The Dirty Little Secrets of Engineering Document Management

Do you always turn slightly to the left when someone takes your picture, because you think you are showing your “good side”? (I don’t turn my head, but I do lift my chin just a little.) It is human nature to try to put ourselves in the best possible light. Software vendors also do that, so to speak. Every product on the market has strengths and weaknesses. It requires careful study to select the right product when there are competing solutions.

For managing engineering information, three types of programs are competing for market share: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Data Management (PDM), and Engineering Document Management (EDM). PLM companies love to talk about how they integrate all product information into one database to deliver “one version of the truth.” PDM companies extol the virtues of managing access and use of all CAD data. EDM companies talk about streamlining enterprise business processes and making all engineering documentation secure, shared, and accessible. There is considerable overlap between the functions of the three, as well as distinctive elements in how each type of program operates.

I have seen companies come and go during my 30 years in the engineering software industry. Some of them disappeared because they were terrible at marketing. Some died because technology changed and they didn’t. And some died because too many users found out the hard way there are flaws and limitations that the product vendors don’t reveal. Like the right pose for a photo, companies do their best to avoid revealing those dirty little secrets.

What exactly do I mean by dirty little secrets? They are embarrassing facts, troublesome bits of information someone — or in this case, some software company — would rather keep hidden. In the world of engineering, I see three dirty little secrets haunting the industry. Read More

How to Foster Innovation within Your Organization

Published by Kristen Tomasic, President of Synergis Technologies, Inc.


“Innovation happens at the meeting point of different disciplines. When silos of disciplines are broken down, innovation happens.”  Valerie Gervais, Sr. VP HR, Saint-Gobain

I had the pleasure of attending the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC) Manufacturing Summit on October 12 at The Fuge in Warminster where Valerie Gervais was a featured keynote. Of all the presentations, I was most impressed and inspired by what she shared.  From someone whose primary role was in HR, it was illuminating to hear the importance of innovation in all departments and to consider what we can learn from different disciplines inside and outside of an organization.

To give you an example of how she’s leveraged different disciplines in her role, Ms. Gervais sent an anthropologist into a factory to interview employees to help her team to understand the people and their needs. As we all know, anthropologists study people, but how many companies have considered applying their study of humans, norms, and values of societies to better appreciate and understand their employees?

Anthropologists, by practice, start with a blank page when studying new cultures or peoples. They are curious by nature, and are typically experienced in interviewing people about their backgrounds, histories, and experiences. By employing anthropologists to study their factory workers, Valerie and her team were able to adjust employee benefits, policies, and practices to retain skilled factory workers.  The “skilled workforce” issue is a major challenge for many manufacturing companies today, and St. Gobain has cracked the code to improving factory employee retention.

Many people associate the application or study of human sciences like anthropology, sociology, political science, and philosophy with research and education. It’s often difficult to appreciate how a business can benefit from the experiences and expertise of a poly-sci major. But, have you ever been in a meeting where the most innovative idea comes from the person who isn’t living the problem every day?

Consider the insights or solutions we might gain by putting engineers and philosophers and marketers and financial analysts in a room to solve a business problem or develop the next revolutionary product.  I want to be part of that team. Understanding diverse perspectives, getting outside of your own business or industry, and breaking down the divisional or departmental silos can lead to amazing things for your team and your organization, and leads to a much more energizing and interesting culture and work experience.

I told our leadership team recently that I was going to dedicate more time in the coming weeks, months and years to “getting outside of our business.”  That’s how I ended up at the Manufacturing Summit in the first place.  And, if you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to consider the same.  We all have so much we can learn and share if we break down the siloed thinking, working and doing. Valerie said it best, “When silos of disciplines are broken down, innovation happens.”  Count me in!

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).

Read More

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. Read More

Making a Positive Impact on Time to Knowledge

It is easy to get bogged down in details when discussing topics like engineering data management (AKA product data management or PDM). Sometimes it is good to step back and look at the big picture. For me, the details of PDM are the bricks in a building; the building is Time to Knowledge.

I define “Time to Knowledge” as the time it takes someone to get the specific accurate information needed to answer a question. The typical day in engineering has hundreds of moments which trigger a Time to Knowledge event. Such questions as “What is the status of yesterday’s engineering change request?” or “Which document is the right revision, and where is it?” are specific questions that require specific answers available in your existing engineering data. If the answer is quickly accessible, productivity is enhanced. If the answer is an uncertain quest away, the human tendency too often is to find an imprecise workaround or to avoid the subject completely. Read More

How Well Does Your Engineering-Driven Company Protect Intellectual Property?

