App To Stay On Track helps product developers meet milestones

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 5, 2001

2 Min Read

A small West-coast manufacturer says it could reap big benefits if the promise of new online workflow software pans out.

Startup fuel-cell developer Metallic Power Inc. has begun testing a design-sharing application from Inc. to avoid mistakes like the one that happened about a year ago. The company nearly missed a deadline because a supplier hadn't seen the data for an updated design drawing of the zinc-air fuel-cell frame Metallic is developing, and sent a part built on the wrong specifications. The Carlsbad, Calif., manufacturer--which is designing the zinc-air fuel cell for computer power backup and to replace conventional engine batteries in electric vehicles--says staying on schedule builds investor confidence.

"If we don't make a milestone, then investors don't look so highly at us," design engineer Bret Lobree says. The parts mistake wasn't serious, Lobree says, but it could have been worse if the company were closer to its 2003 deadline for shipping its first zinc-air fuel-cell product. "It could have meant making a milestone or not, and at this point in our lives, completing milestones is important," he says.

Last month, Metallic started testing Bom's hosted Supplier Access app, which lets companies lease bills-of-materials management software. Bills of materials contain the data associated with a component offered to suppliers for bid. Supplier Access, scheduled for general availability this month, will let manufacturers share product development information with suppliers, who will be able to respond to the information online. "Because I already know who my suppliers are, all I have to do is click a button and the drawings are shared with them," Lobree says.

The company uploads its designs of plastic or metal parts for its backup systems to Bom. From Bom's Web page where the file is viewed, users can send an E-mail that delivers their supplier a link to that page. "I don't have to fill out a fax form or a separate E-mail," Lobree says. "If I make a change to the part, I can update it and then inform them there's been a change."

Metallic Power pays about $100 per seat monthly or $1,000 per seat annually for the service. There's no installation charge, since users only need a Web browser to upload and view files.

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