A product data management (PDM) system is saving Esab, a manufacturer and supplier of welding and cutting equipment, and filler metals, about $275,000 annually. The system eliminates the company's previous document-management center, an outside vendor that scanned individual engineering drawings into a database and printed them when needed.
Esab's new system, called SmarTeam, stores native CAD documents in an easily accessed electronic vault, so viewing them takes less time than generating paper documents. The system also automates the engineering change order (ECO) process by automatically routing new drawings to the proper person in sequence and by tracking their status.
The system's vault ensures data integrity while preventing accidental deletion and unauthorized modifications. Based on permissions defined by the system administrator, both engineering and manufacturing personnel can instantly access CAD models and drawings without the delays and risks inherent in paper-document distribution.
A life-cycle-management function controls documents together with all their related components, such as assemblies, drawings, title blocks, and CAD external references. Drawings and related information are also distributable over the Web to provide access to users at company facilities worldwide and to key vendors. Users that do not have access to the CAD system in which the documents are stored can still view drawings and make comments.
SmarTeam includes a viewer that handles over 150 native file formats, including 2D and 3D CAD and hybrid drawings, raster and vector graphics, Word documents, spreadsheets, and more. Among the file formats it supports are AutoCAD, Mechanical Desktop, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, Catia, Autodesk Inventor, MicroStation, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel.
Prior to the new PDM system, documents at Esab were scanned into a common .tif-format easily distributed and viewed by most anyone. Whenever an ECO was approved, drafters would print the drawing and hand it off to document-center personnel, who would scan it into a document-management system. Once an order was received, hard copies were printed, placed in job packs, and sent to the factory with the order.
"With paper documents, it is always possible for something to be delayed for a considerable period or even lost," says Shannon Soupiset, vice president of engineering at Esab. SmarTeam's workflowmanagement tool, called SmartFlow, automates Esab's ECO-approval process.
Managers set up regular information-flow processes to move documents through each stage and quickly resolve bottlenecks. Because the new process is sequential, documents go to each person at the appropriate time for them to comment.
Documents first go to the product engineer who reviews changes and makes sure they are consistent with the design intent. The manufacturing-engineering manager then gets drawings to address issues involved in producing parts to the new specs. Afterwards, documents filter to several people simultaneously.
The manufacturing planner addresses inventory issues, such as whether the company needs to stop stocking some components and begin stocking others. The marketing-communications person makes changes to product literature. The quality manager uses the ECO to update the inspection process. Cost accounting determines production costs and makes any needed pricing adjustments. And finally, the sales staff views the documents to prepare for selling the new product.