What’s Next in Engineering Technology?

For nearly four years, I have been a guest writer here on the Synergis blog, commenting on the state of engineering document management and highlighting innovative uses of Adept. While I will still be doing that until I wear out my welcome, over the next few months I will also occasionally comment on engineering technology trends. Not just EDMS/PDM issues, but all the digital tools engineers need, and the products they will make with new technologies.

In this column and the next, I will touch on several trends. In future columns, I will explore these ideas in more detail. This article will start with trends more familiar to Adept users; the next one will gaze further ahead.

2D CAD remains essential

3D CAD is a powerful technology, but just as television did not kill radio, 3D CAD did not and will not kill 2D CAD. Rich, descriptive visual languages have evolved over the years, all based in 2D drafting. No less a 3D proponent than Dassault Systemès (Catia, SolidWorks) estimates that for every seat of 3D CAD software in use, there are between four to ten seats of 2D CAD software supporting the same mission. The differences are by industry: Construction uses more 2D seats than automotive, which uses more 2D seats than aerospace and defense. This ratio of 3D to 2D won’t be changing anytime in the near future. Read More

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:

Step 1

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

3 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

How Joy Global Tamed their Global PDM Monsters

Joy Global (now Komatsu Mining Corp.) is a world-class manufacturer and services provider for high-productivity mining equipment. Customers around the globe use are using Joy Global products and services on the very largest mining projects in energy, industrial, and hard rock minerals. Over the years it has grown both organically and by acquisition, to the point where it how has eight major brands, 12,000 employees, and offices in 20 countries. With each acquisition came new data, new data management systems, and new challenges for creating, storing, using, and sharing engineering data.

In 2009, the company decided it must standardize on a single product data management system (PDM). “Our access and files were out of control,” says Joy Global’s Norm Kopp. Research on how to proceed started with a simple step. The small team assigned to the job looked at only 10 shared directory folders on the corporate network. More than 675 users had access across the 10 folders, with no tighter level of access control. In one directory alone, there were more than 1 million documents, taking up more than 2 terabytes. “We knew there just had to be a better way,” recalls Kopp. Their engineering data had become an uncontrolled monster hiding inside the organization. Read More

Welcome to the Loosely Coupled World

I am noticing a change in thinking in the engineering data industry. Current trends in IT are driving new capabilities and new methods. The industry is moving from consolidation to federation, from tightly coupled systems to loosely coupled systems. This transition has important implications for all engineering companies.

There was a time when product lifecycle management (PLM) was advertised as the evolution of product data management (PDM) or engineering document management (EDM). The three largest vendors of PLM software made a nice business for many years helping enterprise-class manufacturers consolidate all their engineering data into a single comprehensive database. In IT-speak, this is an example of a tightly coupled system. All data and all processes were consolidated into one large program. Centralization was a guiding principle, not only for how the software managed engineering data, but also for the computer infrastructure used to run the PLM platform. Read More

Best Practices When Using EDM Vendor Services

The old adage “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” is certainly true when it comes to something as important as installing engineering document management (EDM) software. Research by Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity shows it is possible to achieve EDM implementation benefits rapidly by following a few key rules:

  • Use preconfigured best practices for security, part numbering, and other common information standards;
  • When possible, use standard workflows such as “release to manufacture” and “engineering change control;”
  • Limit initial customization; evaluate customization needs after full initial implementation and training.

As important as it is to minimize initial customization, no EDM system out of the box will offer an exact fit for every company. Many companies have workflows which evolved over years or decades; these processes do not need to be eliminated just because of automation. Other companies need customization to help unify far-flung engineering offices and long supply chains. Read More

What Kept Document Management Pros Awake at Night in 2016?

As the semi-official guest blogger for Synergis Software, I was recently granted a sneak peek at the analytical data for this blog in 2016. What did I learn? I was a bit surprised to learn most regular readers of this blog read the entire article (measured by time on page). I get less time-on-page for my news articles elsewhere than for my commentary here. Such a stat tells me people who come here are passionate about engineering data and document management and are looking for useful information.

I also learned the most-read articles in 2016 can be organized into two broad themes:

How others use Synergis Adept

This could be characterized either as “best practices” or as “what the guy like me somewhere else is doing.”

Current risks and challenges

Engineering document management is not trivial, easy, or static; new challenges in the field are significant.

In tribute to the retired David Letterman and his nightly Top Ten lists (which we also paid homage to in 2016), here are the top ten Synergis Adept Blog articles for 2016. If you want to know what kept document management pros like you up late this year, here’s what they were thinking about:

Number 10: “Make sure you understand the risk of not having a solid data management plan” (What is your company’s risk in the new data management age?) 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).

Read More

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). Read More