Making Configuration Management a Better Watchdog

The Bill of Materials (BOM) is the gospel for product development and an important element of configuration management (CM). But in many organizations the creation and use of BOMs and the existing paper-based configuration management workflow places a stranglehold on efficiency and prevents innovation.

The idea of configuration management is to have a watchdog process, driving consistency in product definition and manufacturing execution. Done right, configuration management provides visibility into the functional relationships in a product’s definition. If changes are required, the CM becomes the guide to final reconciliation of consistency. CM ensures that every person on the team shares a common understanding of what is being designed, approved, ordered, built, sold, and serviced. (more…)

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CAD Secret Agent Finds a Soulmate

I’ve been covering the CAD industry since PCs were called “microcomputers” and a math co-processor was a must-have accessory for CAD users. There have been winners and losers in the CAD market: anyone out there still using VersaCAD? At one time it was bigger than AutoCAD.

Among the survivors from the early years of desktop CAD is Kubotek KeyCreator, originally called Cadkey. KeyCreator was a three-dimensional modeler at a time when most CAD was 2D only. Over the years KeyCreator has developed a devoted following as the go-to tool when models arrive on the desktop in need of repair. It can read and write most 3D CAD formats, and uses direct editing technology to simplify the editing of 3D entities, even if they were created by a parametric modeler. KeyCreator is the CAD equivalent of a secret agent, called upon to quickly, quietly, and efficiently eliminate a problem.

When a CAD program is used to edit models created by other products, there is a lot of collateral to deal with. Editing somebody’s model means there must be an Engineering Change Order. There are revisions to track, supporting documents to amend, and an audit trail to worry about. Usually the job is not about one CAD model but many. It all adds up to a big data management headache if not addressed upfront.

Recently Kubotek has been hearing from some of its larger customers how they need a product data management (PDM) solution to help ensure accurate revisions and complete control over supporting documentation. It came as no surprise to me when Synergis and Kubotek announced a partnership for using Synergis Adept in the KeyCreator environment.

Adept is no stranger to multiple CAD environments as well as all the non-CAD document types used to create products. By working together on a KeyCreator plug-in for Adept, KeyCreator users now have access to the Swiss army knife of PDM products. It will be easy for engineering teams to find and reuse design content, secure intellectual property, automate change and approval processes, and comply with relevant standards. Add to that the best file viewing technology in the industry (based on Oracle’s AutoVue), and you have a CAD-PDM match made in heaven.

The KeyCreator plug-in for Adept is expected to be ready for implementation in the next one to two months. In my opinion, the CAD secret agent has found its soulmate.

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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Securing Engineering Documents in the Cybercrime Age

These days no company should consider itself immune to the possibility of cybercrime and data theft.  Engineering documents hold the company’s crown jewels; data must always be kept secure. With careful planning you can still take advantage of the latest cloud and mobile technology; security does not mean lack of accessibility.

Outdated approaches to data management are the most vulnerable systems. There is nothing that says “STEAL ME” more than important documents just sitting naked in a file folder on the network. Once the external firewall is breached, these files become easy pickings.  A comprehensive IT security solution for engineering/manufacturing data will include the user, the data management software, and the network, as well as application layer interfaces and interconnecting systems (such as PDM to SCM).

Older PDM/PLM systems were built with data, speed, and functionality in mind; security was a minor concern limited to user access rights. Today’s global networks, dispersed workforce, and cloud and/or mobile access to engineering data completely changes the security scene.

Using modern engineering document management software means you are using modern security. Companies who have not upgraded from management by file folders to a modern EDM system like Synergis Adept generally do not have modern IT security in place. These companies are also more likely to treat engineering IT as “their problem” and not include it in more general IT oversight of security issues.

Creating a data immunity system

Security experts say good IT security can be compared to the multiple levels of immunity in the human body. Skin is just the first of several protection layers. Each organ and functional system has separate immunity barriers and “protocols.” The brain has its own separate security protocol, the blood-brain barrier. Engineering IT security should operate in a similar fashion. If the “skin” of your company—the firewall from the outer world—is breached, the engineering data inside should still be secure.

A recent survey of 4,506 IT professionals found that an estimated 49% of an organization’s worth is derived from the information created inside the company. Security is not just protecting this information from the outside; those with access inside the company often are found to be the source of data theft.

Proper security for engineering data does not mean one more module in a PDM/EDM system. Security should not be an overlay; it should be embedded into in all systems at the lowest possible level. Security should never be separate from every aspect of using, managing, and storing data.

Synergis Adept provides built-in secure, controlled access to documents from any location. Whether you need a centralized vault or distributed vaults at each location, Adept’s unique smart vaulting maintains native folder structure and file names without scrambling or moving files. Yet at the same time it wraps documents in a tight layer of protection beyond that provided by your existing IT infrastructure. Adept becomes that extra layer of immunity beyond the skin provided by IT.

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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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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