Subscription site to provide engineers with a place to collaborate

Computer World –

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Engineering Animation Inc. (EAI) this week are launching a service aimed at engineers looking to collaborate on projects using Web browsers.

The companies will announce, a subscription-based service on the Web that will let manufacturers share engineering documents, product data and design information with project teams. HP and EAI will also offer hosted engineering applications -- like finite element analysis applications that might be used to determine the optimal size for a truck's axle, for example -- for rent via the Internet.

EAI, an Ames, Iowa-based vendor of collaborative products for manufacturers, will provide the base e-Vis portal software on top of which HP will layer Web security technology such as its Praesidium authorization server and Virtual Vault encryption software.

HP, which plans to sink $150 million into the venture over the next five years, will set up servers to host the service.

Lisa Williams, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said the e-Vis service could shorten project development cycles. Sharing highly complex documents over company networks not only hogs resources, but also is difficult to achieve because of the varying formats in which engineering specifications and product designs are drawn, Williams said.

A 3-D model developed in one computer-aided design (CAD) package, for instance, may not be viewable by users of other CAD software, which often results in companies having to physically ship multiple copies of engineering drawings to geographically distributed project teams.

"Folks have been trying to figure out easy ways of doing this," Williams said.

Such a portal site can replace the mostly paper-based forms of project communication widely used today and greatly speed up communications between manufacturers, design teams and suppliers, said Scott Beer, MIS manager at Sauer-Sundstrand Inc., a manufacturer of hydraulic equipment and an early user of the technology.

"E-Vis allows you to communicate at the speed of the Internet, not the speed of the U.S. mail," Beer said.

Subscribers to the service log in to a secure project space with a standard browser, from where they can exchange project information or post, update and manipulate data with other project members. The user-configurable interface enables project team members to view engineering diagrams simultaneously, regardless of the CAD format in which they were developed.

"It's like being in a chat room with other project members, where everybody's chatting and sharing engineering designs," Beer said.

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