In order to successfully act within the global competition, companies have to differentiate from competitors by e.g. targeting customer’s needs through extending their physical products with additional services or components (Thoben et al. 2001). The production of these complex and knowledge intensive products requires the combination of certain key competencies that can often be only accomplished in enterprise networks (Hirsch et al. 2001) such as extended enterprises (Brown et al. 1995) and virtual enterprises (Thoben, Jagdev 2001). Within these networks, different partnering companies share skills, costs and core competences that collectively enable them to access global markets with solutions their members could not deliver individually (Hardwick, Bolton 1997).
The resulting focus on the individual core competences of each partnering company and the consequential increasing amount of further vocational training are proving that knowledge has evolved into the central factor of production (Schüppel 1996, p. 183). Thus, the ability to create knowledge, to diffuse it throughout an organization and to turn it into new products is today recognized as a major strategic capability for gaining competitive advantage (Nonaka 1994, p. 86, Zander, Kogut, 1995, Teece et al. 1997). The actual new product development process is a fundamental part of this realisation process and is mainly carried out by engineers in collaboration. Because of the high knowledge intensity within the creation process (Cormican, O´Sullivan 2000, Madhavan, Grover 1998), especially engineers are forced to constantly create, acquire, process and share new knowledge (Banard, Poyri 2004, Cevero et al. 1986). Accordingly, the management of an organisation increasingly evolves to the management of knowledge and learning processes (Geissler 1995, p. 364). These learning processes happen intraorganisationally on the individual, group and organisational level as well as interorganisationally in between companies. (Pawlowsky 2001, Wunram et al. 2000, Inkpen, Crossan 1996, Nonaka 1995). The entirety of these processes is called organisational learning. As members of this learning organisation, engineers are involved in all learning processes on the mentioned levels. As the amount of manufacturing networks continuously increases, (Shi, Gregory 1996, Rudberg, Olhager 2002), interorganisational learning is of special significance. Organisational learning is hindered by intra- and interorganisational challenges (Bosch-Sijtsema 2001, p. 181)