Theodore Levitt, a legendary professor of marketing at Harvard, once said: "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole."
Drills or software, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Companies don’t set out to acquire a piece of software, they set out to solve whatever problem keeps them up at night. If a CAD manager spends a couple of hours a day looking for files, chances are he’s going to look for something other than a naming convention.
The hard truth is that files need to be managed with or without the latest and greatest in CAD software. Why? The two biggest problems I run into with clients who don’t have a way to manage their files are:
- Lost Files - Studies have shown that engineers spend about 38% of their time looking for information. If they can’t find a file quickly, they will often start from scratch and recreate that file. This happens more often than you think.
- Using the Wrong Files – When an engineer has been given a change request that requires work on a CAD file, they usually will start with the latest released version of that file. If they start with the wrong version, they will end up recreating that file.The ultimate mistake is sending the wrong file to manufacturing. The simple act of grabbing the wrong file and sending it over to manufacturing is not only a huge waste of money, it's a huge waste of time.
Years ago, I spoke with an aerospace and defense contractor that had sent the wrong CAD file to manufacturing. The widget they were manufacturing needed to fit in a particular aircraft. They sent the CAD file for a different aircraft. My client started the manufacturing process before they discovered the error at a cost of $350,000. Whoops.
What are the Options?
- Many companies have gone through the phase of using a protected directory. When an engineer finishes their work, they will save it to a protected directory. Most of these companies will have a strict file naming policy so that it can be found. The often unspoken rule is that you must get your file from the protected directory and not from your individual CAD station.
- Why not try to use the document management software that another division bought six months ago? This can help, but document management software usually doesn’t follow the ‘strict’ rules that engineering needs (and expects).
- Other companies have tried using Dropbox or Google Docs in order to more easily share documents in divisions around the world. Again, I understand the allure of hacking together a solution with what you’ve got, but a hacked together solution doesn’t follow engineering rules.
- Product Data Management (PDM) solutions have been available for years. These solutions are designed for engineering and follow engineering rules. They provide a secure vault for engineering files and even help you manage your bills of materials.
How do I convince my boss?
Once you have identified the problem you would like to solve, the next task is to come up with the money for the solution.
You should be able to identify some hard dollar costs associated with your identified problems that will help you with your budget proposal.
- How much time do your engineers spend recreating CAD files?
- How often do they use the wrong file and have to start over?
- If you sent a file to manufacturing, how much did that error cost you?
- If you share the wrong file with your customer, what is the impact on your "good will?"
Use these numbers to put a dollar value on the impact of document management and come up with a budget request. Once you have identified a budget, you can investigate your options.
The right solution
At some point in the future, your company will need the benefits that a PDM solution offers. Even though the other alternatives appear cheaper, they don’t provide the needs of engineering without some customization. There are cheaper alternatives, but PDM will pay off in the long haul.
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