Product and Intranet Data Management

Nov. 22, 1996
Solutions for organizing design and manufacturing.

IBM software helps light jet fly
The first entry-level light jet to come off the assembly line at Raytheon Aircraft Co. will do so with the help of Product- Manager Version 3, product-datamanagement software from IBM. Called the Premier I, the craft is under development at the Wichita, Kans., manufacturer and is expected to fly for the first time next summer. It will have a range of 1,500 nautical miles and will cruise at 530 mph.

IBM software installed at the aircraft manufacturer currently provides electronic folders for routing and approvals of engineering changes. Raytheon is now integrating configuration management, bill of materials, and ProductManager functions with Catia workstations, while simultaneously installing the system in additional departments. Some 500 to 600 users are expected to be on line with the system by year’s end.

Separately, IBM said that it will have a Web interface for ProductManager ready by the end of the year. The add-on module is currently being developed at the firm’s Boca Raton, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., facilities and will basically consist of HTML templates and APIs that let ProductManager software work with common Web browsers. This will make possible operations over the Internet such as checking in and checking out drawings, and assessing drawing status.

Alpharel becomes Altris, boosts PDM efforts
Alpharel Inc., San Diego, supplier of image viewing and product-data-management software, has begun doing business as Altris Solutions Inc. The new name reflects an increased emphasis on document management solutions that encompass e-mail, spreadsheets, video and photos, say company officials.

Typical of the firm’s PDM products is one called Enabler, which can be used to link image management tools to PDM or MRP systems without requiring modifications to these applications. Among the manufacturers now using Enabler is Alcatel Network Systems Inc., Dallas. The telecommunications giant employs the Altris software to access image documents from a Sherpa PDM system. Users at workstations cannot only view documents, but also add comments, make changes, or output drawings to paper or fax. In addition, Enabler software permits making a copy of a CAD drawing as an image that can be distributed for viewing. Its users may also view multiple documents simultaneously from Unix workstations, PCs, or Macs.

Best strategy for pilot projects: Don’t be a hero
PDM systems with just a few useful features, but brought up and running on time, are better received than more aggressively designed systems that come in wildly late. Yet many implementors ignore this simple prescription. The frequent result is a PDM system that never gets out of the pilot phase.

These are the insights of Peter A. Storti ([email protected]), founder of a Lake Dallas, Tex., consulting firm called InfoEdge Inc. Speaking at the recent Kalthoff conference on PDM, Storti explained that too many PDM projects start out with plans that are grandiose. “They attempt to do everything,” he says. But such enthusiasm can sow the seeds of disaster.

Those who devise PDM must keep several factors in mind. Among the most important is that PDM vendors now release new versions of their software every six to nine months. These technology advances can obsolete projects that take too long to complete. Thus, it pays to keep pilot projects small lest the features they provide become moot while still in development.

In fact, sizing a pilot project involves equal parts of art and science, claims Storti, who has implemented PDM systems for manufacturers that include Abbot Labs, Alcatel, and Xerox. The best approach is to pick the smallest project that gives the organization a recognizable return and make it as simple as possible. “That generally means not spending time coding in customized features,” he says.

Much of the “art” involved in devising a manageable pilot concerns leaving out features rather than building them in — even if developers know that the features they are leaving out would be extremely valuable to the organization. Trouble is, developers often let their enthusiasm get the better of them and over-feature the pilot. “Many PDM developers lose sight of the fact that they themselves have higher standards for usefulness than do the eventual users. They end up implementing functions that won’t stick in the face of budget cuts or the loss of a key champion,” says Storti. “Consequently, PDM systems developed as pilots frequently never become production systems.”

The key to avoiding such difficulties is to pick a few critical functions that are causing pain in the organization, ensure the pilot cures them, and hit all development deadlines. “Most managers are unaccustomed to seeing large software projects hit milestones on time,” explains Storti. “Being on schedule but delivering just a few features gives management more comfort than a PDM project which is behind and delivers numerous features that few in the company really understand anyway. Just deliver a few tangible benefits that make the organization happy.”

Developers should also plan ahead to maintain momentum after the pilot is complete. One strategy is to map out the features to be implemented in the ensuing phase of the program. “That’s when you start building in functions that people ask for,” says Storti. This second phase should occupy no more than a three to nine month window, he thinks, so users don’t see the planned features as too far off in the future.

New IMAN release excels at BOM-to-BOM comparisons
Manufacturers that use multiple bills-of-materials to describe product configurations may benefit from the latest V3.4 release of IMAN, a product-data-management system from EDS Unigraphics, Maryland Heights, Mo. The package features a BOM-compare function that graphically matches items on different BOMs and highlights discrepancies. It can also look at relationships on multiple levels to show, for example, differences in assemblies.

Among the highlights of the new IMAN release is a Multiple View function which lets different departments and organizations view different kinds of information on BOMs as necessary. For example, manufacturing engineers might include process information in the “manufacturing view” of the BOM for the MRP environment. The package can define multiple BOM views for products, assemblies, subassemblies, and so forth.

