General Motors taps Alias to assist global design teams

One of the Big Three carmakers has struck a professional service agreement with a Canadian software firm to help it make the most of the applications it uses to develop new vehicles and share data among its global design teams.

Toronto-based Alias

said Tuesday the deal would deepen its relationship with General Motors, which has been using its AutoStudio software for 20 years. As part of the agreement Alias said it would make changes to the software so it can be linked to GM’s UGSÒ CAD and Product Data Management (PDM) processes, allowing the manufacturer’s designers and sculptors to access engineering data from a centralized, global source.

Diane Jurgens, GM Information Systems and Services’ director of process system and integration, said the agreement is not so much about customizing Alias products as integrating its toolsets with other systems GM uses at design centres in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Europe, Australia and Asia Pacific. There has already been one project, for example, that allows Alias software to read and write what are called JT files (a common data format for enabling product visualization and information sharing) so they can be used by other tools in the engineering process.  

Although GM hopes its use of software will speed up the design process, Jurgens said Alias tools also offer the benefit of allowing management to review multiple design alternatives in the same amount of time, or within different regions. It also allows for “design competitions” between studios that aren’t located in the same country. Although the scope of a project may change over time, GM is focused on fast results, she said.

“Sometimes there’s a need to lock down the requirements to get something out the door,” she said. “We really have to balance that ‘Wouldn’t be neat to do it a little bit different?’ kind of thing.”

James Christopher, Alias’s vice-president of global customer service, said the company’s professional services team will be evaluated on its ability to help GM designers understand what’s available through its technology. 

“It’s tied specifically to the biz objectives but also on how we deliver the custom functionality, what’s the quality based to specifications and the people that are dedicated onsite,” he said.

Over the last two years GM has slowly rolled out Alias PortfortiloWall, a collaboration tool, to its design centres around the world. The tool has made a big difference from the days when sketches were manually scanned or hardcopy reproductions were made, Jurgens said.

“If you walked into a studio there might be paper all over the walls,” she said. “The design leadership also had to go into the studios to see most recent designs. PortfolioWall has the studio whiteboards so I can flip between the design of a Buick and a Pontiac, look at Pontiac themes.”

PortfolioWall was created not only to help designers but assist management with their work, Christopher added.

“They’re able to make all the electronic designs of the vehicles ready for review, as opposed to just having to stand behind someone’s shoulder, which may not be socially as comfortable as when you’re dealing with a clay model,” he said.

Alias has been offering professional services for about five years, Christopher said, and has formed similar agreements with other major car manufacturers.

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