5 Reasons to Attend the Adept Experience Community Event (October 1-4)

We understand. It’s hard to take time away from work to attend a conference. It’s difficult to pry yourself from the ever-growing to-do lists, take the time to justify conference and travel expenses, and then actually commit to attending an event. However, we’ve heard from all attendees at last year’s Adept Experience that their face-to-face meetings with other Adept experts was THE best way to uncover ideas that grow and catapult your business to the next level.

That’s why we’ve put together five bulletproof reasons why you need to attend Adept Experience this year:

Synergis Adept Product roadmap: The Synergis Software leadership team will give you a sneak peek into the future development of Adept for the next 3-5 years. You’ll have a chance to hear directly from the masterminds behind the product about what’s coming and what’s not.

The Customer Advisory Council: Do you have suggestions for ways to improve Adept for your business? During this two hour interactive session, you will be heard. The Advisory Council allows you to give direct input into the changes you want to see most in our product suite. Synergis leadership and developers will be available to hear your feedback and answer your questions. Read More

Justifying New EDM Software to the Stubborn

Engineers are tinkerers by nature. They love to tweak things to see if they can “fix them” in some way. Perhaps engineers have a “tweaking” gene others lack.

Engineers are also devoted to method. They like to find a process that works and stick to it. That bit of stubbornness is great when it means products work right and adhere to established norms for safety and cost. But sometimes stubbornness rears its head when engineering companies take a look at improving their workflow with modern product data management (PDM) or engineering data management (EDM) software.

What should a company do when resistance to engineering process change comes not from above (top management) or beyond (accounting or operations), but from within? I suggest a focus on the practical benefits of installing modern engineering management software like Synergis Adept. Consider these aspects pulled from a variety of user experiences.

Change management: When change management moves from a paper trail process to a digital workflow, it becomes easier and faster to track, manage, and deliver more accurate information. Sounds nice, but how do you get buy-in from staff? Explain how the new process puts change management information “at your fingertips.” When Visa Lighting updated its engineering workflow with Adept, one of the big benefits was improved change management. “Now we have a streamlined change control process that is paperless and automatically routes files so we don’t have a huge paper trail traveling around the building. We can find the change document and pull up all related drawings, images, and everything else we need in a couple of clicks. All the information is at our fingertips,” says Visa Lighting’s Scott Hastings.

Audits: Want to instantly fill a room full of engineers with a sense of dread? Just say the word “audit” out loud. Whether the purpose is regulatory approval, defending against a potential lawsuit, or due diligence for an acquisition, engineering process audits are a necessary evil. If all the documentation is already cataloged and searchable inside your PDM system, gathering information for an audit becomes a simple task. The time you save and the quality of the information you can provide is a sure step in reducing exposure to expensive risk. And you can chase the auditors out sooner.

Transmittals: This is a process specific to construction-related industries. Every project has stages where all the data must be gathered and sent to the client as one neat package, the transmittal. In organizations without automated data management, this can take days. And nobody wants to be the person put in charge of preparing the transmittal. With Adept, the process is as close to “push a button” as it can get. The chance of errors is greatly reduced; any search for documents is an automated process; and there is a relationship established between the transmittal cover sheet and the documents being sent. Best of all, the whole process has an audit trail. If the client can take the transmittal as a set of PDFs, even more time and money are saved.

Playing nice with others (AKA collaboration): It is increasingly common for engineering departments to collaborate on projects. It might be with another engineering unit in the same company, or it might be as a subcontractor on a larger project. It is easier to collaborate when your internal information management is running at peak efficiency. If collaboration is a sore point in your organization, tell your team about Dow Chemical, a long-time Adept user.

Dow Chemical standardized when, after years of acquisitions, they realized engineering data management was being handled by no less than 25 different software platforms or ad-hoc workflows. The result was better than expected. Dow says the use of Adept increased the speed of projects, and it changed the way it does business because of increased flexibility in unusual document management situations. One of the unexpected benefits of standardizing on Adept was insight on creating new best practices for planning, deploying, and measuring effectiveness of their engineering management practices. Engineers might be stubborn, but most of them like the idea of creating and adopting new best practices — it goes back to that “tweaking” gene.

