Storage for manufacturing


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Maybe it's because they make giant tractors and construction equipment that manufacturing companies like Caterpillar Inc. come across as large, ponderous operations. People imagine massive factories that house huge assembly lines, and assume the IT infrastructure needed to support the collaborative design and development of these monster machines will be equally massive and complex. It may have been this way once, but not today.

"The IT infrastructure is not as big as you might think. There are a lot of parts used in the design of one of our products, but for the most part we have a few basic designs and a lot of different configurations. There's not a tremendous amount of data," says Kenneth Olson, technical specialist in the storage management group at Peoria, IL-based Caterpillar, which touts itself as the world's largest maker of construction and forestry equipment.

The situation is similar at mailing product manufacturer Pitney Bowes Inc., Stamford, CT, which designs and manufactures mailing equipment ranging in size from desktop postage meters to mailing automation equipment that fills an entire room. Pitney Bowes uses the Windchill ProjectLink collaborative design and development product from Needham, MA-based PTC, and the data associated with its products amounts to 750GB--up from 500GB a few years ago--out of a total enterprise storage capacity of 170TB, reports Steve Blum, Pitney Bowes' director of ISS Enterprise Computing Services. Aerospace manufacturers,

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by comparison, can gobble up 10GB to 20GB of design data storage each day when they're in the midst of a major product development, notes Victor Gerdes, senior product manager for CAD/PDM at PTC.

Regardless of the amount of data, the demands of manufacturing and product development--especially in a global, widely distributed collaborative product development environment--present unique challenges to corporate IT managers who are increasingly being asked to oversee these engineering systems along with the usual corporate information systems. "This is quite different from classic enterprise information systems," says Rick Villars, vice president of storage systems at IDC, Framingham, MA.

A collaborative world
The days when products were designed and built by one company are gone. Products are now designed by teams of often geographically dispersed designers and developers who share product designs, specifications and requirements across a global network. Outside suppliers and subcontractors play a vital role in a product's development, and components are designed and sourced from a variety of providers. "It's now a distributed world and you can have a thousand engineers, consultants and subcontractors spread out across the world all wanting to access the same data," says Villars.

This raises an issue manufacturers didn't have to confront when they kept designs inside or shared them among a group of trusted partners in the U.S. "Now our customers are realizing that they're sending designs to outsourcing partners, many of which are in Asia, and they're worrying about how to protect their designs," says Gerdes. He expects manufacturers to increasingly demand digital rights management (DRM) capabilities.

DRM aside, CNS Inc. may epitomize the new manufacturer even more than equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar and Pitney Bowes. CNS, a publicly held company headquartered in Minneapolis, makes Breathe Right nasal strips, a consumer product. "We have about 60 people and do all the design and development, but we outsource the actual manufacturing," says Don Himsl, IT director at CNS.

The company designs its products using AutoCAD and shares its designs among its product development staff. Design data is stored on CNS' 2.2TB SAN from Compellent Technologies, which automatically protects critical design files using Compellent's data instant-replay feature. Ironically, the product packaging designs, done in Adobe Illustrator, require much more storage than the AutoCAD designs.

Kichler Lighting, a manufacturer of lighting fixtures in Cleveland, follows the same approach. "We design and engineer the products and manage the product data, but we outsource the actual manufacturing to a number of companies," says Michael Sink, Kichler's manager of network and operations infrastructure. The company built its own product lifecycle management (PLM) tool using workflow software. Otherwise, it relies on basic file sharing over the network to enable engineers and designers to collaboratively develop products. Kichler Lighting manages the collaborative design process itself through the Artesia Teams digital asset management solution from Artesia Technologies Inc., which handles the shared files and provides the necessary design check-in/out process to ensure synchronization.

This was first published in August 2005

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