In my previous blog post, I discussed why small engineering organizations feel quite strongly they don’t need a centralized CAD file management systems. In this post I’ll explain why, in fact, no engineering organization, no matter how small, can afford NOT to have a robust product data management strategy supported by PDM software.
Sharing CAD Information
Many small organizations, wanting to circumvent the rigid structure of PDM—let alone the associated software cost and IT overhead—elect to use ad hoc tools such as email attachments, Google Docs, DropBox, USB memory sticks, FTP transfer, and a myriad of other inexpensive file sharing tools.
The problem with any of these tools is that they do exactly and only what they were designed to do: exchange data files. They are not meant to ensure that we always share the most recent version of a design, that no one will be working on it while we are waiting for the results of a design review, or that a design change made by a remote engineer is incorporated into the main design stream.
But using informal file exchange software has yet another potential drawback. These tools treat CAD data files the same way they treat any other data file. However, most CAD systems do not store data in a single file. Instead, parts and assemblies are represented as a collection of individual yet interdependent files in a file structure that must be strictly adhered to. The integrity of CAD models, especially of large assemblies of multiple versions, that are exchanged and edited back and forth between different versions of CAD software is easily corrupted, oftentimes in a manner that can go unnoticed until a major PLM upgrade is performed.
Can You Trust Your Data?
So the important question product engineering and individual stakeholders must ask every time a CAD model is opened is: can I trust the information in this file? Am I working on the right version? Am I the only person working on it?
As the product goes through design iterations, revisions and improvements, the need to maintain an audit trail of design changes is increasingly critical. Organizations that do not retain detailed change history are bound to repeat design and manufacturing errors, going through unnecessary design iterations and manufacturing rework. I recall working on the design of a large industrial machine. During one of the design iterations, one of the engineers modified an electric circuit and removed what appeared to be a set of superfluous pull-up resistors, which were introduced to the design several versions ago to correct a design flaw that was discovered during prototype testing. This time the problem showed up only later, when the machine was already in volume production.
Centralized Product Data Management
Sharing product information among numerous key stakeholders, casual users and interested parties is a daily endeavor at any manufacturing company: design engineers, suppliers and contractors, and other less frequent yet critical participants such as the marketing department, all need to be able to access and use design information in the course of their business.
Engineering organizations that employ a centralized approach to CAD management improve internal data sharing and collaboration capabilities among team members and across distributed team structures, as well as externally, with clients, design partners and suppliers.
These, in turn, improve design and operational efficiencies and offer multiple benefits to any size organization in a number of key areas:
Information Reuse. Organizations that utilize a common repository of designs and vetted best practices identify many opportunities to reuse existing information instead of developing it from scratch. Some of the more obvious examples—which are surprisingly underutilized—are the reuse of 3D models to supplement assembly work instructions and service information, and generating photorealistic rendering for marketing.
Design reuse. While engineers love to “innovate” and prefer to stay busy with the design of new parts and assemblies, the amount of radically new design in many products is relatively small. In fact, some product companies have guidelines relative to how much complete new design can be introduced in each product iteration and how should to be based on previous proven design. A PDM system gives engineers an easy means to reuse prior proven designs and parts, and reduce uncertainty, contain risks and improve efficiencies in new product development, and, as a result, freeing scarce engineering for innovation.
A key point that often eludes many organizations is that by reusing known designs, and, for that matter, inventory parts, they also reuse associated information and knowledge that could lead to manifold increase in efficiency and product quality. For instance, an existing design may also include its associated assembly work instructions, special tooling, and various documents that will accelerate the transition to manufacturing.
Furthermore, prior information concerning manufacturing yield, field reliability, and past warranty claims can be used to:
- Make design versus reuse decisions
- Support field service
- Support spare parts inventory planning
Regulatory Compliance. Increased rigor and the complexity of regulations concerning material selection, designs and manufacturing processes, and verifying compliance impact not only large brand owners, but also their suppliers. Design partners and suppliers have to provide their customers, the large original equipment manufacturers and brand owners, information to support and verify compliance for all product configurations and design iterations. All indications are that in the future, even smaller suppliers along the extended value chain will be required to be more actively involved in the regulatory compliance process.
Therefore, the argument isn’t about whether there’s a need for any size organization to implement a robust product data management environment. The issue is implementing the right PDM tool in a manner that supports efficient product development without hindering creativity, flexibility, and agility.
In the final installment of Check-in, Check-out, Check-in…Why bother?, I will explain why the absence a formal data management strategy imposes greater risk on small organizations.
More teams are using Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, and Social tools to speed up product development. Independent analyst firm, Consilia Vektor, explains how this changes Product Data Management (PDM) as you know it and how this can help your team work smarter.