Amplifying the Utility of Engineering Knowledge

Most of the articles I contribute to the Synergis blog tell how the use of Engineering Data Management (EDM) made a significant difference for a particular company. Or I write about a specific tool or procedure in Adept that can make improve an engineering group’s workflow. Today I want to step back and look at the basic ideas behind why EDM is so important.

Let’s start with an organizing idea: there are three kinds of knowledge in engineering:

  • Know-What (facts)
  • Know-How (processes)
  • Know-Why (explanations).

Together, these three elements form a package, a complete product knowledge set. To gain total utility from all three levels, each one in order must be consciously and purposefully managed.

You can sit at an engineering workstation all day, but without Know-What knowledge, nothing will be accomplished. A thousand Know-What questions are part of the typical engineering day:

  • What gauge of wire?
  • How many cubic yards of concrete?
  • Aluminum or steel?
  • How deep the trench?

If you know or can find the answers, you can get on with your job. Having Know-What means you have the knowledge you need for basic productivity.

But productivity is the only the start. A tortoise is productive at walking; so is a horse. But I don’t see anybody putting saddles on tortoises. If facts (the Know-What) are the rider, then processes (the Know-How) are the horse. Every engineer learns basic processes for accomplishing their goals. Every engineering firm has specific approaches to their business. Call them best practices, work instructions, tasks, sequences  …  every company has processes that put into action the engineering facts. Know-How allows productivity to become efficiency, as skills grow and processes are updated.

So far, we have Fact Knowledge providing the fuel for productivity and Processes Knowledge providing the fuel for efficiency. But successful engineering companies don’t stop with learning to be efficient. They learn to harness Know-Why. The oldest engineer in the company has learned things the hard way that, when shared, save others time and saves the company money. Know-Why applied to efficiency is how you get to innovation. In short:

  • If you Know-What, you can repeat it (productivity).
  • If you Know-How, you can improve it (efficiency).
  • If you Know-Why, you can reinvent it (innovation).

So what does all this have to do with EDM? Installing an engineering data management system like Synergis Adept makes it possible to move more easily beyond facts and processes and into explanations, because a system is in place to digitally automate the use of facts and processes, allowing greater time and freedom to explore the explanations.

Dr. Mario Hirz of the University of Graz studies design and data management technologies and strategies. He writes about the importance of using automation in “guiding the core processes within a company.” One of the keys, Hirz says, is the ability to “trace all changes of product development and product documentation.” It is exactly this traceability, more than just automated storage and retrieval that provides the ability to take engineering into a virtuous spiral of continued innovation.

Creating and maintaining a complete record of engineering transactions is one of Adept’s most outstanding and useful capabilities. Usually this feature is discussed in terms of audits and regulatory compliance. But Hirz argues for bringing this Know-Why into the EDM environment not only for legal and financial reasons, but to help stoke the fires of continuous innovation.

Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985. More information is available at

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Seahorse Bioscience Reins in Unruly Engineering Documentation Practices

Seahorse Bioscience is an American company that manufactures complicated desktop instruments to measure cell metabolism. Their XF Analyzers generate data used to study, diagnose, and treat several diseases including diabetes and various forms of cancer. After years without a coordinated product data management system, Seahorse decided to modernize their engineering document management.


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From Dirt to Data

There is economic value in connecting people to information; improve the connections and you increase the value of the information.

Consider the analogy in which your manufacturing or construction project is a ditch, and data inside your files is water that will flow through that ditch. What sort of tool are you using to move the dirt and prepare for the water, shovels or backhoes? I would submit that Windows Explorer is the equivalent of a shovel, and product data management (PDM) software is the backhoe. Product Data Management (PDM) moves a lot of data fast. And it does much more than that. PDM also improves access, reuse, sharing, record keeping, and security that affect data files.

After digging the ditch, you have a nice place to store data. But that place to store data is not a static repository. It is a moving river, where data flows freely. Data is created by CAD users, deposited into the river, and then flows downstream to manufacturing shop floors, documentation departments, and customers, and other consumers of the data.

When your data management metaphor is a river, you can gain valuable insights into managing the data in your organization. These four V’s demonstrate things about the rivers of data that can help you understand and solve some of the data problems in your organization.


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Market Survey Says PDM Remains a High Priority

The 2016 edition of the Business Advantage Worldwide CAD Trends survey has been released, and product data management is forecast for strong growth in the next 12 months and remains a high priority technology among engineering-driven companies.

The annual survey gathers data from more than 600 managers and other leaders at engineering-driven companies, evenly split between the Americas, Europe/Middle East/Africa and Asia/Pacific. 78% of respondents are in small or medium sized businesses.

The survey says only 28% of engineering firms surveyed are now using PDM. But when asked about buying plans in the following months and years, PDM installations are projected to rise by 21% in 12 months and 39% within 3-5 years. (See chart below, republished courtesy of Business Advantage). (more…)

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Your EDM/PDM Summer Reading List

Summer seems to be the time when people catch up on their reading. If you haven’t already read our blog end-to-end, then you might want your to-read list to include these ten most popular articles of 2016. Enjoy and learn!

