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How 3D data integration can streamline the supply chain

Learn how enterprises can leverage 3D data integration in the cloud to improve communication across supply chains and improve sales.

Web storefronts are quickly becoming the gateway through which product companies drive new sales. Today, most of this communication is limited to pictures and text descriptions. This could quickly change, thanks to the development of cloud infrastructure for dynamically transforming 3D data across applications. Enterprise architects should take a look at how to take advantage of this new type of integration to stay competitive in the marketplace.

At the Forge DevCon in San Francisco, developers were discussing new architectures for improving product supply chains using Autodesk's new Forge cloud service. The 3D part catalogs make it easier for vendors to get components designed into new products. A cloud 3D data integration tier promises to link design data back to rich data about the part. Enterprises could use this same data to create their internal catalogs to streamline costs. This makes it easier to dynamically generate a bill of materials (BOM) and streamlines the procurement process.

According to Aaron Smith, director of business development at Catalog Data Solutions, a supply chain integration consultancy, "There is no integration from the CAD model to the online information today. With 3D data integration, you can pull CAD models down for design, which are linked to online part information. This will allow part aggregators to provide incredibly rich data tailored to design engineers."

Make catalogs easier for designers

The lead time is calculated the moment a designer makes a request from a supplier's web service.
Aaron Smithdirector of business development, Catalog Data Solutions

Enterprises are turning to web services to create new cataloging infrastructure behind their sales portals that leverage 3D data. These services make it easier to automatically generate part numbers, lead time, and quotes from their business customer's designs. Smith said, "The lead time is calculated the moment a designer makes a request from a supplier's web service. This creates a new level of connectivity with suppliers about all information relevant to parts."

Many part manufacturers generate hard links to product pages in their catalogs. Smith said a better practice is to index part numbers and version numbers using web services. This reduces the risk of broken links as catalogs change. It also makes it easier for customers to dynamically find new versions of a part when older versions are discontinued. The web services can be used for automating generating orders based on product designs.

Create dynamic product data sheets

Another use case is to make it easier for an enterprise to produce a more dynamic data sheet for their customers. For example, a large tractor company builds a new tractor consisting of thousands of parts. The designers in this enterprise could pull 3D models into the new tractor design to quickly generate a BOM. This same design could also be used to automatically populate the repair manual with detailed information about all of the parts in the new tractor. A repairman could quickly order the part from this manual with the 3D data. The process of making it easier to identify and order these parts would improve business with the end customer and the tractor business rather than third-party parts suppliers.

These more elaborate 3D catalogs could also include more fine-grained details about the end of life and service warranty of specific parts. This would also make it easier to dynamically direct a customer to an updated part with a new model number when a part is recalled, revised or replaced by a supplier.

Smith recommends that larger aggregators that sell parts to many different suppliers should standardize on vendor names and part numbers, rather than links. The web service integration tier could use this information to maintain resiliency when the catalog website is updated. "Websites are always changing. But the API does not have to change. A web service API provides a contract with vendors and customers that remain consistent. A web service approach is effective at getting whatever data is available, and more information can be added later," Smith said.

Create guard rails for component purchases

Large enterprises could use 3D data integrations to generate a better product data management service to improve product development and customer relationships relating these products. Smith said a large tractor company would prefer to standardize on one component, such as particular bearing across multiple products. This helps improve economies of scale and reduces the complexity of their parts supply chain.

In addition, better data information could be used to identify vendor parts that fail more often than others. If the repair team finds that one model of a pump has a lower failure rate than others, this information could be baked into a list of parts available for designing new tractors. This is analogous to having a vetted enterprise app store for approved product components.

Enterprises should also consider adopting an integration tier for translating between internal part numbers and supplier part numbers. Designers and engineers could use the list of internal models to develop products. Then if a supplier goes out of business or a part is recalled or replaced, the product integration tier could automatically link to a suggested replacement.

Protect intellectual property

It is a good practice to find the balance between making it easier to share 3D data with customers, while protecting the intellectual property of the parts. The danger of posting a full CAD drawing of a part is that it makes it easier for third-party vendors to copy the design. A cloud integration tier for 3D data, like Forge, makes it easier to translate between internal high-res CAD drawings used within the enterprise, and lower res models suitable for customers.

Another good practice is to hide the internals of complex components. For example, a manufacturer of motors should only list models showing the physical envelope of the motor, rather than detailing the internal components.

Automate the procurement gap

A 3D integration tier also makes it easier to manage the bill of materials associated with new product designs. According to Oleg Shilovitsky, CEO and co-founder of openBoM, a cloud-based BOM management tool, "Getting the bill of materials for a product is important. It is easy to forget to include packaging costs or the cost of a board."

Communication between design, procurement and contract manufacturers can be complicated. It is easy to miss the impact of design changes on product manufacturability and cost. This can be an even bigger challenge for startups that may have team members distributed across different offices.

In the traditional product development cycle, data is shared in spreadsheets shared via email. Although shared working environments like Google Docs can help people get on the same page, users have to manually make changes. The goal of openBOM is to leverage the actual designs created in the CAD program so that everyone stays on the same page.

Shilovitsky said, "Forge makes it possible to create common back end for all aspects of design data." This approach also reduces the amount of manual work from design and procurement workers. Designers can focus their expertise on creating products and design changes are easier to propagate to a shared bill of materials.

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