Often The Best Collaboration Tools Are Free

I will discuss how to ready a shop to collaborate on a technology level without major investments.

The best way to differentiate your company from other suppliers is by lending your expertise when reviewing concepts and designs and making your company an asset to an OEM’s team. This interaction is what people often refer to as collaboration. Last month, we covered the hard part—collaborating with humans. In this column, I will discuss how to ready a shop to collaborate on a technology level without major investments.

In today’s technology market, there is a solution for every business process. From e-mail to CAD software, there’s someone trying to sell a complex solution for a complex problem. Spend your money wisely on solutions that will give you the quickest payback. What’s the quickest payback? Free, of course. There are many free applications available to manufacturers that will make your shop more accessible and productive.

First, let’s start off with how people communicate with you. Your computer might have been outfitted with the latest Microsoft Office package that includes Outlook. If these tools are available, use them. If not, there are viable and reliable e-mail solutions that are free of charge. Look into creating a free e-mail account with Hotmail or Yahoo. If additional services are needed (such as a larger inbox to receive CAD files), they are available for a nominal fee.

When accepting CAD drawings, you will quickly see that there are many CAD formats. You will need to prepare yourself to accept all of the file formats that your buyers work with. This doesn’t mean purchasing the latest version of a customer’s CAD software. Many of the CAD vendors provide free viewing applications that allow you to review drawings and collaborate without major investments. Here are a few of these applications:

Adobe PDF – A PDF file is an electronic document captured in its original formatting and shared online. It’s another good way to share drawings and models with colleagues, customers and suppliers without investing in extra software. Although the software to publish PDF files generally costs money, the software to read them—Adobe Acrobat Reader—is absolutely free.

eDrawings – This free viewing and publishing application from SolidWorks Corporation makes it easy to share accurate representations of 2D and 3D CAD models. The person viewing the drawing or model doesn’t need CAD software to completely understand the engineer’s intent. eDrawings opens .dwg, .dxf, .sldprt, .slddrw, .eprt and .edrw files.

DWGgateway data translation software – So many of us use AutoCAD and are too often forced into costly upgrades. DWGgateway is for AutoCAD users who do not want to change the version of AutoCAD they are using, but who might encounter problems reading different versions. The ability to open any DWG file saves time.

Finally, one of the biggest hurdles to collaboration for both buyers and suppliers is trust. It is imperative for you to provide a trust level that will make you a preferred and repeat supplier. At MfgQuote, we will be rolling out enhanced security solutions for the digital protection of engineering drawings, giving users complete control of their engineering documents’ distribution and functionality. The buyer or engineer can control how, when, where and by whom their drawings and documents are viewed. The user can cause a drawing or document to electronically “shred itself” at a given point in time. This solution provides buyers and engineers with an unparalleled level of security for their intellectual property when sourcing online for engineered-to-order components. Make sure you are ready to accept these protected files by downloading the free receivers at www.mfgquote.com/security.

The solutions in this column will help you become compatible with your customer’s business with no money involved. When you’re accessible, trusted and ready to take all file formats, the likelihood of becoming a preferred supplier increases greatly and so do your profits.

Mitch Free is president & CEO of MfgQuote.com, Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at (770) 444-9686, ext. 2946 or at mfree@mfgquote.com