When Covisint goes live in the fourth quarter the trade exchange will offer automotive engineers and designers an online three-dimensional 'visualization tool' to develop components, even if they are working in different parts of the world.
This is just one tool that Covisint - the Internet-based purchasing network set up by General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler - plans to offer in its first release of products and services.
Covisint has an internal target of beginning operations late this month or in early October.
Engineering Animation Inc., an international technology provider, is supplying the visualization tool. The company has North American headquarters in Ames, Iowa, and offices in Ann Arbor and Southfield, Michigan.
'This visualization tool is the cornerstone of our product development suite of tools,' said Sam Sharan, a Covisint product marketing representative. 'It will be in the first release.'
But the first release will have to wait until Covisint partners receive regulatory approval from antitrust authorities in Germany, the Bundeskartellamt.
Covisint's founding partners were notified on September 11 by the US Federal Trade Commission, that the agency has closed its five-month investigation of the planned trade exchange. The FTC said no further action is warranted at this time.
'The Bundeskartellamt has the same power as the FTC,' said Peter Weiss, head of product development on the Covisint planning team. Covisint could not operate in Germany without Bundeskartellamt approval, Weiss said.
The German agency requested additional information from Covisint on August 22.
The Bundeskartellamt has promised to complete its investigation quickly, Weiss said. Like the FTC, the German agency is investigating whether Covisint will result in price collusion and other anti-competitive practices between Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler.
'We don't anticipate any concerns being raised,' Weiss said. 'They just want to learn more.'
Covisint executives say the exchange will go live within 30 days after obtaining German approval.
But Covisint is on pace to meet its internal target, Weiss said.
Covisint expects to name a permanent CEO within 30 to 60 days, he said. After the CEO is named, a decision will be made on the location of permanent headquarters. Covisint currently is using temporary office space in Southfield, Michigan.
Covisint will offer auction services immediately. But Covisint planners want to create more than just a web-based auction house.
That is why the visualization tool from Engineering Animation is so important. It will enable Covisint customers - the automakers and suppliers - to collaborate simultaneously on product development projects via the Internet.
Sharan demonstrated how the visualization tool works using a three-dimensional computer file of a shock absorber.
'You can zoom in, rotate it, everyone sees the same view,' Sharan said. But the tool is not limited to components. It can be used to make changes in exterior vehicle styling as well, he said.
Robert Nierman, president of Engineering Animation, would not talk about the visualization tool.
'We are not yet an official partner of Covisint,' Neirman said. 'We're certainly optimistic about being a part of Covisint, but at this juncture, we'd be a touch premature to talk about it.'
However, Nierman said that the tool Covisint is demonstrating to customers is based on Engineering Animation's existing 'e-Vis' collaboration tool.
With the Covisint visualization tool, project team members from inside and outside the company can conduct interactive online conferences on two- and three-dimensional product data. They can view and mark up data and documents and watch the changes being made in real time. They will be able to view CAD (computer-aided design) files from CATIA, I-DEAS, ProEngineer and other systems in neutral file formats.
Automakers and suppliers will be able to use Covisint to hold auctions and to buy parts and supplies from online catalogs.
Suppliers can maintain both custom and community catalogs on the exchange.
A custom catalog is designed for a specific automaker. It will list a company's products with pre-negotiated prices. A supplier also may post a community catalog open to any automaker for the purchase of parts and supplies.
These catalogs typically will feature 'indirect' parts and supplies - paper, grease, desks and hanging file folders, said D.J. Cho, Covisint product marketing manager for procurement.
'These are not highly-engineered parts,' Cho said. 'However, some suppliers may choose to put some 'direct' parts on the catalogs as well.'
Covisint will offer two types of electronic auctions.
The buyer auction, or reverse auction, will enable automakers to accept bids from suppliers for vehicle programs.
The traditional seller auction will allow Covisint customers to auction off goods, such as an obsolete stamping press, or even an entire manufacturing line, Cho said.