According to company spokespeople, the Multiple Views function is easy to use. All product data can be accessed from any view of the BOM. The new IMAN release also carries additional enhancements addressing workflow management and project status. An in-box feature alerts users when they have been assigned new tasks. Check-in and check-out features help facilitate personnel transfers on and off project teams. Other facilities let a system administrator create custom relationships between tracked items as well.

PDM vendors work on links to manufacturing, easier use
Though product-data-management software works relatively easily with CAD packages, the links between PDM and manufacturing software tend to be less direct. Thus there is some extra work involved getting design data into manufacturing packages such as MRP systems. PDM vendors are devoting development time to constructing direct connections among the two types of software as more manufacturers use data developed during design in downstream operations.

For example, IBM has devised connections between its ProductManager PDM package and widely used manufacturing software from SAP AG, Germany, and Oracle Corp. The company makes custom interfaces for other manufacturing packages as the need arises, according to IBM officials. Each interface must largely be custom built because of the proprietary formats used to store data in commercial manufacturing packages. The interface process, says IBM, typically takes on the order of weeks.

Developers at Computervision expect to add an interface for SAP manufacturing software through the company’s Optegra Explorer software which lets engineers navigate through product assemblies. The SAP interface will appear as a window on the Optegra screen and users will be able to pull information out of CAD databases and into SAP software largely through point-and-click operations, says a Computervision spokesperson. The interface is due by the end of 1996.

Similarly, developers at Adra Systems Inc. provide a special scripting language for extracting data from the company’s Matrix PDM package and sending extracted data to other external packages. Called Matrix Query Language, it can serve as a vehicle for executing external processes, such as those taking place in an MRP system, through use of event triggers within the Matrix package. The scripting language also permits the development of reports containing information from both Matrix and from manufacturing software.

Linkages made possible by MQL are part of a trend toward making PDM systems easier to implement and use. According to Tom Arant, president of a Winston-Salem, N.C., consulting firm called Technology Management, most PDM vendors are now focusing on making their software simple to use, install, and integrate with other types of software.

This emphasis is in contrast to that of previous generations of PDM software, where vendors basically tried to provide as many features as possible . Arant expects data-management vendors to concentrate on ease-of-use qualities for the foreseeable future.

Ease-of-setup a key feature of new technical data manager
Billed as an “out of the box” technical data-management package, SmarTeam has been optimized for use specifically by engineering organizations. It lets implementors install, setup, and field data-management software rapidly through mechanisms such as business templates and predefined defaults that permit use of the package immediately, with further refinements added later.

Developed by Smart Solutions Inc. in Israel, the package manages document revisions, part lists, design changes, and so forth. Searching and querying tools include a search-by-attributes methodology, as well as classification and retrieval by keywords. A workflow subsystem provides features such as automatic task notification, attachment of documents and part lists, workflow templates, and related features.

Implementors can link the package to other engineering software such as MRP systems by means of built-in API functions and SmarTeam Visual Basic. A built-in viewer provides data snapshots in roughly 100 different file formats and permits redlining of drawings. In addition, special facilities let users step through menus and install foreign language terms.

Cost for the SmarTeam package typically runs from $1,200 to $2,200/seat, according to developers. It will also be available bundled with CAD programs from SolidWorks Corp. and Cimatron Technologies.

Software module lets PDM users key in on text strings
Users of Optegra data-management software from Computervision can now locate and browse documents for specific text strings, without opening the document or running the document’s application. Also available for the Optegra object-oriented data-management product is a scanning module that lets users capture and clean up paper drawings and other documents on-line to automate the electronic distribution of information from paper documents.

The FTR (full text retrieval) application can index and reindex full text documents and conduct searches through a wide variety of querying criteria and document formats. In addition, the software can store and access text files within a data vaulting application. The new scanning module provides features that include processing and viewing of multiple images in one file, as well as a batch scan facility that scans and stores groups of documents as a single, multipage image or as separate images. It also lets scanning input go directly to a file for later clean up.

Component/supplier management tied to PDM
Component and supplier-management software has been married to PDM software through a recently announced partnership between Aspect Development Inc., Mountain View, Calif., and Sherpa Corp., San Jose. The two firms are integrating the Aspect Explore CSM system with the Sherpa/IPD (integrated product development) application. The key benefit is that reusable design data will flow smoothly from the Sherpa system into Aspect’s Explore, and library-of-parts information will be able to pass from Explore to the Sherpa system.

Combining the two software packages will give users who employ the Sherpa PDM system access to detailed information on parts and suppliers. It will also let them know what parts are available, reusable, and optimal based on internal company business data and technical information extracted from component reference databases. Another benefit is that users will be able to rapidly find equivalent or alternative parts to replace those that become obsolete or which must be changed because of ECOs. Parts found in Explore can also be rapidly added to a bill of materials.

