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Contain the Risks of Obsolete Engineering Information

By Nathan Eichelberger Senior Vice President, Accruent

Engineering information is both pervasive and essential within manufacturing plants. And, it changes constantly as a result of maintenance-related adjustments, alterations in plant processes, or the swap-out of components. Some of these changes happen in isolation, but many times, small engineering changes overlap each other. In either case, “as-built” documents are not often adequately updated to reflect the actual revisions that have happened in the field. This is to the detriment of maintenance workers, plant engineers, and project managers.

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Engineering information is ubiquitous within manufacturing plants and changes constantly as a result of maintenance-related adjustments, alterations in plant processes, or the swap-out of components.

Those overlapping changes and projects can be difficult to manage, and the disconnects and reliance on obsolete information creates risk. There are five different ways that obsolete engineering information brings risk to manufacturing:

  1. Delayed turn arounds
  2. Lost productivity
  3. Unsafe working conditions
  4. Poorly estimated project budgets
  5. Higher maintenance costs

Those challenges are exacerbated in plants that are increasing the pace of change in their facilities through concurrent engineering.

However, those risks can be contained or prevented when plants deploy an Engineering Information Management (EIM) system. EIM systems ensure that the documentation used by the teams in maintenance, engineering, and project management are always current and synchronized. Below are the main advantages to using these systems:

Advantage #1: Keep Maintenance and Engineering in Sync

When the most accurate engineering documentation is not readily available to maintenance and operations personnel, they can be exposed to safety risks and productivity is compromised. So, why not give maintenance workers the ability to access up-to-date engineering documents directly within their work order system? The tickets they work from are usually generated by a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), with either printouts of their assignments, or notifications pushed to their phone or tablet. The latest EIMs can feed current drawings, specifications, and operating manuals directly through any CMMS interface. Then the EIM becomes a powerful backend tool, providing the single source of truth for what is in the plant, and how it should be maintained and operated.

Conversely, as the maintenance team performs tasks that alter equipment in the field, they can feed that information through their CMMS interface so the EIM’s “as builts” are current. This helps engineers when planning, scoping, or budgeting a project, and it increases accuracy so work can be performed on-time, on-budget, and safely.

The result is that approved and released technical documents can be shared and viewed by any department. By applying EIM workflow rules, whether for projects or documents, plants can automatically allow or block the transition from one project stage to the next depending on the approval status of documents. These “data interlocks,” further reduce obsolete information risks.

Advantage #2: Enable Concurrent Engineering

The best EIMs can easily store, manage, render, and visualize 2D and 3D engineering drawings. CAD documents, such as Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs), can have a multitude of references and relationships with other documents. EIMs give users access to those drawings plus other appropriate reference documents, including:

  • Project copies, current or historical 
  • Equipment tags
  • Functional locations

Most plant and project engineers design with 3D tools—like Inventor or Solidworks—and need others to review and provide feedback on their work in the same or compatible 3D tools. For example, the electrical group may use a separate tool to adjust a wiring harness, or the mechanical group may need yet another tool to re-route a piping flow. The EIM brings these all together. Then, once the project is in production, operations and maintenance teams may need to add comments or request adjustments, typically within PDFs or other 2D formats.

When making a change to a design, an organization may want to link several documents together for work that’s then conducted by multiple teams. For example, when planning to use a large motor, the project engineer may need to link together wiring diagrams, 3D designs, and P&IDs so the electrical engineer can plan appropriately. By providing complete documentation visibility to the entire organization, the EIM helps other departments continue their work and contribute to new projects with suggestions or comments.

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An Engineering Information Management system enables and eases organizational collaboration between maintenance, engineering, and project teams to increase the velocity of change needed in a plant, while maintaining compliance and ensuring effective change control.

EIMs also enable concurrent engineering through version control, preventing users from working on incorrect or outdated documents, which increases team productivity and effectiveness.

Advantage #3: Collaborate Effectively with Contractors

In the manufacturing industry, design work is increasingly being outsourced to contractors. Meanwhile, internal teams continue updating facility documentation, and maintenance and operations teams are adjusting and optimizing how the facility operates.

It is mission-critical that these disparate teams communicate well to ensure that field changes are accurately conveyed to the outside design team, and that the planned changes from contractors are visible to operations. In addition, if several major projects are planned or implemented simultaneously, the need to communicate well and share accurate information increases.

EIMs are configurable to control how documents can be viewed or checked-out and updated by outside vendors. An EIM can enable formal and informal sharing of documents, automatic validation of CAD file references, and a full audit log of all actions performed.

Advantage #4: Control Change Management

Whether your process for instituting changes is simple or complex, flexibility and automation can help shorten project turnaround times. EIM’s keep master data up-to-date while coordinating changes that take place in isolated work areas through defined workflows that are able to ensure data is validated and audit trails support regulatory compliance reporting.

EIMs can ensure that the right people know when they are accountable to accomplish a task, even when multiple people need to review the same document. For example, during a motor assembly project, different engineers may need to review the integrity of the designs and wiring updates, all the while the fabricators ensure the project is feasible with their available machinery.

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Most plant and project engineers design with 3D tools—like Inventor or Solidworks—and need others to review and provide feedback on their work in the same or compatible 3D tools.

Workflows in EIMs can also automatically enforce change management controls by:

  • Creating a PDF for each file and embedding a stamp that shows up when printed.
  • Generating watermarks to let users know the status of each document.
  • Requiring and embedding electronic signatures.

EIMs can sustain and automate established engineering change control schemas. It keeps master data up-to-date while change processes are kept under tight control for new projects. Your EIM can be configured to support whatever workflow your organization needs, speeding the exchange of project documents while preserving a reliable audit trail.

Advantage #5: Reduce Project Turnaround Time

The concurrent engineering functionality in an EIM can shorten project turnaround times and ensure projects are delivered according to plan. By increasing project visibility, faster turnarounds can be delivered while maintaining full proof of control of deliverables for internal and external audits by regulatory bodies. Concurrent engineering projects can be the most difficult and complex document management challenge for owner-operators.

An EIM can get your engineering information flowing more quickly, with greater control. This enables and eases organizational collaboration between maintenance, engineering, and project teams to increase the velocity of change needed in your plant, while maintaining compliance and ensuring effective change control.

About the Author: Nathan Eichelberger is a Senior Vice President responsible for Accruent's client relationships across multiple industry sectors, including discrete and process manufacturing, distribution and utilities. He has 24 years of experience in technology leadership. Prior to joining Accruent, his career encompassed executive roles at Gateway Computers, LANDESK Software, and Ivanti Software.

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