The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode 116 · 3 months ago

The Future of Design Collaboration for Engineers


MJ Peters joins us two years after her first appearance on our show to talk about the evolution of workforce collaboration among engineers in manufacturing.  

Currently the VP of Marketing at CoLab Software, MJ brings a mix of industrial and SaaS experience to her role. Before CoLab, MJ worked with 50+ venture-backed b2b software companies on their demand generation strategies at Refine Labs. And prior to that, she spent six years working at FTSE 100 Halma PLC, a group of mid-sized manufacturing businesses focused on medical, environmental and safety technology.  

Join us as we discuss:

  • How the way teams communicate and collaborate (especially engineers) has started to change
  • How digital transformations are impacting modern manufacturing and engineering
  • Steps that MJ has taken to uniquely position CoLab in its market

We used to launch products in sixty months, can we launch them in forty eight months? Or we used to launch products in thirty six months, can we launch them in eighteen months Um? And so we see a lot of engineering teams kind of trying to grapple with that, like how are we gonna do that? How are we gonna cut our product development times in half, especially when, like product development for hardware teams is getting harder? Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B two B sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla Sev. This episode is brought to you by Alpha Software Corporation. Alpha software helps manufacturers digitized paper forms, making data collection fast and easy, with built in analytics, stashboards get a free trial at Alpha software dot com, slash M e. There were certainly signs of change in terms of how teams worked and collaborated in a world that was becoming more and more digital. But today, after two and a half years of pandemic and a digital transformation of a large percentage of the workforce, that change is undeniable. We have teams collaborating in real time around the globe and from communication to product development, we need new tools to help us manage it all. My guest today heads up marketing at one company that's helping lead this charge. Let me introduce her. As collapse VP of marketing, M J peters brings a mix of industrial and software as a service experience to her role. Prior to Colab, MJ led sales and marketing at refined labs, where she worked with fifty plus venture back to btob, software companies on demand generation. Before that, M J spent six years working at FT SC one home a PLC, a group of midsize manufacturing businesses focused on medical, environmental and safety technology. M J, welcome back to the show. Thank you, Joe. Episode two. Now I don't know what episode number this is going to be. But happy to be here at yeah, I think you're currently slotted as episode a hundred fourteen, so, you know, bringing you back a couple of years later. I wouldn't even want to go back and listen to our first recording because I know that I had no idea what I was doing back then and hopefully a little bit better at it right now. But Um, you know, I gotta start somewhere. Right hopefully I'm a little bit better at it. Strong number. Yeah. Well, on that topic, you with your own show, I know, just hit your number one hundred Um milestone with Matthew Shanella and the industrial marketing show. Talk about that for a second. Yeah, so we've been doing that podcast a little over two years as well, and we focused specifically on the marketing side of things. Sometimes we do a little for a into the product management with sales side of things as well, um, but really for those go to market and product innovation operators working in midsize manufacturing companies, awesome. You guys do a really awesome job. I love Um. I love your show. I love the focus on marketing as a marketing guy, Um, and I got to be on your show when that I think it was like episode five or six or something like that. For you guys are early on as well. So that was fun and that's how I met Matt Chanella, who wound up working at guerrilla with me for about a year and a half and helped us take some major steps forward at our business. So it's been a fun experience for sure. It's a really small world here in industrial it is it is indeed. Um. Well, I know a lot has changed in your career since that time...

