For their part, users will have to invest substantial effort in educating technology suppliers about their data models, their process requirements, and much more, as well as work closely together to develop new toolsets and new methods of applying them.
The good news is that with suppliers positioning themselves as partners rather than simply tool providers, users have an unprecedented opportunity to guide vendors in defining and developing solutions that meet their most pressing needs.
Charles Foundyller is president and CEO of Daratech, (Cam bridge, MA), a market research and technology assessment firm specializing in CAD/CAM,CAE, EDM/PDM, BOM, product lifecycle, plant creation, and GIS. The topics explored here will be the focus of daratechPPM2000-EDM/PDM Meets e-Commerce, a conference scheduled for June 26-28, 2000 in Dallas. For details, visit www.daratech.com/PPM2000.