The ultimate tweak your engineers should appreciate is how Adept works with your existing system. Adept uses a unique “smart vaulting” approach to data management. It provides security and control without encrypting or scrambling the existing documents or file folder structure. And it does not move documents into a new database. The smart vaulting can be for one site, or across multiple locations. If something terrible happens and Adept is not available (as in a remote location losing its connection to the corporate network), the original documents are still where they were originally placed.

All in all, even the most stubborn engineers usually come on board with new EDM software when shown the practical, day-to-day benefits. Just give them a chance to scratch their tweaking itch.


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 https://www.linkedin.com/in/randallnewton.




Huffman Engineering Simplifies Control Systems Engineering with Synergis Adept

Process plants depend on highly specialized control systems. They are an integrated product combining software, mechanical equipment, and sensors. Huffman Engineering has become a leading partner to manufacturers, utility plants, and the pharmaceutical industry in the US Prairies region by delivering high quality custom process control manufacturing and integration.

“No two projects are alike,” says Jay Steinman, a mechanical engineer at Huffman. The company is a full-service vendor, building control panels and the interface equipment between plant equipment and computers, and providing the software to run the system. Much of their work is for heavily regulated industries including water/wastewater and pharmaceutical. A typical project in water/wastewater would be to build controls for every value and gate, and to install sensors that monitor flow and water quality. A project in pharma might be to install the control mechanism for a new machine that bottles pills. In both cases, Huffman does not build the machines, but adds the controlling technology to the devices.

The processes are complicated, and most of their clients work under intense regulation pressure, requiring strict adherence to manufacturing and testing protocols. And it all must be thoroughly documented, says Keith Mandachit, a senior engineer and Huffman’s IT manager. “We can’t just build it and send it out. We have to provide a lot of [manufacturing] documentation and a lot of testing documentation.”

For electricity utilities, Huffman also provides infrastructure security controls. Recently Huffman was brought into consult on cyber security for an electricity provider. Huffman discovered the utility was using the same computer network to run both their facility and their business operations. The business side was open to the at-large Internet, putting the security of the power facility at-risk. Huffman created a completely separate network to cut off the utility’s internal power processes from the outside world.

A need to nail down the single source of truth

Each project creates a tremendous amount of engineering data and reference information, in the form of CAD drawings or models, project management and work process forms, certifications, documentation of systems, documentation of testing, PLC programming, and more. On the network, projects were organized into separate folders, but there was no standard protocol for how to repurpose documents or to manage revisions. As Huffman did more and more programming for their clients, as well as creating control mechanisms and sensor systems, there was no consistency in how the software code was managed as part of the project.

Over time, Huffman created an ad hoc manual revisioning system for CAD drawings using network file folders. “And then with the engineering side, we were storing programs and specifications within our project folders. Sometimes people would make revisions, but you never knew. Many of our projects touched the same systems,” says Steinman. As projects moved along and control software was reused or modified, it was not being tracked as a separate product. “We didn’t have that single source of truth with those programs.”

It is not uncommon for Huffman’s clients to ask for CAD drawings or other documentation years after the work has finished. “Even though we give them a copy of everything, they still rely on us for their stuff,” says Steinman. Every time a drawing is copied and shared, it creates another version that can, over time, be modified. Having more than one copy of any particular drawing or model means there is no single source of truth.

Project numbering as a tool for record keeping was another area where Huffman realized they needed a new way to work. For years, projects were just named for the numerical order they came to the company, by client. Often a client would request bids on three separate projects; Huffman engineers would simply name them Project 1, Project 2, and Project 3. “But they might not actually happen in sequential order,” says Mandachit. “Project 3 might be the first one we did; Project 1 might be the last one we implemented.” It might be easy enough for those working on the project to keep track through the sequence mismatch, but when others in the company became involved, projects were easily confused. Employees were wasting time looking for data in the wrong places.