...when we talked on this show for episode two. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what you've done since, Um, that time when you were still at fire trace? Yeah, so I was at fire trace, which was the end of that six year run at home a, which is a group of midsized manufacturing businesses, as you mentioned in the intro Um. I then jumped over to refine labs. I had actually a connection to the founder who worked with me at home for a little while and uh so I got exposure to the world of B two B software and really like rapidly learned the INS and outs of it because I was working with fifty or sixty different venture back software companies and then at the end of about a year in that role, I decided to come back in house and also back to the industrial world. So I'm now at Collab software, which is another venture backed B two B software company, but we are helping mechanical engineering teams collaborate better together. Very cool and I was I was excited when I saw you go into collab because I knew little bit about Collab. I had Adam Keating on this show actually, maybe a year and a half ago, as I think you know. and Um, yeah, I think you guys are doing some really cool stuff. I think that would be a good foray into where we're going here. You told me recently that you and the Collab team believe that the next renaissance is coming for manufacturing and hardware engineering. I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about that. Yeah, so I'm going to start the answer to this question in kind of a weird place, which is linkedin. Um, so, three years ago, when I was working at fire trace, I was kind of just getting into posting on Linkedin and I remember really distinctly from that time I posted a lot about industrial marketing and go to market and and my I was I was trying to educate more of a manufacturing and industrial audience. But at the same time I was quite interested in joining a fast growing business and I remember somebody telling me, Oh, that's silly right, like you should not talk about industrial anymore. If you want to, you know, go into the startup world, because there's not a lot of innovation happening there. You should just pivot and generally about B two B growth. And I was like, okay, that's a fair point. I accept your point, but I'm going to ignore it because I think I think industrial innovation is coming. It's going to pick up. There's so many awesome problems to be solved in industrial and, low and behold, three years later, I am in an industrial sas company, but there are so many others like all popping up all over the place. I feel like new ones every day and and they're gaining momentum Um. And so I think both on the software side of things, with with products designed to innovate business processes for manufacturers and hardware design teams, I think that's picking up and equally I think there's probably gonna be a lot of innovation on the physical side of things as well. Um and of course, the crossover between the two, where you get Iot and AI interfacing with physical manufacturing processes. So all of that, I think, is is already starting to accelerate and it's going to pick up steam in the next couple of years. Yeah, that's UH makes a lot of sense. You, and I know there's people who come from marketing backgrounds share, I think, the opinion that the manufacturing sector tends to be lagging a little bit in terms of sales and marketing technology. Told me the same is true from an engineering standpoint, and I know collab kind of operates in that world. Can you speak a little more to that? Yeah, so, Um, I think you've seen a lot of innovation in uh in terms of business processes and software designed to make business processes easier and faster. Happening, specifically when it comes to software engineering processes and when it comes to like sales and marketing tech sold to other software businesses. And I actually the reason for that is that entrepreneurs like to solve their own problems and people that are in the software space tend to be really comfortable launching software products. So inevitably you get people that have been working either on the dead side the sales and marketing side of a software business, launching their own company and they're solving software engineering problems or sales and mark getting problems that are common for software companies. And and... I think you don't have as many people that have a deep knowledge of both software and venture and startups, as well as hardware engineering and manufacturing and those kind of business processes. Um. So I think it's a it's a rare breed of person. Obviously, Jeremy and Adam, who are the founders of Collab, fit that box perfectly. Um, but in a lot of ways they're self taught in terms of their software expertise and they really came from that hardware engineering background. But they came onto the scene and they're solving a problem that they had and I think you're going to see a lot more of that with entrepreneurs coming from the manufacturing space and and figuring out software as they go along. Mm Hm, talk a little bit about what Collab is doing right now to innovate on the engineering side of manufacturing. Yeah. So, Um, I think it's worth, UM, starting with a bit of like a history of the tools that already exist for hardware engineering teams, because obviously it's not like there are no tools for hardware engine earing teams. They use tools every day. Um. But if you go back to the nineteen sixties, that's when you first had cad, computer ad into the design and for that a lot of engineering was being done like pen and paper, physical, uh, physical design. And so cad comes along, people start using computer aided design and Um, that was great. It was a really a step change forward for for hardward design teams, but it created an immediate like follow on problem, which is there is way too many cad files now that, it were, like being created at a rapid pace and there was no way to organize them. Um, and so quickly you have another solution pop onto the market, which is PDM, product data management, and that kind of the promise there was. It's we're gonna have a source of truth where all of these cad files that are proliferating are not organized, which obviously made sense. That picked up steam, Um. But then you have another problem, which is, well, if you really want to be the source of truth, you can't just organize cad files because these designs, they're not just used by the engineering team, they're used by supply chain they're used by quality, they're used by manufacturing, and so that's when kind of Plm, or the next cycle, but life cycle, product life cycle management Um, comes onto the scene. It's it's a little bit more take some more expansive view where you're not just talking about pad files but now you're talking about product Metadata, Um and and really trying to manage like all the times that a product changes throughout its life cycle. You know, it gets launched, maybe you launch a rev to like four years later, where you're solving for specific customer needs that you've seen as a result of things happening in the field. You're interfacing with your quality team and then you change the product a little bit. has to been you know, it has to be UH built differently on the manufacturing floor. So product life cycle management Um software really helps companies manage that whole life cycle from launch all the way through to Um obsolescence of a product. Um. And then, you know, once product life cycle management comes on onto the scene, it's it's now quite mature. A lot of a lot of companies use that software and since then we haven't, in my opinion, we haven't really had a major launch show the new transformational software for engineering teams. Um and so it collaborally realized is that there's a big part of the engineering design process that happens outside of both cad and PLM, and that's really the decision making. So you have an engineer and they create a cad model and eventually you're gonna check that CAD model into PLM or PDM and it's going to become a product record that other people are working on. But like before you can check it in, a lot of people have to weigh in on what was created from cad. Right. So you're the engineer, maybe your boss has to weigh in, maybe your peers have to weigh in, maybe the person with mechanical expertise has to weigh in because the person with electrical expertise made the model. Maybe your suppliers or your customers have to weigh in, and lots of decisions get made in between, like the CAD and the P lm, PDM, Um and so plm tends to be pretty rigid for a reason, which is like you don't want changes being made all the time that...

