Our cover story this month explores the way electrical-CAD software helps machine builders, their customers, and their suppliers collaborate and improve on the design and creation of machine control systems, in ways that just couldn't happen beforehand.
Collaboration is a hot topic, my friends. I ran into a lot of conversation--about the essential need for collaboration--from vendors, presenters and attendees at last month's National Manufacturing Week.
The buzz is both maddening and encouraging. It's a little maddening because--if you've been around as long as I have--the concept of collaboration, as a unique idea whose time has come, has been up and down more times than Joe Frazier in his fight with George Foreman.
Of course, each time it comes back into favor, we wrap it in different package. My first formal experience with collaboration started with Total Quality Management, a business philosophy better known by its acronym "TQM," that bases your business and operational plans on the validated needs of your customers--both internal and external--and your suppliers' capabilities.
At various points along the way, it's been buried and subsequently resurrected under the umbrella of "new" business culture concepts.
Some of you know that, once in a while, I'm compelled to rant about the lack of resolve in most of corporate America's management ranks. Many companies fail to stick with a set of operating principles, opting to discard a structure in favor of the latest consultant-generated wonder drug, rather than develop the disciplines to make what they have work.
When the honeymoon is over, when the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and the enthusiasm is long gone, they abandon it because it starts to get hard.
This isn't one of those rants. I'm actually encouraged because collaboration as a concept, perhaps for the first time, has the essential tools available to make it stick.
Actually, that's only part of it. It's now time to recognize that there aren't any more excuses. We have what it takes to make collaboration fulfill its potential. The tools have come from technology.
Collaboration didn't measure up because of problems with distance, time and clarity. When you look at those factors, you realize it didn't really stand a chance.
But, today, an engineer doesn't have to wait for a high-quality drawing to be sent to a customer across the country, be marked up with changes, have the changes approved, and then wait again for it to be sent back to the originator for another round of approval and modification. That can happen in minutes with web-based software and high-speed networks.
Now, that same engineer doesn't have to find a force-fit work-around to validate, select and introduce vendor part numbers into the component selection process. His drawings can handle those additions with the click of that software-rendered button connecting him to the vendor's database over the Internet.
Now, none of the parties have to work with faxes or e-mailed attachments of electronic drawings that were created on a different program, and which lose critical links and details when imported.
No wonder it didn't work before.
Clearly, it goes further than that for the organization as a whole, from helping customer and supplier formulate supply-chain plans, to developing product design plans. You'll hear it described by networking evangelists such as Cisco Systems in terms of customer-centric, real-time intelligent networks; tools that really can raise the bar for operational flexibility and visibility. Some of you don't get involved directly with enterprise tools, but they'll help your company, your customers, and your industry sector do better business.
So, from here on out, no matter what the skeptics say or call it, the excuses about why collaboration can't happen are gone.