The company realized it had much to gain from getting its engineering document management under control. At first, Mandachit and others looked at GIT and SubVersion, open source tools designed to automate file management for software developers. But they were not suitable for most engineering document types, and employees who evaluated these products found them hard to use. Next, they looked at a software product that did only one thing, create a versioning system for PLC programs. But it lacked configuration management. Then Huffman explored the use of Microsoft SharePoint technology, but found it needed too much customization — which was nobody’s area of expertise at Huffman.

Control systems integrators like Huffman are required to be audited for engineering processes every three years. “Every time we have been audited and we got to the section on configuration management, we would pass but with a ‘C,’ not with an ‘A,’” says Mandachit. “We wanted to get an ‘A;’ we felt it was very important.”

Finding the answers in Synergis Adept

At a regional meeting of Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), Steinman and Mandachit heard a presentation about Synergis Adept from another CSIA member. They were doing all the things Huffman was looking to accomplish with the various point tools. After examining its capabilities, a decision was made to invest in Adept. “We wanted that ‘A,’” says Steinman. “We did not do any financial calculations. We knew it would be difficult to estimate ROI because it is incremental amounts of time being saved. We knew we had to spend some amount of money to get what we needed.”

Huffman chose to go with the Quick Start form of initial implementation. With help from one Synergis implementation engineer, they were up and running in three days. A server crash only a few weeks into implementation meant they needed to start over; this time Steinman rebuilt the implementation of Adept on his own.

Huffman has chosen to pull older data (legacy data) into the system on an as-needed basis. A couple of years earlier, the company did a serious archiving project, and now Steinman and others pull older project data into the Adept system when needed. Projects that were in process when Adept was reinstalled are not being migrated; all new projects are starting in Adept. Unlike complex PLM systems that require all engineering data to be uploaded before anyone uses the new software, Adept’s unique “wrap-around” approach makes it easy for users to add new files and folders to the system as needed.

Like most Adept users, Huffman is managing CAD drawings and related documents such as specifications. They also use it to manage the computer code created to run programmable logic controllers (PLC). Each software file created is stored with the related project, but easily made available in Adept to be repurposed for new projects.

Huffman uses AutoCAD for most design and engineering, and their typical method is to do one sheet per file (some users will have all sheets generated in the same file). So the number of AutoCAD .dwg files grows rapidly. Mandachit estimates that after only a few months, Huffman has added tens of thousands of drawings to Adept. As employees become more familiar with Adept, Huffman will start implementing automated workflows for transmittals, hang orders, and other workflow processes. They also plan to create a quoting workflow in Adept, not something that ships with the product, but can be created by the client.

Huffman also takes advantage of an Adept feature called Unlinked Records, and are being rather inventive in their implementation. Unlinked Records is a feature in Adept used to include various records not in electronic format, such as drawings on paper, a box in storage, or other documents on paper regarding a project. Unlinked Records could also be filenames and record numbers being saved for future use. An Unlinked Record is the electronic stand-in for the record, with a note on where to find it and what the connection is to the project.

Huffman organizes its records method based on pieces of equipment, since they are tracked and maintained after they are manufactured and installed. Unlinked Records are created for every paper-based document but also for every machine. When auditors next examine Huffman’s procedures, they will find a continuous electronic link between Huffman and the client that clearly shows the role of every document, every form, every procedure, every bit of software code, and an Unlinked Record that connects all of this to the piece of equipment. “Prior to Adept, we didn’t really have all this information so easily accessible. We would be hunting around on our server trying to find where all these different files were, so we could put them together,” says Mandachit.

When Mandachit and Steinman told their Synergis contact how they had implemented Unlinked Records, they discovered their use of the feature was not being used elsewhere. They had attended CSIA webinars on configuration management, and thought they could do better; with Adept and the Unlinked Records feature they found their missing link. “We believe to truly satisfy the [audit] requirements, [it] requires the solution we have in Adept,” says Mandachit.

