Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Top five data management myths, debunked


February 25, 2019
By Carl Smith

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February 25, 2019 – For manufacturing companies, design data is the currency of the organization.

Manufacturers cannot do business without drawings or the metadata that gives them context. Data management solutions help organize and track information, as well as manage change throughout the data lifecycle. Despite the benefits that these systems can deliver, many manufacturers assume a formal data management system is not for them.

Here are five common data management myths that we often encounter, along with the realities:

1. Data management is a major, enterprise-wide investment. Some manufacturers believe that data management systems require them to build scaffolding around the entire business. The truth is that data management doesn’t have to be an enterprise-wide system. I like to compare it to apple-picking – to harvest the fruit, do you need a complete scaffolding system around the tree, or do you just need a ladder? Data management may begin, for example, as a small-scale initiative inside the engineering firewall to handle “work-in-process” information. Over time, the organization may decide to expand the data management system to other parts of the business. As you begin to explore data management solutions, look for systems that will fit your immediate needs but that are also scalable to meet future requirements.

2. Small companies like mine don’t need data management. At small manufacturers, everyone typically works in one location and employees communicate well. These companies don’t see an obvious need for a formalized data management. In addition, small organizations may be resistant to change, and new technology can seem like unnecessary overhead. If you look more closely at smaller firms, however, you see that employees often wear multiple hats. With lean teams, issues that would be inconsequential at a large firm have a much greater impact on productivity. Imagine if an employee at a small manufacturer spends two or three hours searching for a file each week; the impact to the bottom line and overall productivity to the firm has far more impact. A well-thought out data management solution enables teams of all sizes to find use information quickly and efficiently.

3. Data management is only useful for the engineering department. Successful manufacturers recognize that their data is an asset that is used throughout the organization. For example, sales teams must access the most current submittal and approval drawings for client signoff. Marketing departments often create publications that include models and drawings. Procurement can only order raw materials when product drawings are finalized. In companies without a data management solution, major problems can occur if sales, marketing, or purchasing accidentally used an obsolete drawing or file. A good data management system supports the communication pipeline throughout the organization. When the lifecycle of a drawing or item changes, the system can automatically alert the affected stakeholders when the information is finalized and released. 

4. We don’t use 3D CAD, so we don’t need a data management system. Firms using 3D CAD appreciate data management systems and the ability to understand and manage the complex parent-child relationships inherent in this environment. Data management solutions maintain the linkages between all the elements of a 3D CAD design. Although CAD files are an important aspect of manufacturing, they aren’t the only type of file that is essential for a company to keep secure and organized. CAD files (both 2D and 3D) and all related engineering documents with numerous formats all move through a particular lifecycle. For example: 

  • Work in progress (WIP). When a document, file or piece of information is under initial development, it is classified in this first stage of the data lifecycle.
  • Review. Data moves to this stage when teams are collaborating on it before it is released or returned for edits.
  • Released. Once a document or file is finalized, it is released as the official version for use by the organization.
  • Obsolete. When data should no longer be used, it enters this stage of the lifecycle and is archived. 

If a company’s “data management” solution is tossing information into a shared folder on a server, it is challenging to organize data based on lifecycle stage and understand the relationship that different file formats may have with one another.

5. Data management is great for operations, but it can’t help the business achieve its strategic goals. In reality, data management solutions enable manufacturers to maintain their competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced markets. Here are four areas where effective data management can help a company compete more effectively:

  • Succession planning. All too often only a few employees understand where important design files are stored, how they are organized. If people with this institutional knowledge leave the organization or retire, new hires can struggle to get up to speed. A formalized data management system aids with onboarding and it smooths the path forward as companies grow.
  • Business continuity. In the event of a disaster, companies with a good data management system can recover far more quickly. Another aspect of business continuity relates to mergers and acquisitions. After a merger, easy access to data and a clear understanding of how the information is organized makes company integrations easier.
  • Customer retention. We live in a “drive-through” world today where customers are more and more impatient for the products they need. Time-to-market and customer response times are critical competitive differentiators. By streamlining product development and production processes, data management systems can help companies cultivate and maintain customer loyalty.
  • Compliance. Data management systems identify how and why data changes, what other information is affected by the changes, and what stakeholders will be influenced. This level of traceability and auditability is essential for manufacturers with quality management certifications like ISO 9001 or Lean Six Sigma. 

As you can see, data management systems aren’t only for large companies with deep pockets. They can help all manufacturers improve their productivity and maintain a competitive advantage. Once you decide to move forward with a data management solution, however, you may be unsure how to proceed.

Engaging with an experienced consultant can help, since success depends on an understanding of both organizational processes and the technology. Effective data management is more than simply installing software; it’s implementing a solution that fits with the company’s unique environment. Experienced data management consultants know what works (and what doesn’t). They apply best practices and workflows to efficiently create a “best-fit” system for each organization’s needs.

For manufacturers, design data truly is a company asset. With a data management system is in place, companies can feel confident that this valuable information will be easily accessible when and where people need it. That should provide peace of mind for everyone from the engineering department up to the C-suite.

Carl Smith is the director of manufacturing services, North America at IMAGINiT Technologies. Working as lead consultant, project manager and head trainer, Smith has gained in-depth knowledge of Autodesk products and their application in various manufacturing plants across the U.S. He can be reached at csmith@rand.com.