"The goal was to create a product that didn't add any more burden to the already software-overburdened end user." That's John Alpine, chief technology officer at CoCreate Software (www.cocreate.com; Fort Collins, CO), talking about, oddly enough, software that the company developed called "OneSpace.net2005." (Yes, it is built on Microsoft's .NET framework.) Not only did they work toward developing a product that wouldn't be burdensome (there is a version that runs in a hosted environment, which means that CoCreate handles the IT lifting; users just deal with the simplicity of a browser and then engage in the hard work of developing products), but they also developed something that, he says, is an answer to a problem that many people within a product development organization don't know there is a software solution for. (And as they don't know that there is a solution, it is something that may not be budgeted for.)
It is a software solution primarily for the supply chain. But it's not what people ordinarily think of when the words "supply chain" and "software" are in close proximity. It is not about logistics or manufacturing issues. Rather, it is about communications. Communicating about products being developed. A software product that was developed to handle the heavy graphics requirements of engineering applications—a.k.a., CAD files. In order to understand the importance of "seeing" while trying to collaboratively develop something, Alpine suggests that you try to imagine holding a conversation among people who are at different locations about an axle. "Look at the front," someone might say. Unless everyone is on the proverbial (though in this case digital) same page, what is "front" for one person, isn't going to be that for another.
Alpine asks, "If there is a design issue, even if you and I have the same CAD system, how am I going to communicate with your design team to say that my part is going to have an impact on your part?" Which is why it is important to not only be able to look at the same images, but to be able to communicate about them. Which is to say that OneSpace.net2005 goes beyond simply sharing CAD files to fully facilitating communications for developers.
The software product works in real-time so meetings can be held without people being present in the same physical space. (Alpine says that once companies could rent a warehouse in the Detroit area and get all of the project people in the same place. That was then. This isn't.)
It is a software package that is open for all types of environments, he says: multi-CAD; multi-PLM. So even though one project may be underway in UGS and another is in CATIA, this is not an issue, he says, as regards the CoCreate software, as it was developed to be neutral. He explains, "Project teams often straddle several companies," Alpine says, then remarks that it is unlikely that there is complete homogeneity across all of the companies. Even if a Tier One supplier has the required CAD systems to work with its customers, Alpine suggests that they may not also have a one-each PLM system, too. Given that project developments require information beyond the pure geometric, having the capability to include information that would otherwise be contained within a PLM system (e.g., text files) is essential. So what they've developed is a product that handles IGES, STEP. ACIS, DXF, DWG files, as well as the ability to create PDF and XML documents. Alpine notes that the environment is a secure one.
Apparently, CoCreate personnel initially thought that OneSpace.net would be taken up by electronics contract manufacturers, which have exceedingly long supply chains. What they've discovered, however, is that automotive Tier Ones have shown more interest, perhaps because of the nature of the designs involved (e.g., mechanical rather than electrical), perhaps because of the fact that they're becoming more global and need to communicate to their own far-flung facilities, perhaps because of the heterogeneous nature of working with various OEMs, perhaps because they're looking for a way to decrease development times. . .perhaps because of all of these things.—GSV