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Thomas R. Cutler

Quality Insider

Managing Technical Documents

Less is more

Published: Monday, March 19, 2007 - 22:00

More than 13 hours per week creating documents and nearly seven hours per week organizing documents are common among small and midsize engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturers; four hours per week are spent managing document routing and another 10 hours per week searching for information. All this time searching for documents is waste and counter to lean initiatives and established efficiency metrics. According to Ricardo Talbot, chief science officer for Elmo Solutions, “The biggest distinction in effective search tools that create and manage engineering documents is the capability to index, retrieve and display a wide range of CAD [computer-aided design] and imaging documents from AutoCAD, other Autodesk-flavored applications, Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks.”

It’s economically viable to deploy CAD and product lifecycle management (PLM) document retrieval tools because, according to Talbot, “Our original intent was to develop and market a full-fledged technical document management [TDM] system with sophisticated document retrieval and viewing features, revision control, approval control, workflow, really the whole enchilada. However, when we surveyed our potential customers, we discovered that 90 percent of them would be perfectly happy with a lightweight TDM solution that would really focus on retrieval and viewing of engineering documents, as long as it was easy to use.”

With small and large engineer-to-order manufacturers there is often a core business surrounding reverse-engineering CAD and other document formats to produce visualization solutions. Technology solutions are able to turn a general purpose document management system into a full-fledged technical document management system.

The scope of these technologies reveals that even a lightweight document management solution, limited to indexing and retrieval, results in cost-effective lean process improvements. Several TDM technologies are designed for managing CAD and engineering drawings along with associated product documents such as office documents, e-mails, PDFs and photographs. Many technologies provide unique architectures that store all electronic files in a native format, allowing engineers to view drawings without the installed CAD application, and letting anyone share and access documents from anywhere in the world via Internet Explorer.

Beyond a full range of document management functionality that archives (indexes), the leanest TDM solutions must be equipped with the best search engines on the market, allowing engineers the ability to search quickly and accurately for any word or combination of words. During the retrieval process, it should be possible to view or open all versions of a document.

High-end lean product management
RuleStream provides a rules-driven product management (RPM) technology that allows discrete manufacturers to respond to customer-specific product requirements rapidly, accurately and efficiently. The technology aggregates and manages intellectual property (IP) assets to automate complex decisions for all product-centric business operations. These include quote-to-cash or build-to-order processes, as well as variant design, new product development and contract engineering. With this high-end lean product management technology, large engineer-to-order firms increase the sales win rate, shorten lead times, improve margins and increase higher customer satisfaction; the technology also improves new product development processes, enabling higher productivity, faster design cycles, fewer errors and better quality. Each of these results is central to lean initiatives and continued process improvement, although the price point limits the scope of many ETO manufacturers.

Less is more for 90 percent of engineering manufacturers
The vast majority of ETO manufacturers described an intranet-style search engine with advanced engineering-specific viewing capabilities. Talbot decided that the Elmo approach to TDM would take the form of a solution that would satisfy the needs of 90 percent of the market, at an average initial cost that would be typically about 50 times less than a full-featured TDM system. According to Talbot, “No matter how lightweight and cost-effective the claims, a full-fledged technical document system is a complementary product category with Elmo Search.

Customers will normally use TDM systems to manage various versions and revisions of work-in-progress, live documents; once those documents are issued or published, they become dead documents and managing them is no longer relevant. Many functions such as revision, approval and workflow management become irrelevant. The only thing to do with those documents is just indexing, finding and viewing them, in most cases.”

A typical high-end TDM system implementation can cost as much as $6,000 per user; this lightweight technology implementation is closer to $120 per user and addresses the vast majority of criteria for small to mid-size ETO manufacturers.


About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com and followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.