We look at the specific benefits of a good document management system in engineering. We look at the activities covered by the term engineering. We also look at the kinds of documents typically generated during these activities. Finally, we will look at how the processes of engineering could benefit from using a good document management system.
The Activities Involved in Engineering
Design: The engineer starts with the results to be achieved and then looks at the resources available to achieve them. He then works on the problems involved and how they could be solved with the resources available.
For doing the above work, he would need a great deal of reference material and would produce a considerable quantity of worksheets. 3D models, 2D drawings and design schematics are typically the final outputs that constitute the solution specifications.
Testing: The design is proved through different kinds of testing. Testing could involve:
- Scale models
- Destructive tests
- Nondestructive tests
- Stress tests
Construction or Production: The design becomes useful when it is used in actual construction or production. Converting the design into production operations is usually a big project – premises have to be arranged, equipment would have to be organized, utilities like power, water, fuel and others have to be made available, skilled personnel hired or trained and a coordinating organization would have to be put in place.
Operating manuals, schedules, production reports, problem reports, inspection reports, materials movement tickets and several other kinds of documents would typically be generated during regular operations.
Attendance tickets, payrolls, materials purchase invoices, sales invoices, materials receipt documents, merchandise shipment documents, correspondence and management & statutory reports are other kinds of typical documents created during the business’ operations.
Tools Used by the Engineer
Computers provided a new dimension to the complexity that the designer could now tolerate. CAD software could generate 3D models, 2D drawings and design schema documents. CAE software and digital mockups could not only speed up testing but could also save time and costs by avoiding the need to develop prototypes etc.
Product Data Management Software could manage product data including:
- Design specifications produced by CAD
- Requirements and Specifications
- Manufacturing plans and Assembly plans
- Test plans and test procedures
These days, Product Lifecycle Management through computer software has become one of the key functions in manufacturing businesses along with Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management and Enterprise Resource Planning.
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
A process that is engineering in practice, covering all stages from conceiving a product to its disposal. PLM depends on documents to store knowledge, and document management to make it easy to access that knowledge when needed.
A product or service is conceived to meet a practical need. Whether this is done in one’s mind at an individual level, or at a meeting of marketing, technical, engineering, costing and other specialists, the result would have to be documented in the form of performance specifications.
Before you start designing something, you need to know what it is supposed to do. You also need to know the constraints under which it has to do it. This is what a performance specification clarifies.
It goes without saying that designers working on the entire, or a part, of the detailed design should have access to the relevant performance specifications. The easier this access, the better and faster they could do their work. Document management thus comes into the picture quite early in the PLM process.
Unless properly documented, designs are of no practical use. Design documents typically come in the forms of three dimensional models, two dimensional drawings and design schematics presented in different forms. These documents could be generated in a digital format by software tools like CAD – Computer Aided Design – and stored as computer documents.
These design documents would typically be supported by numerous worksheets that explain how the final results were derived. The worksheets also form part of the knowledge database that should be available for current and future projects.
Software tools like CAE – Computer Aided Engineering – and Digital Mockups come to the aid of the engineer for carrying out and documenting the tests.
Often, the products are new and the tools to produce them would also have to be designed. That would give rise to a new set of design and validation documents.
Activities like product design are highly interactive and iterative. Many people would have to work together in these activities. A good document management system would:
- Ensure easy retrieval of and access to relevant documents by authorized (and only authorized) persons
- Make collaborative working an efficient and effective process
- Preserve the documents, particularly those that make up the knowledge base, free from damage and loss for a long time
- Exercise proper version control to avoid erroneous use of obsolete documents and for keeping track of different aspects.
Effective and efficient document management is absolutely essential for successful PLM. And a successful PLM could bring concrete business benefits in the forms of:
- Getting products from conception to market faster
- Better product quality and market acceptance
- Reduced product development costs
- Creation of a knowledge database that could aid future design and development
- Better control over production efficiency and costs
The above would in turn mean Product Leadership, Market Acceptance, Lower Costs and a continuous Flow of New Products – leading to higher profitability and continued survival and prosperity.
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