Engineers using Aspect Explore will be able to employ the Sherpa/IPD program for access to where-used and other effectivity reports for selected parts. This information will help grasp the impact of component and supplier decisions on existing products. Explore users will also be able to create new parts and download appropriate part information into Sherpa/IPD and to download preliminary engineering parts lists into Sherpa/IPD for use in initial engineering BOMs.

Vendors team up to meld PDM with EDMS
Documentum Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., and ConsenSys Software Corp., San Jose, have partnered to integrate the Documentum Enterprise Document Management System (EDMS) with the ConsenSys Rapid- PDM system. The two firms will produce off-the-shelf software that combines PDM and EDMS in ways formerly available only through custom-written packages.

First to emerge from the relationship is software called ConsenSys Open for Documentum, integrating ConsenSys and Documentum Server software. It addresses the creation and tracking of engineering change orders, manages the BOM database, and incorporates a vaulting function for controlling engineering documents associated with specific parts and assemblies.

Due in the first quarter of next year, the software is intended to easily integrate with existing MRP systems so revised BOMs can readily pass to manufacturing. Marketing personnel, meanwhile, will be able to work on associated marketing material through use of the Documentum portion of the application. The first release of the software will support Documentum Docbase with Oracle 7 running on Sun and NT server platforms and Windows clients. Subsequent releases will support other platforms.

Change management gets top billing in WorkManager for Workgroups
Hewlett-Packard Co. has added a new feature that simplifies the setup of change orders and information flow in its 3.0 release of PE/Work- Manager for Workgroups. A facility called a classification interface, introduced in the new version, lets engineers classify, find, and retrieve objects from a design database and load them directly into HP’s PE/ME 10 or PE/SolidDesigner CAD programs.

An enhanced bill-of-materials management feature, available as an add-on module for the new release, allows scanning through assemblies having part numbers that themselves contain a collection of parts, each with its own part number. The add-on module also allows updating of existing product structures directly from PE/ME 10 and PE/Solid- Designer CAD programs. Additional capabilities included in the new release help manage multiple product configurations within 3D assemblies and select alternate configurations for loading into CAD software. There is also HTML-based on-line help and user documentation for commands and icons.

Prices for the software start at $1,950 per seat and include integration to PE/ME 10 or PE/SolidDesigner. Prices for an integration toolkit start at $1,390.

Electronic foldering comes to document manager software
The latest release of Cimage Document Manager software, Version 3.0, provides new means of assembling documents and data into collections, known as foldering. Also in the new release is a graphical drag-and-drop document organization, integrated e-mail, user-definable data templates for fast document registration, and a Windows 95 look and feel.

Developed by Cimage Enterprise Systems Ltd., Bracknell, U.K., the software includes an integrated suite of programs consisting of Document Manager Server for storing documents and structuring the repository, Document Manager Desktop for navigating the document repository, and ImageMaster for viewing information.

Document Manager Server controls documents from a variety of electronic sources in their native format, including word processing files, spreadsheets, scanned paper and photographs, and CAD files. It also includes facilities for linking and embedding within other applications. An application-building facility simulates the way different parts of the organization accesses information. This helps generate the database structures and relationships that the software uses to manage data. The Document Manager Desktop module lets users query, annotate, and organize document management functions. It also permits adding annotations, notes, and col0red highlights to stored records.

New moniker, major upgrade for Intergraph data manager
Asset & Information Management (AIM) is the new name for Intergraph Corp.’ s information management software formerly known as DM2. The AIM suite of applications uses the Metaphase information management infrastructure as its base, onto which Intergraph has built modules configured for specific industries.

The newly released Version 2.2 of the software from the Huntsville, Ala., CAD vendor includes an OLE (object linking and embedding) automation interface that lets users customize the GUI, a print-without-view capability to eliminate the need for opening a drawing, better data backup capabilities, and the ability to access documents and data stored by the widely used SAP AG manufacturing software package.

Also due for A IM by the end of the year is a Web-browser module. This facility will let users access assembly and design information over the Web. Key to the capability, says Intergraph, is the use of Active CGM technology, based on the CAD-neutral Computer Graphics Metafile, which offers an easy way to distribute 2D technical information. CGMs are preferred over traditional JPEG or GIF files because they are faster and easier to handle and because they can be imbued with additional intelligence through hot links with associated drawings or documents.

Data-management association to host spring conference
The Association for Configuration and Data Management (ACDM) will hold its second annual conference March 16 through 19, 1997 at the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara, Calif. Technical sessions will cover topics that include data-management and configuration-control practices, evolving industry and government standards, and the impact of data automation on engineering disciplines.

Also taking place at the gathering will be vendor exhibitions and an ACDM national membership meeting. Founded in 1991, the association is a society of professionals dedicated to promoting an understanding of, and exchanging information about, the control of technical data throughout the design life cycle. Membership and conference information are available from the ACDM in Salt Lake City at (800) 738-8500 or at on the Internet.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

About the Author

Leland Teschler

Lee Teschler served as Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design until 2014. He holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan; a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan; and an MBA from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, Lee worked as a Communications design engineer for the U.S. Government.

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