  1. ‘KISS’ for PDM Implementation
    Synergis Adept offers a simple, powerful approach to EDM, with a “keep it simple for success” approach makes it popular with both users and administrators.
  2. Make your EDM Helpdesk more efficient.
    If you’re lucky enough to have a world class helpdesk team supporting your EDM solution, then you’re more likely to have a successful enterprise solution. Here’s how the Synergis Adept helpdesk team achieves high rankings from HDI and keeps customers working at top efficiency.
  3. Is your engineering company still unacquainted with EDM?
    If your company is still scratching its corporate head about how to manage enterprise data—and even worse, confusing storing data with managing it—then it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.
  4. Are you falling behind without CAD data management?
    Four of the five leading technologies in design/engineering have one thing in common: they create data. Which makes it all the more important to have CAD data management in place. Here’s a survey that underscores the importance the adopting product data management to manage your complex data.
  5. Ask questions, solve problems
    Our engineering team at Synergis Software put together a list of questions to ask when planning to implement an engineering document management system. Leverage this list to make sure you know what to ask your vendor about technology, finances, logistics, and workflow.
  6. Smart data management makes your company run smarter
    Adept’s vaulting approach to engineering information skips the rhetoric of big data and delivers fast data within the most useful context. Users get what they want, when they need it.
  7. Is your data management system at risk?
    Engineering workflow expert Robert Green explores the important issues revolving around CAD data management systems.
  8. Let’s rescue tribal knowledge from extinction
    A full-featured engineering document management (EDM) system will not only capture and preserve institutional knowledge; it will also automate the ability to serve up the information to the right people whenever needed.
  9. What about all that legacy data?
    You are excited to install the new engineering data management system, right? From here on, projects will be more visible, your data more accessible. But what do you do with the years of legacy data your company has accumulated? Todd Cummings of Synergis Software has 20 years of experience with data management, and gives insights into when to import legacy data—and when not to.
  10. Finding buried treasure at Greene, Tweed
    This multi-national manufacturer of high-performance elastomeric and thermoplastic materials needed a way to connect engineering data with its existing SAP operations system. After a long search, Greene, Tweed chose Synergis Adept not only for its ability to organize engineering data but for its ability to integrate with SAP.

Guest blogger Amina Saeed is Assistant Editor at Consilia Vektor, the research firm founded by regular Synergis Blog contributor Randall S. Newton.

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Improving Oil and Gas Industry Safety With Better Data Management

After a series of high-profile accidents involving gas transmission pipelines, in 2014 the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) commissioned a study to see what could be done to lower the incidence rate. The report, “Integrity Management of Gas Transmission Pipelines in High Consequence Areas” included an analysis of how pipeline quality data was gathered, used, and shared. A close look at the report offers some interesting insight into engineering data management issues.

The NTSB report on Integrity Management (IM) published 33 findings; seven of the specifically mention data management issues. Following the findings, the report listed 22 recommendations to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, seven of which specifically mention data handling. (more…)

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Today’s Top Ten List: PDM Nightmares

In the US, late night talk show host David Letterman retired this May after 33 years. Famous for an eccentric approach to comedy, his lasting contribution to humor will likely be his nightly Top Ten lists. The subject matter was all over the map, from current events (“Top Ten Final Words of Osama Bin Laden), to family life (“Top Ten Signs Your Kid Had a Bad First Day at School”) or just straight up comedy (“Top Ten Rejected James Bond Gadgets”).

Despite hours of agonizing research, we are unable to confirm if David Letterman ever made a Top Ten list about engineering data management. This is obviously an oversight on the part of Letterman and his writing team, one which we are happy to rectify. So, here’s today’s Top Ten List, “You Might Be Having Product Data Management (PDM) Nightmares If…”  If you suffer from one or more of these nightmare scenarios, follow the associated link to the solution Synergis Adept provides.

Number 10: You might be having PDM nightmares if file names mention days of the week or children recently born to employees. (Automatic File Naming Turns Chaos into Order) (more…)

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Synergis Adept: The Best of What Both PDM and PLM Offer

A newcomer to the engineering data management marketplace might quickly come to the conclusion there are two options if wanting to upgrade from Windows Explorer as a management tool. The first is to buy a system that helps engineers in a workgroup manage design files (PDM); the second is to buy a specialized database (PLM) that breaks down all information—CAD data and everything else—and stores it separately from the familiar files/folders structure. For many businesses looking to upgrade their engineering automation, the first option is too limiting and the second is too massive.

The traditional PDM (Product Data Management) approach is to make the CAD document the center of the universe. The PDM software manages sets of linked files for version control, synchronized check-in/check-out, and controls access right. The PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) approach requires the enterprise to import all data (CAD and from every other electronic document used in engineering) into a relational database, and then to adopt new workflows based on the design of the PLM system. (more…)

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PDM and the Problem with Printing

One of the best reasons engineering companies invest in product data management (PDM) is process automation; you turn manual methods into a digital workflow. All your information has greater visibility and better, trackable management. But we all know that much of what is designed and approved in the digital world has to be printed sooner or later, or at least published to a PDF document. Once a document is printed/published, there is a break from the all the advantages inherent in using PDM. It is like taking an axe to a landline telephone cord (you still have one of those, don’t you?); The pieces are still there, but nothing’s happening.  (more…)

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When is the Best Time to Upgrade Engineering Document Management Software?

The “why” of upgrading to a modern engineering document management system is something we’ve talked about often in this blog. One thing we have not covered much is the “when” of an upgrade. Is there a “best practices” approach to deciding when to upgrade?

My research suggests there are many variables and few absolutes regarding when the time is right to make the move. Most decisions that feel like a discussion of “when” are really driven by the “why.” Reasons like “We are acquiring (or being acquired by) another company” or “we have a big new client” are example of “why” a company upgrades EDM; the “when” is driven by the external event. (more…)

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