...are going to impact quality and manufacturing and supply chain because it would cause chaos. But that rigidity that that helps plm do its job makes it very hard for that fluid decision making process to take place inside of PLM and so as a as a result, you have people going outside of PLM and they're using like power points and emails and looking over each other's shoulders. Uh, and ultimately, like all of that decision making, it gets a little messy and at the end of the day, like some of the most important decisions about the products are being made in that space. And so collab wants to come in really and build something that is designed with the decision making processes in mind, but that also integrates really seamlessly with cat and with PLM. So it just comes right into the tech stack. It fills that vacuu Um and it helps, ultimately, engineers make better design decisions faster. Let's take a quick break for a word from our sponsor. Still using paper forms for inspections. Alpha software, corporate sation, helps manufacturers turn paper forms into powerful mobile APPS. You'll create more accurate and thorough manufacturing data and built in dashboards will help your manager's pinpoint quality and supplier issues faster. You don't need to have any development skills to build apps with Alpha software. They offer APP templates that make it easy get a free trial at Alpha software dot com, slash m E. Yeah, I love it. Um, I feel like this kind of software is like part of my world in this in marketing and design and things like that, with with my team. But it's it's really interesting to see this happening in mark in a manufacturing and engineering setting. How has it been well received? Yeah, so I think there's a conversation going on in a lot of manufacturing companies about time to market. So we talked to, you know, ten, fifteen, twenty enterprise manufacturing organizations every week and, Um, a lot of them are trying to get to market faster. So you have like companies that are in the news all the time, like apple, who really challenge other product manufacturers to get to market faster and they're kind of on the forefront and they're pushing the entire ecosystem to say we used to launch products in sixty months, can we launch them in forty eight months? Or we used to launch products in thirty six months, can we launch them in eighteen months, um, and so we see a lot of engineering teams kind of trying to grapple with that, like, how are we going to do that? How are we gonna cut our product development times in half, especially when, like, product development for hardware teams is getting harder, not easier. Right, we have supply chain crisis, we have UM teams that are distributed on multiple continents, you've got the engineers sitting in a factory that is on a different continent than where the product is going to be manufactured and you have increasingly, like with all of this IOT innovation going on, electronics that have to integrate seamlessly with hardware, that have to integrate seamlessly with communication infrastructure. So it's getting harder and you're you're trying to do it faster. So something fundamentally needs to change about how companies design products, and it can't just be like small efficiency gains that are going to get you there. Are there other tech companies touching the manufacturing sector that you are looking at and sort of admire as you watch this digital transformation take place? Yeah, so, I I talk a little bit about how PLM is a system of record and then there's a lot of hardware engineering work, decision making work happening and happening outside of that system of record, and you actually have the same thing going on in manufacturing. So hardware engineering has that problem. Manufacturing has it too. So you have an e R P, which is your system of record, but once you get an m o or a manufacturing order entered into that ERP system, what happens next is that a lot of the building of that product happens completely offline. So I've worked at Wal companies that use paper travelers.