There is a lot of talk these days about cybercrime. News of large-scale IT security breaches are not unusual. Blame is often assigned to the sinister motivations of rogue governments, terrorists, or anarchists. But those closest to the problem say the root cause behind most data breaches is lax internal security, not the skills of cunning hackers.

A recent survey by the Ponemon Institute claims 71% of employees have access to data they should not see, and more than half say this access is frequent or very frequent. Other findings from the survey point to lax internal security as a serious problem in organizations of all sizes:

  • 4 out of 5 IT practitioners (80%) say their organizations don’t enforce a strict least-privilege (or need-to-know) data model;
  • 73% of end users believe the growth of emails, presentations, multimedia files, and other types of company data has very significantly or significantly affected their ability to find and access data;
  • 76% of end users believe there are times when it is acceptable to transfer work documents to their personal devices, while only 13% of IT practitioners agree;
  • 67% of IT practitioners say their organization experienced the loss or theft of company data over the past two years, while only 44% of end users believe this has happened;
  • 43% of end users say it takes weeks, months or longer to be granted access to data they request access to in order to do their jobs, and only 22% report that access is typically granted within minutes or hours.

Read More

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. Read More

Five Stars: Why You Need to Plan Ahead for Adept Experience 2017 Conference

In 1992 I went from being a full-time employee at a CAD software company to a self-employed consultant with my former employer as my first client. Several projects were on the list, but the one that I still recall with great fondness was organizing the company’s first user conference. This was before the Internet was a universal resource; less than half of the company’s customers had email addresses. So we reached out through a newsletter and with phone calls (a lot of our business was direct sales on the phone).

We expected 20-30 attendees, mostly regional. We were blown away when close to 100 people from all over the US and several foreign countries signed up. By the end of the first session, everybody in the room realized they were surrounded by friends. They all shared the same enthusiasm for the software and had the same questions about customization or the product roadmap. Over breaks and meals, they shared tips and swapped stories about how the software solved problems or created new opportunities. It was two days of high energy and excitement for everyone there. Read More

Greene, Tweed’s Winning Recipe for Synergis Adept/SAP Integration

Greene, Tweed & Co. may be a major player on the global stage, but for most of its history, its engineering data had a decidedly local footprint, tucked away in different file shares around the world and typically painstakingly difficult to find and share.

That is until the manufacturer of high-performance elastomeric and thermoplastic materials embarked on a journey to deploy Synergis’ Adept Product Data Management (PDM) system to centralize its critical engineering assets, including SOLIDWORKS CAD files, and to automate approval workflows on a global scale. But Greene, Tweed wasn’t content to stop there. Its vision was to integrate the Adept PDM platform with its core ERP system to make engineering data accessible to a much broader audience.

Greene, Tweed, like many companies, sees value in syncing its core enterprise systems rather than fostering silos that prevent groups like engineering and manufacturing from readily exchanging data and working off the same page. That’s according to Steven Danasko, SAP Solution Specialist in Greene, Tweed’s IT Center of Excellence, Product Lifecycle Management, who was the key orchestrator of the project. Danasko says that beyond a desire for more centralized data repositories and integrated workflows, the Adept/SAP integration made sense from a financial standpoint because it opened up access to critical engineering data to existing ERP users without requiring investment in additional software licenses. Read More

Transmittals are a Pain in the Ask

Does anybody actually enjoy creating and sending engineering transmittals? Possibly. But in most companies, for most people, transmittals are a tedious pain.

It starts with gathering up all the documents, making sure every document is the correct version, and making sure all the XREF images and part files are included. Even when assembled with painstaking care (a time-consuming task) there is still high risk for overlooking key components. Once the transmittal is sent, there are still the issues of tracking, managing content, and controlling access. And then, what if there is an audit?

If the most automated aspect of creating and sending transmittals in your company is dragging files around on the screen, it is time to take a look at exactly how much of a drag on productivity transmittals can be. Synergis Adept user Stan Jancovic of Taggart Global figured out once just how painful transmittals can be to the bottom line. “When we added up the cost for our engineers’ time and labor, we were spending $400,000 a year just to send transmittals.” Read More