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Information networks for reducing time to market.

Information Networks for Reducing Time to Market

Information integrity, completeness, availability, timeliness, and security are critical to product and process design. As a result, companies such as Northrop, Chrysler, and Boeing are spending millions of dollars to implement sophisticated information system infrastructures that support development acceleration. Such a network should have these components:

* Integrated computer-aided design, engineering, and manufacturing networks. These networks allow functional and geographically dispersed groups to share information from common engineering and production databases. Electronic data interchange systems are necessary elements for projects that depend on participation by outside suppliers, partners, or customers.

* Computer modeling and simulation facilities for both the product and the production system designers. Such facilities foster the reuse of designs, allow designers to rapidly verify designs on the computer before building prototypes, permit the use of group technology, and allow customization of production process parameters to fit the unique requirements of production facilities around the world.

* Rapid physical prototyping facilities, including dedicated CAD/CAM systems. These systems--for example, stereolithography and desktop manufacturing technologies--provide prototypes quickly for evaluation.

* Knowledge-based systems to support design, production, test, and diagnosis.

* Interpersonal and inter-organizational computer networking on personal computers and workstations. For example, PROFS on IBM networks, DEC-Notes on Digital Equipment Corporation networks, and HPNet on Hewlett-Packard systems provide this capability.

A well-designed information network environment simplifies cross-functional work and encourages horizontal communications. Digital Equipment Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and General Motors, among other companies, use their electronic mail and computer conferencing facilities to support worldwide development by geographically dispersed teams and worldwide coordination and control of production. For example, Hewlett-Packard uses its communications network for continuous information exchange between its Precision Architecture product developers in California and its VLSI (very large-scale integrated) circuit development and manufacturing experts in Colorado. Experts in the VLSI group perform simulation and physical tests to support their colleagues' development efforts in California.

Though the information network environment is an important engineering productivity tool, even the most sophisticated network cannot guarantee dramatic decreases in development cycle times. The use of the information network within the iterative process of concurrent development--most important, the timely release of information to other working groups--is the key. For example, the Ford Motor Company will use a global engineering release system to tie worldwide corporate engineering activities together. Lacking such communications and network support, multi-suite development organizations increase the communications and coordinations burdens of a development team and can slow the process, as can unconsolidated data and the absence of standards.

Nick McGaughey is a lecturer and consultant based in Nashville, Tennessee.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
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Title Annotation:Perspective
Author:McGaughey, Nick
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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