So you get the M O and then it goes into a folder and it travels all around the production floor and you know when somebody completes this process, they check it off and and that is how these things get built and executed. There's no digital record of that. Um. So now you have a lot of companies that are building manufacturing execution systems, which is sort of the analog to what Colub is doing. So we're gonna take all this stuff that's happening outside and it's a little bit chaotic, and we're going to systemize it and and create a digital thread. and Um there's lots of different approaches to that. So you've got like companies that are focused on a specific part of the process. So augmentier is an example where they make work constructions. They're like digitizing work constructions. But the manufacturing floor, um or, you've got companies that focus on a specific vertical. So you've got machine metrics, for example, which they're they're doing machine monitoring, which is specifically for like precision machining and not necessarily you know, welding or other kind of manufacturing processes. And then you've got other companies that are trying to like tackle the whole old manufacturing execution system problem, like Tulip, which are like a little bit more modular, a little bit more customizable. Um, but maybe somebody would have to configure that more than an augmenteer or machine metrics, where it's kind of like out of the box for specific application. So those kinds of things are really interesting. You've also got a lot of interesting stuff happening with data and AI. So monolith is an example of that. They simulate expensive testing that happens in manufacturing. So Um, think about like a crash test for automotive. Obviously that's super expensive to run. So what they're gonna do is, you know, you run a couple of them and then you use that data and you apply ai to basically simulate as though you ran it a thousand times and so you get the data without having to run the expensive test. Um instrumental is another interesting one. I'll stop rattling off many, many names of companies here in a second. But they use they they're analyzing data through ai to kind of surface quality issues so that engineers can find them and fix them faster. So lots of innovation, lots of really citing stuff. Yeah, that's one of my favorite things about hosting this podcast and just working with manufacturing people in general is is to see all the innovation that's happening right now. It's there's just so many different forces that are converging and, Um, I think a lot of people outside of manufacturing still look at it as kind of a stodgy space that Um and and much of it is, but there's a lot of really cool things happening. It's fun to, you know, here everybody talking about it. Yeah, one of my my favorite quotes about innovation I think it was Paul Graham, but I might be uh, misattributing this quote, but he said there's kind of like two places, uh, that that you can look for innovation, which is the first one, is places nobody has looked before. And the second one is places that people have looked before but they haven't looked hard enough. And I think that the latter is definitely true about manufacturing. And people can call it stodgy all they want, but ultimately, like your your impacting stuff that is on an industrial scale. Um, and I how can you not be excited about that? For sure. Well, M J was marketing people here. We can't avoid that topic altogether in this conversation. So I'm curious, just since you've started in your role as collabs VP of marketing, what have you done to uniquely positioned Collab in its respective marketings? I know you put in some work there early on. Yeah, so I think it really it really boils down to two things. Um. The first one is doing a lot of work to really understand and gain clarity on the technology landscape. So, Um, some of what I just went through with you've got cad, you've got PLM. Society systems evolved over time and and really what is the gap in the marketplace and how do we educate people that there's a better way of doing things and that it actually fits in with what they're doing today? Um, research, customer research, uh. And then just just being able to tell that story in a way that really makes sense is one of the first things we focused on. Um. So I would wrap that all up as positioning. And then second...

