Engineers at X Product Development, a design firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. (www.xyron.com), explain things to manufacturers in China through 3D rendered images and animations. Web-based Windchill ProjectLink lets Chinese production engineers see details of new devices inside and out. “They can also watch animations of, for example, how a lid might open on a heat laminator,” says David Aitchison, founder and general manager of XPD.

“The problem with the usual e-mailed 2D drawings was that when new products came off the line and were passed around, you'd get suggestions for changes and updates too late,” says Aitchison.

The design studio had been using older software for collaboration. “But because the collaboration software was so CAD intensive, it had little use for anyone but designers,” he adds. The latest software, however, will let everyone “touch” new products. Functions from manufacturing through distribution will become part of the productdevelopment process.

Aitchison says ProjectLink works well across language barriers. For instance, trying to describe a universal tape dispenser is a bit of a challenge. “It's a disposable item but carries several adhesive or mounting products inside,” says Aitchison. It could dispense tape, small squares with adhesive on the back for mounting photos in an album, Velcro tabs, or etched copper film.

The dispenser has one housing with about 22 separate geometric items inside. So it makes more sense to see the housing rather than read detailed descriptions about it.

Purchasing agents in the Scottsdale office use the software as well. “Windchill ProjectLink now lets us deliver an announcement of new products with a hyperlink to a 3D rendered model that recipients can explode and cross section, or get drawing details with the exact makeup of the material and dimensions,” adds Aitchison. A 3D model quickly transmits purchasing and engineering info that both Chinese and American engineers can grasp independent of language. “The time from conceptual sketches to production took less than four months. But it's difficult to say how long the project would have taken without the Web-based collaboration software. It would probably require several trips to China to explain such a complex housing,” says Aitchison.

The software also helps with change-management control. “Chinese engineers have manufacturing privileges only. They cannot modify any part in the database without going through rigorous control processes that give them permission to make modifications.”

Finally, the software assists with research. “Because the software is Web based, it's easy for marketing and sales personnel to snap a digital picture of something new or curious, or scan a brochure, and get it into the system's vault so it's accessible to the design team,” says Aitchison.