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Distributed Prototyping Across Organizations and Regions

arrow | JKL Components | 11/11/2020

Distributed Prototyping Across Organizations and Regions

This year, many of us are participating in the biggest-ever experiment on remote work and online collaboration. For engineers designing and prototyping new products, the need to collaborate online poses additional challenges.

Distributed prototyping is a promising technique for supporting concurrent engineering, as it allows for efficient coordination of the information that flows between members of a working group to enable quick consensus, improve communication, and support remote work.


Used in addition to concurrent engineering, distributed prototyping has several advantages for organizations:

- It supports the geographical distribution of components. Different parts can be sourced and engineered in other places.

- It allows the design team to concentrate on the specifics of the application.

- Using current collaborative technologies, remote teams can synchronize their work and speed up testing and validation, reducing time to market.


Obviously, not everything is an advantage in distributed prototyping. Running a distributed team requires much more than just working remotely and using Zoom.


Organizations need to change the paradigm around traditional working practices. The ones that embrace the new possibilities would be able to execute asynchronously and do things a conventional team cannot.


This year’s unusual market conditions, especially difficulties for regional and international travel, make it necessary to accelerate the move to many types of distributed work. While many other departments found it easier to adapt to telework and remote meetings, engineering teams working together in a lab have more difficult challenges to continue working on current projects remotely.


The lack of access to a lab or hardware necessary to continue working, plus less unscheduled interaction with colleagues, disturbs the natural flow of ideas and slows down testing and adjustment of every product.


This is especially relevant for small engineering teams, which are not used to working on large projects distributed across different locations.


New materials and components, more accessible to source locally, are now used for prototypes

In Barcelona, SEAT, the Volkswagen group’s Spanish brand, is launching a pilot to produce parts using rice husks. The tests consist of modeling some parts of vehicles, such as the rear hatch and double load floor, with rice husks mixed with polyurethanes and polypropylenes.


The SEAT design team in Spain coordinates with Volkswagen engineering in Germany to 3D print some of the parts, allowing for remote testing of the new components for different vehicle models. That allows VW and other group companies to verify the product locally and decide if they want to use the new materials in current and future models.


Distributed prototyping across different organizations

While prototyping by concurrent engineering is usually done within the same organization, and some distributed work typically occurs in-house, more corporations are now discovering the advantages of outsourcing some parts of prototype production and design.


Large corporations, especially those in the consumer electronics market, have been outsourcing some new product development tasks for years, especially for things such as prototype design and packaging. Now, smaller companies, initially reluctant to let outsiders collaborate in new products, are asking for things such as 3D print code developing, product validation, and outdoor testing of new products to be done by external suppliers.


This brings new business opportunities for organizations such as the FabCafe network, with several outlets in different countries.


“Since the early lockdowns, there has been a shift in the work we do for several clients, especially on medium- to big-sized companies,” said David Tena, owner of the FabCafe in Barcelona. “Now that it is recommended for people to avoid traveling and going to the usual workplace, teleworking employees and developing teams from abroad are asking us to develop designs and prototypes. For example, for a Chicago-based company, we are designing a case for an electronic device, coordinating with their electronic development team, sharing the changes and improvements that we are both doing, and 3D printing the iterations to physically test them.”


For distributed prototyping, availability and fast delivery of parts are paramount

Traveling is difficult, and many need to work from home and remote labs, distributing their work. For that, they are required to get parts and components quickly.


As remote teams need to replicate much of their lab equipment in different locations, having access to reliable distribution of parts and components is critical to keep working and avoid unnecessary delays.


Engineers need to get their hands on essential lab tools and equipment, and they also need to have the same parts and components their colleagues are working on. Furthermore, in many cases, fast delivery is a must.


Replacing basic components such as cables, connectors, and other simple components could seem easy but could prove otherwise in some cases. In times of crisis, such as the one we live in right now, some of the primary supply chains could be severely affected, especially when factories need to close or are required to manufacture more critical components.


As the world’s largest distributor of electronics, with logistic centers in several countries and regions and an inventory of over 3.8 billion components in stock, We can provide the tools to help remote teams continue working.


In the modern work environment, project leaders need to be aware of every member of their engineering team’s needs and keep an open line to the external designers and technicians working on their project. Organizations that understand these new requirements and allocate resources accordingly are the ones that will succeed in getting their products ready to market.




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