November 6, 2001

4 Min Read
Knowledge Management   Company Helps to Speed New Product Development

Originally Published MPMN November 2001


Knowledge Management Company Helps to Speed New Product Development

Engineers at a major medical device manufacturing firm had slammed into the proverbial wall trying to design a compliant and functional seal for a new heart valve. After six months of fruitless consultation with in-house and device industry experts, they turned to Sopheon Corp. (, a knowledge management and software services company headquartered in Minneapolis and with operations in the UK, Germany, and The Netherlands. Within a couple of weeks, a sealing solution was found . . . several leagues under the sea.


Designed to automate and streamline the new-product development process, a program recently introduced by Sopheon Corp. stores all project data in a central repository and allows users to access the company's extensive research services.

"In fact, the problem was solved by an individual who knew nothing about heart valves but who knew a whole lot about seals that operate in a high-pressure saline environment," says Sopheon CEO Andy Michuda. The man with the answer happened to be a submarine engineer. Sopheon's integration of Internet and software technology with human expertise enabled the new product development process to move forward.

For this particular project, Sopheon used specific search terminology to identify a unique set of sources who could collaborate with the OEM to solve the problem. It's an approach that doesn't come naturally to many companies, says Michuda. "We are all familiar with information overload when searching on the Internet. The trick is to allow the richness of the content to filter through," he says. Sopheon's advanced technology and the taxonomy it has developed over the years enable it to perform searches that produce meaningful results, according to Michuda. For the heart-valve seal, "we applied a terminology—high pressure, saline solution, seals—that allowed us to tap into expertise that had nothing to do with heart valves." Sopheon designs customized business-intelligence research portals that incorporate this capability.

"The portal's top two taxonomic layers are unique to each client and the business he is in," explains Michuda, who cites the example of a portal the firm might design for GE Lighting, which would look very different from one built for GE Medical. The highly integrated portals leverage Sopheon's industry-specific content repository and provide access to its army of analysts and experts. The firm has compiled a database of several thousand experts, approximately 2000 of whom are under contract to operate in a proprietary mode and who have made a commitment to respond to clients within 24 hours. Speed is a priority, notes Michuda. "As you know, the device industry is in a race to get its products to market. [Our objective] is to help companies win that race." To further this goal, Sopheon recently introduced Accolade, Web-based software that optimizes the new-product development process and integrates the firm's research portals and network of experts.

Michuda estimates that R&D engineers spend more than 50% of their time simply searching for answers. Accolade is a time-compression tool, according to Michuda, that not only automates and streamlines a knowledge-intensive business process, but provides instant access to experts from a range of disciplines to propel the thought process. "The expert network is a click-through component of the research portal that sits inside the software application," explains Ron Helgeson, vice president of corporate communications. "When the product engineer wrestles with questions about the most suitable material or adhesive to specify for a particular application or the most effective testing method to use, he or she can seamlessly tap into some of the best technical minds in the world for answers."

"We have a strong belief in smart software," adds Michuda. "Historically, this concept has taken us down the path of artificial intelligence, which has not had much success beyond some niche applications. We take real intelligence and integrate the human factor—the richness that comes from dialogue and collaboration—into our software."

Norbert Sparrow

Copyright ©2001 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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