...we have been have been a lot more focused on our customers business processes. So Um, we want to show people how they can transform a specific business process like a gate review with Colab Um. And I think the reason that's really important is um. When you talk about digital transformation in the manufacturing space, I think a lot of what people have experienced is really long, drawn out, painful implementation processes. Um, and so we want to change the narrative around that. Um and what we're really focused on is transforming kind of one business process at a time in a way that you can see a return on investment in weeks as opposed to years, and you can steadily build on that value across the organization, kind of building on the early winds. So Um. Taking Gate Review as an example, where before you might have a team in your Asia Pacific factory and then a team in your factory in that you hey that are trying to jump on a on a gate review call to ensure that the product is is ready to pass the gate and we'll meet the requirements and you can take the next move into the next stage of a stage gate product development process. You've got like probably the Asia Pacific team jumping on a call at a weird time of day. You've got somebody sharing their screen with with cad open, because CAD has to be run like on a desktop most of the time, Um, and and so only one person can kind of interrogate the model and you're trying to have an engineering conversation and make like important decisions about about your product design. People are more engaged when they can spin the model themselves, right, like. I mean, people go into engineering for a reason. They're curious about this kind of stuff. So it kind of a frustrating experience if one person has to drive and you get people get better being disengaged. And even if everyone's engaged and participating, somebody else in the room is having to like track all this stuff and a spreadsheet. And this is why things get missed, this is why the best ideas are not always surfaced because people are on zoom calls, too many of them, at weird hours of the day and they're not able to fully participate and use their strengths as engineers. So if we can take that one process of gate review and transform it and, uh, you know, make it two times faster so that those companies are shaped starting to shave off months of their product development life cycle, then maybe next we tackle supplier design for manufacturability, and then maybe after that we tackle cost reduction, right, cost reduction workshops and so so slowly you're like doing one business process at the time and eventually you've transformed twenty different processes in your business and that's how you're going to get from a thirty six month product development cycle to a twelve month product development cycle. I love the mindset. It's really great. So, MJ September will be hanging out for the first time in person Um at the industrial marketing summit in Cleveland, which is happening during content marking world. I am the events moderator and you are one of the featured speakers. So can you tell our listeners a little bit about the summit and specifically what you're gonna be talking about new session? Yeah, so I'm really excited about this summit. I think it's one of the first events I've come across that is specifically about marketing for industrial companies, and I do think, having created an entire podcast about this topic, there are a lot of nuances to being an industrial marketer as opposed to just to be two be marketer generally. Um. So I would say one of the questions I get most often through linkedin Um and through the other places I produced content, is how do you position marketing as a really strategic function in the business? And I think Um individual contributors are interested in this because they want to continue to level up their career, but I think leaders are equally interested in this. Um. I've met many new CEOS of manufacturing companies who want to take advantage of the strategic nature of marketing, but it's quite hard to go from this is not a strategic function in our business too.

Now it's a driver of revenue and of business strategy. So I'm gonna talk a little bit about how I've done that Um and and kind of helped companies shift that mindset, but also, again to seat at the table myself throughout various stops on my career, Um, including my first kind of role as an individual contributor, being a product and marketing manager at Center X, through being a director and then getting promoted to vp at firetrace Um and then now, of course, at Colab, in a really fast growing company that is still in the industrial space. Well, I'm really looking forward to the session I get. I think I get to just sort of introduce you and sit back and listen, which I'm looking forward to. And you've been in inspiration to a lot of people that I know, including members of my own team at guerilla, and so I think it's really cool you're gonna have a platform to kind of share, you know, some of the things that you've probably done along the way to help earn the seat at the executive table and and really takes big steps forward in your career. So looking forward to it. Yeah, me too. I I don't think I've ever actually been to an in person marketing conference either. So Um, that will be a first for me as well. Awesome. Well, Mj, is there anything else you'd like to add to the conversation that I did not ask you about today? No, this was fun, Um, but if anybody ask questions about this or if you want to geek out over the manufacturing technology landscape, I uh my d Ms Are always open. Awesome. Well, thanks for doing this. MJ, thank you very much for having me before we before I let you go, can you tell our audience how they can get in touch with you and where they can learn more about collab? Yes, I am M J peters on Linkedin and, like I said, my d Ms Are Open. I also have slightly less filtered takes on twitter, if that's your thing. Um, I also co host the industrial marketing show on apple and spotify, and you can learn more about collab at collab software dot com or just by going to my linkedin profile and clicking on the on the company icon. Awesome, m J. thank you once again, and as for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. Before we go, I want to say a quick thank you to our sponsor, Alpha Software Corporation. Alpha software helps manufacturers digitized paper forms, making data collection fast and easy with built in analytics dashboards. Get a free trial at Alpha software DOT COM. Slash M e. you've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast, to ensure that you never missed an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy. You'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for B. Two B manufacturers at guerrilla seventy dot com slash learn. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, two.

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