Another surprise for Huffman in its exploration of Synergis Adept was how easy it is to publish drawings as PDF files using the Publish Wave add-in. Not all Huffman engineers have a copy of AutoCAD, just a viewer. Before Adept, anyone who needed to view a drawing would find the original and make a copy. Those copies proliferated and were often changed. Now anyone who needs to view a drawing — but whom is not authorized to change it — requests a PDF version, created by Publish Wave. “It is a huge time-saver for our CAD manager, who has to respond to every request,” adds Mandachit. Adept with Publish Wave also manages when the PDF was created, so that if changes occur to the original AutoCAD drawing, it is easy for a user to know there is a newer version.

In the past, Huffman’s backup protocols and internal security were rooted in 1980s methods. With Adept in place, Huffman now has a comprehensive back-up procedure and a complete disaster recovery plan in place, utilizing a virtualized server.

A better way to manage control systems engineering

Huffman Engineering now has a complete system in place to manage its complex web of process control engineering documents, procedures, and software code. The company believes its use of Unlinked Records gives it a best practice for configuration management unrivaled in the control systems integration industry. “We looked around, and found Adept is able to do everything we needed,” says Steinman. “We have best practices for maintaining revision levels, and we have our single source of truth.”


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 https://www.linkedin.com/in/randallnewton.




ROI? Process Improvement? KISS!

When engineering companies start to talk about improving engineering processes, it isn’t very long before someone mentions ROI — Return On Investment. When this happens, it is important to understand the motivation. Is there truly a desire to make sure spending on process improvement is valuable? Or is it a way to delay inevitable changes? Some people are resistant to change; they find it easy to wave the “ROI” flag with a subconscious hope it means Run Off Immediately.

In the classic guide to software-based engineering improvement, ROI of Software Process Improvement, D.F. Rico works through the internal processes that always seem to take place when companies re-examine workflow. Rico wants the reader to realize the metrics of software-based process improvements don’t have to be complicated. In other words, if you are looking at ROI, be sure to KISS! (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

Rico says the initial assessment is the key, and if a company follows three simple rules the assessment will go smoothly and offer meaningful insights:

First, define goals before measuring. Too often, engineering departments struggle to establish well-defined goals that work for both senior management, and the technical managers and staff. Read More

A Culture of Flexibility Helps Space Age Electronics Transform Itself with Engineering Document Management

For more than 50 years, Space Age Electronics has built custom and short-run life safety and fire protection electronics products. Such a specialized, narrow focus has served it well. The company has developed a wide range of specific business processes that help it build quality components within specified budgets, taking advantage of its depth of experience and market knowledge.

Willingness to embrace change is a strong part of Space Age’s company culture. The company has a deep team of multidiscipline experts to move from customer support to design to manufacturing or even IT, as needed.
Read More

A Disaster Recovery Plan Doesn’t Need to be Scary

Your company has insurance covering its buildings and equipment, because everyone knows the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If a natural disaster happens, your physical infrastructure can be repaired and replaced. But too often the same cannot be said for the information infrastructure; at some companies, another old adage is in play: “out of sight, out of mind.” Unfortunately, some disasters that hit information infrastructures are hardly “natural” in nature, yet can be more devastating to a company than an earthquake or fire.

Engineering departments using Adept should have their own disaster recovery plan in place. In many organizations, the Adept installation flies under the IT radar, so to speak. Precautions and backup serving enterprise IT will not necessarily provide the safety net your engineering team requires. Read More

The New EDM Secret Sauc(e)

Here it is 2018, and there is still hang-wringing and skepticism about the value of cloud computing for many aspects of Engineering Document Management (EDM). Some of the complaints sound right out of the late 1980s when engineering companies started wiring together each engineer’s computer into a network. Loss of privacy, loss of security, slower access to data, and other canards were tossed about then, and they are tossed about today when the discussion turns to using cloud technology for EDM.

