Written by Rachel Holmes

The Evolution of Collaboration in Product Development [Webinar Recap]

The explosion of digital and 3D-based collaboration methods are creating major opportunities in manufacturing. But, it’s also leading to internal struggles and challenges. PLM experts Nathan Hartman and Jim Zwica have been on the frontlines, experiencing the evolution of collaboration and communication in product development over the years. Their insight brings to light different optimization practices that organizations can explore. On March 21, I moderated a 60-minute panel discussion with Jim and Nathan that explored how new technology is affecting collaboration.



Three decades ago, the product development process looked very different than it does today. Engineers and designers collaborated face-to-face with a small group of people. Teams worked with paper-based, 2D drawings. Limited, noncurrent tools led to rework. Even the act of delivering information to colleagues could be a logistical nightmare.

Today, teams have the ability to communicate faster—both in medium and in decision-making. Engineers can move information faster, distribute more widely, control information-sharing, and manage versions easier. But now that engineers have better tools, how do they work better instead of just doing what they already know how to do faster? Jim and Nathan dive into these implications in the webinar.


One consistency in product development throughout the years is the intent and desire to make better decisions. Digital concepts like the digital twin and digital thread are making this easier, and giving a name to what the industry has been trying to capture for decades. Nathan and Jim discussed how digital concepts are helping to standardize information and make it more accessibility to people throughout the extended enterprise.

The power of the digital thread lies in its ability to store continuous, connected information that can be easily passed back and forth throughout the extended enterprise. Instead of designers pushing information out to collaborators, the thread enables a continuous feedback loop. And rather than reviewing someone’s interpretation of information, anyone in the product lifecycle can directly access product information via the digital twin. 

That’s the ultimate goal anyway. However, as Jim and Nathan discuss, the technology isn’t quite fully connected and continuous yet. The amount of data sources is slowly dwindling, but the industry doesn’t have a single source of information just yet. Throughout the panel discussion, Jim and Nathan explore how organizations are tackling the battle of sharing digital information.


Despite the changes in communication methods, engineers still require much of the same kind of information to do their jobs. 3D modeling enables teams to review information in a much more natural way. 3D models provide accurate, scalable information that engineers can easily share to communicate design and functionality intent. Not only that, but engineers can much more easily iterate from a 3D drawing rather than working in 2D. 

Despite the power of 3D modeling, Jim and Nathan explore multiple challenges to consider:

  • Software changes and updates impact whether people can access information
  • PMI and contextual information can get lost during translation
  • The CAD authoring tools aren’t the same as viewing or consumption tools, creating discontinuity throughout the digital thread.
  • Cultural challenges cause people to revert back to 2D workflows


Today’s manufacturing climate is in the midst of a significant transformation. The “old guard” who has experienced the transition from 2D paper drawings into CAD into model-based engineering is working alongside the new generation who only knows 3D representations. Combine this with the fact that our technology “isn’t quite there yet,” and our industry is feeling major growing pains. Although we are in a flux, manufacturers can still experience the significant benefits that digital concepts and 3D modeling has to offer. 

I encourage you to check out Nathan and Jim’s panel discussion to learn this in depth.

About Rachel Holmes

Rachel has been a content marketer in the technology space for her entire professional career. Whether she writes about game-changing hardware or software technology, her top priority is creating value for her readers. At Vertex Software, she is consistently putting herself in someone else’s shoes—asking tough questions and finding ways to teach the most challenging of concepts in a simple way.