Product designers and purchasing agents generally suffer from a disconnect at auto makers and suppliers.

Engineers often spend considerable amounts of time developing great product innovations that ultimately die on the vine because sourcing would be cost prohibitive or because the supplier that engineering wants to use lacks the necessary certification.

The exercise can sap an organization’s creative energies and cause massive frustration for well-intentioned staffers.

The automotive business unit of computer-aided design specialist Dassault Systèmes has a solution that springs from its Enovia suite of software dedicated to product lifecycle management.

PLM is a burgeoning field that allows companies to digitally monitor, in three dimensions, the lifecycle of a component from design inception to the scrap yard.

Dassault has taken Enovia one step further by enabling its PLM customers to add a crucial link in the product-development chain: purchasing.

Most companies already have catalogs of pre-approved suppliers, and those lists often rank suppliers, as some are more preferred than others.

Dassault’s new Enovia Collaborative Enterprise Sourcing system (CES) ties in to a customer’s list of pre-approved suppliers, with ranking information readily available. Dassault demonstrated the new system at the recent SAE International World Congress in Detroit.

Take, for instance, a supplier that is developing a new brake system. The engineers have a good idea that will save significant weight in both the rotor and caliper, but they need to find a supplier skilled at working with particular materials. They are interested in sourcing from two companies.

The engineers have no idea which suppliers have been certified to work with their company, or whether the suppliers they would like to use are any good.

Traditionally, finding the appropriate supplier would fall to the procurement department, which often finds the suppliers that engineering wants to use have not been pre-approved and might be problematic.

This haggling can go on for weeks and months, while product-development deadlines fast approach and patience grows thin.

Enovia CES consists of a database of preferred suppliers that takes into account regional requirements around the world, and the engineers have full access, so they don’t have to waste time pursuing the wrong suppliers.

“You can choose a supplier based on its location or based on its ability to meet safety requirements in different countries around the world,” says Rajani Jayakumar, application engineer for Dassault in Auburn Hills, MI.

“The designers have this information at their fingertips rather than getting it from the sourcing department,” Jayakumar says.

Research by AberdeenGroup Inc. finds only 12% of manufacturers currently involve procurement or supply-chain functions in the product design process before the construction of physical prototypes.

AberdeenGroup, a Boston-based value-chain research firm, urges companies to “close the gap” between product development and procurement.

“Engineering can be educated about the complexity of cost, so they can expand their criteria beyond performance characteristics when making design decisions,” Aberdeen says in a recent report.

Certain auto makers, particularly General Motors Corp., already are doing this by demanding greater communication between engineering and global purchasing.

Meeting product cost targets is a constant struggle in the auto industry, and the best solution is to promote the free flow of information within an organization, Aberdeen says.

Research by the company indicates half of manufacturers cannot predict a product’s cost within a 25% accuracy.

So far, Boeing Co. is the only manufacturer using Enovia CES on a pilot basis. Dassault has offered it to Ford Motor Co. and Johnson Controls Inc. for trials, as well.

Jayakumar says Enovia CES is not expensive for companies that already use Enovia PLM or Dassault’s CATIA computer-aided design system.

Enovia CES sounds as if it could make purchasing departments redundant and unnecessary, but Jayakumar says the system is not intended to replace procurement – just make it easier and more efficient.

“Purchasing people would continue to evaluate and rank suppliers and decide whether a supplier is recommended or not,” she says.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com