The hand-wringing continues because interest is rising regarding the potential value of EDM cloud computing. Adoption of cloud-based solutions is up, as awareness of the benefits and advantages of cloud computing become more widespread. As Synergis Software’s Todd Cummings told the audience at last year’s Adept User Conference, “The private cloud is the new WAN.” Read More

Three Steps to Understanding Workflow Process Improvement

Many Adept users acquire the software to improve document storage and retrieval processes. As we have reported here before, researchers have shown how up to 30% of an engineer’s time is spent looking for the right information. All too often, the right information is somewhere, on some server or colleague’s hard drive, but no one is quite sure where.

But there is more to Adept than automated document storage and retrieval — much more. Adept includes powerful tools for drawing- and document-based workflows. Organizations can use Adept to automate simple or complex engineering and business processes. Automating as many steps as possible in your existing processes helps you get products to market quicker, and get projects completed on time and under budget.

Workflow automation is all about increasing efficiency. Remove the barriers to more efficient practices in the organization, and you increase the organization’s ability to be more innovative and agile. You also lower costs by decreasing the time it takes to do important tasks. And, you set the organization up to be more receptive in the future to such “Industry 4.0” innovations as model-based engineering, digital thread, and digital twin. Read More

Solving User Push Back Issues When Implementing Engineering Document Management

Resistance to change is a near-constant theme in engineering software. From the first generation of computers in engineering to today, people become familiar with routines and processes, and are reluctant to change without either significant external motivation or proof the benefits clearly outweigh the effort to learn new skills and adopt new workflows.

The engineering team at Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) is familiar with this theme of reluctance. They were the leading candidate to win a major contract from the United States Coast Guard (USCG), but winning the contract required a significant upgrade of their data automation processes. After a thorough search of alternatives, ESG decided to replace its existing document management system with Synergis Adept.

Before Adept, ESG was using Microsoft’s SharePoint technology to manage engineering documents and connect team members. SharePoint is a technology rooted in 1990’s file management practices, with file size limits that seem quaint by today’s standards, and rudimentary search technology unable to exploit metadata or take specific advantage of CAD and related data types. SharePoint for engineering is usually a requirement placed upon engineering by the IT department, and significant changes are required to make it functional in engineering. Read More

A New Generation of Decision-Makers for the New Year

In the past engineering groups made decisions about product improvement software internally. A CAD manager — often just another one of the engineers who got stuck with double duty — would read about a file manager or a CAD add-on that offered a bit of increased utility. The decision to purchase would be localized to the department, and the productivity gains were limited to which employees installed the new utility on their workstation.

For the most part, those days are gone. There is general consensus that software purchases are an organizational initiative. Productivity improvements are purchased to impact more than just one group or department. PDM (Product Data Management) software is now recognized as an enterprise automation solution, not a departmental file manager.

Product development leaders now hold their software to higher standards. There has been a change in thinking from individual achievement to a focus on enterprise business initiatives surrounding all of product development, not just engineering and design issues. To make the cut in this era, a PDM system must be able to:

  • Manage file relationships for parts, assemblies drawings, configurations;
  • Control access (check-in/check-out) of all design data, both in 2D and 3D;
  • Perform complex versioning and revisions;
  • Control access (check-in/check-out) of all design data, both in 2D and 3D;
  • Integrate with CAD tools and other technical and graphics-based software;
  • Unite the wider enterprise document management functions with engineering;
  • Provide an automated and robust audit trail.
  • Play nice with other enterprise systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM);
  • Guide and protect key business processes including quality management, approvals, and regulatory compliance;

Today’s PDM decision-makers want software that creates a competitive edge. They want to streamline business processes and automate existing workflows. Eliminating wasted time searching for all kinds of product data is also essential. They want a high return of business value for their investment, and are willing to take enough time to find the right solution. Read More