Sharing Files with Vendors, Suppliers, and Manufacturers

June 22, 2022

All hardware teams work with certain external teams. The vast majority have parts of their design fabrication outsourced to vendors. In certain cases, teams will also have aspects of their product assembly or product design completed by external teams. In all of these cases, it is essential for internal and external collaboration to run efficiently and effectively.

Most teams rely on email, general cloud storage, or an FTP to exchange files with vendors. Each of these methods have tradeoffs. Email is widely accepted and reasonably secure. However, using email exclusively spreads out information into disparate threads, has file size limitations, and does not enable a higher level view of file approval status. General cloud storage has fewer, albeit still present, size limitations and is helpful for aggregating multiple file types. Unfortunately, general cloud storage makes the communication and version control aspects of collaboration more difficult because it does not have a clear chronological order to it. FTPs are an efficient and secure method for file transfer. However, they do not provide tools for effective communication, version control, or status overview.

Hardware teams have certain workflows that they would like to solve with a better way to work with vendors. First, hardware teams would like to be able to organize design files (CAD, drawings) with design-related files (PDFs, spreadsheets, and slide decks). Often, those design-related files are quotes or DFM feedback. While that can be achieved at small scale with existing methods like email and Google Drive, it becomes increasingly chaotic as multiple revs and more files are introduced. Bild solves this workflow problem. For example, a user can upload a CAD file and drawing for Left Bracket V3 into Bild. Upon uploading the user is prompted to assign each of those files a version, such as 3.01. Then, any design-related files associated with version 3.01 can be added to the same folder in Bild by a variety of stakeholders. Each of these design-related files will also be associated to the version number 3.01. If the design is checked in again, it prompts the user to confirm if the design is the same rev or rev up. Design-related files go through the same process. As a result, all of the stakeholders understand which version is associated with each. Since all file-types are viewable in the browser with Bild, everyone is able to quickly review which changes have been made and how that affects other files.

Design teams, vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers can all use different CAD design systems. This leads to barriers in sharing native CAD and having to convert to universal formats like STEP and STP, slowing down the iterative feedback process between parties

Second, hardware teams want an approval process which reaches the correct stakeholders, is flexible, and reviewable. With email or Google Drive, approval is generally done with a written reply of or comment of “Approved”. With this quick single sign off, the deeper review required from all reviewers to have a successful approval often does not happen. Further, the approval itself is confined to a text thread. There is no higher level view of which files have been approved and which have not. With Bild, our embedded approval process enables a user to request approval from key stakeholders on specific aspects, set due dates, receive comments, and show file status. All file statuses are shown in a dashboard view, enabling a clear view of which files are “In progress”, “In approval”, “Approved” or in other lifecycle states. It’s easy to see who specifically has approved a file, when that occurred, and why.

Third, hardware teams want to improve how they communicate on these files. Long email exchanges and powerpoint slides of DFM feedback do have certain value. Yet, they are not built for hardware and have a few weaknesses. First, they rely largely on screenshots which are slow to add/change and difficult to associate with specific design revs. Second, they do not enable stakeholders to address multiple aspects of the same file independently. For example, if holes on a bracket need to be increased in size in one location and reduced in size in another then it is difficult to have those conversations occurring simultaneously in great detail. With Bild, feedback tied to a specific location can be accomplished with feedback items directly on a location within a file - whether it’s CAD or any other file type. Each of these feedback items creates a way to talk through a subject matter and manage progress on resolving it through our kanban board view.

In summary, Bild provides flexible solutions to three major workflow challenges with sharing files with vendors.