Is there a computer user anywhere in the world who hasn’t lost data at some point? The experience may be relatively painless if all that’s lost is a social email or an owner’s manual. But for manufacturers, the stakes are much higher.
That point was highlighted when two manufacturers described establishing data-management systems to attendees of Dassault Systèmes’ virtual 3DExperience World in February.
Sharing their misses and hits in a session on hassle-free data management were representatives from Vortex IoT, a maker of sensor technology for harsh environments, and Green Machine, which makes electric drive systems for heavy equipment and stationary battery storage components.
When the pandemic hit, working remotely became an issue at Vortex because the company had grown since it was established in Wales in 2017 and didn’t have cloud-based storage. Its practice of relying on USB sticks to transfer computer-aided design (CAD) files among employees had been a fine solution in earlier days, said Bryce Davey, senior product design engineer.
“When it was just myself doing the CAD work, it was not an issue because I could keep everything local on my computer,” said Davey, who addressed the group remotely from his workroom in Germany. "But as we grew, we had situations where CAD files on different computers weren’t synced and weren’t revision-controlled, which was an issue.”
Davey and his growing number of colleagues also had problems when someone took a day off and the rest of the team didn’t have access to their co-worker’s CAD files on his hard drive.
Vortex tried using a cloud service for syncing computers without realizing at first it was designed for documents. All of the company’s CAD files were corrupted as a result.
That experience was “just catastrophic for us,” Davey said.
So, he shopped for an interface that offered remote access for global users, had a sync option, provided controlled, third-party access and had a “busy signal” to prevent multiple users from working on the same file at the same time.
“The biggest criterion by far is it had to be a hosted platform because we didn’t have the infrastructure or money to invest in one,” Davey said. He eventually decided on Dassault Systèmes’ 3DExperience, which powers 3D design, analysis, simulation and intelligence software, according to the company’s website.
The system, like similar interfaces from other vendors, helped create a single source of truth with data input from multiple departments at Vortex, he said.
In addition, he likes the convenience of being able to access part drawings from anywhere through the interface’s web portal.
Davey also appreciates the newfound convenience of importing printed circuit board schematics into CAD drawings to do clearance and interference checks.
Asked by 3DExperience World host Patrick Brochu if he had any tips for other startups, Davey said, “Make sure you’ve got a backup for your work because it’s really painful when you don’t.”
Getting right with data management
Green Machine, which opened in Buffalo, N.Y., 10 years ago, also had data-management lessons to learn. The company got Dassault Systèmes’ combination CAD/computer-aided engineering application, SolidWorks, after a short-lived trial using Google SketchUp to design battery packs and sheet metal components, said Green Machine Chief Technology Officer Noah Podolefsky.
Then Green Machine, not knowing that SolidWorks has a product data management (PDM) system, tried using an unspecified cloud drive for PDM, which turned out to be a “clunky solution.”
“We’d lose data or get overwritten all the time,” Podolefsky said, speaking to the group from his Boulder, Colo., office.
Just like Davey, Podolefsky went software shopping until he realized SolidWorks’ additional, PDM, capability.
“I have some background in computers but not in product data management,” said Podolefsky, who has a doctorate in physics. “I was able to get in there within a couple of weeks to make all the changes we needed so it’s pretty easy for us to use and to tailor it for our own needs. We were a little nervous at first with such a big system, but we could make it as simple or as complicated as we needed it to be.”
He wanted a program that offered revision control, a “busy signal” to lock out additional users from checked out files and the ability to serialize part numbers in order to automate what until then had been a manual, spreadsheet-based process. He also wanted a program that could create a bill of materials and was easy to learn.
“We’re a growing company, and as we add engineers, we need all of them to get up to speed and using the system very quickly,” Podolefsky said. Something that would take more than a week or two to learn “would really hold us back,” he added.
He didn’t realize at first that SolidWorks can help Green Machine comply with criteria in the process to obtain ISO 9001 certification, which it was pursuing at the time of the conference, but the application does indeed do that, as well.
“There would be ways we could get ISO without having a robust data-management system,” he said. “It just makes it a lot easier to build a lot of those procedures into the software and let the software handle the workflows, the approvals, and so on.”
Podolefsky expects to get even more out of his PDM software in the future.
He and his colleagues currently hand off documents to third parties manually. But their next step is to create a web interface to automate the process.
In the meantime, the software assures internal users have the latest version of a document. The PDM software also notifies users when there are revisions to products.
“It’s been a lifesaver for the company,” he said. “It looks like as we grow, we’re able to grow into the products.”