Social Product Development

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Day in the Future of Product Development?

Bob’s phone rang to the tune of the Kinks’ classic B-side “I Need You.” It was an alert message sent by his prototype drilling rig currently undergoing field testing. Environmental conditions at the test site were compromising its performance, and the onboard communications system was letting Bob know of the problem. Bob remotely messaged the machine, downloaded a full set of diagnostics, and performed a virtual fly through of the design. A specific error code contained in the diagnostic data visually highlighted a possible problem area on screen: a damaged casing was exposing the equipment’s sensitive internals to the elements.

Bob used his product development system to interrogate the rig’s design history, and was able to visually navigate through a network of information which mapped specific iterations of CAD files with all past and present team members that worked on them or on similar designs. The system combined these results with an enterprise profile search, and presented Bob with a pathway that indicated the most efficient social connection to the person with the necessary skills to help solve the problem. He saw that Fred, a long-time colleague and team member on other projects, was a close connection to Ned, the original design engineer and person with the requisite knowledge. Bob initiated an instant message chat with Fred, who made the introductions to Ned. After a video-based design session and with guidance from Ned, Bob had the design guidance he needed. He revised the CAD files and had manufacturing run updated tool paths in the CAM system. NC code was uploaded to the field-based machine shop to cut a new part, and Bob sent visual instructions to the test engineer’s handheld regarding how to perform the fix.

Whoa, hold the iPhone! Is this what's in store for product development? One day, it just may be. What do you think: plausible or not so much?

For your enjoyment, here are some famously incorrect technology predictions courtesy of


  1. Very cool use case... i think we are very close to making this possible.

  2. Engineers getting social with each other - and with the products/equipment they work with - sounds very much like the future. This sounds like a great combination of M2M (machine to machine) and social computing in PLM (aka social product development).

  3. Robin: This is a fascinating brain tickler. I'm wondering if Bob might be able to solve the same problem with the social media tools that are currently available. If it turns out, he could, then the methods he uses will give us clues as to how a product development system of the future should function.

    With your permission, I'd like to open up a parallel discussion on my blog about the issue.

  4. Sounds good Kenneth, looking forward to it.


  5. Very cool that there's a demo video example of your scenario

  6. Genuinely hilarious. Nice work by Blake.