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There is no engineering digitalization without seamless product data storage

Tuesday, January 09 2018

Raimund Schlotmann, CEO of PROCAD GmbH & Co. KG
An interview with Raimund Schlotman, managing director of PROCAD GmbH & Co. KG, conducted by konstruktionspraxis, a magazine for engineering practitioners published by Vogel Business Media

Where do you see the connection between PLM and Industry 4.0?

The answer is simple. PLM is one of the prerequisites to digitalization in the manufacturing industry. The increasing digitalization of products also increases the number of, for example, electronics and software components in these products, which in turn raises the need to capture the dependencies between the different development units by means of integrated product data management. Consequently, the digitalization of products automatically means the digitalization of all product data across the entire lifecycle. Service offerings such as predictive maintenance further accelerate the proliferation of data. The management of product data is the traditional realm of PDM and PLM solutions and one of the prerequisites to digitalization in the manufacturing industry. But a lot of companies still have a long way to go. Many of them have yet to integrate documents such as service reports with their product data management. This means they still have to deal with separate information silos and the lack of an integrated Product Data Backbone.

Product Data Backbone – what do you mean by this?

It provides an informational basis that aggregates and connects all product data and documents in digital form. Paper-based documents stored away in file cabinets or files on personal workstations can never be part of an end-to-end digital process. Simply storing files with project or order documents in the Microsoft file system does not constitute a digital process because no digital connection is established between the documents stored there. It rather requires a Product Data Backbone to serve as a facilitator for the creation of digital processes.

Which data from which sources does this affect?

Product data must, of course, include any data from MCAD, electrical CAD and electronic CAD tools along with all product software data. Process-relevant information, however, can also be found in Office documents, in the ERP system, in the CRM system, in support systems, and many other types of systems. All of this information must come together in the Product Data Backbone. The key here is to have the technical structure of a machine or plant lead the way (figure 1). As a matter of principle, all documents that pertain to a product are associated with this machine structure. In addition to these CAD documents, this can also include specifications, contracts, order documents, customer correspondence along with any datasheets, orders or delivery notes for purchased parts (figure 1). And when we talk about delivery notes and invoices, we also need to talk about the ERP system. Integrating the ERP and PLM systems is essential to digitalization: part master data, bills of materials, or CAD documents need to be synchronized bidirectionally between the two systems.

Do you have any examples to support this statement?

This brings to mind the many PROCAD customers who are leveraging our PRO.FILE PLM solution as product data and document management system and have it integrated with their ERP solution at the same time. One of these companies is 2G Energy, a manufacturer of combined heat and power plants. When the company first started to look into product and document management, a spare parts catalog was the first item on their list. It quickly turned out that this would simply be impossible to implement without product structures on the basis of CAD models. As a consequence, the CAD, PDM, and ERP systems were integrated. After all, spare parts must correspond to the actual BOM and the complete product structure. This suddenly put the product structure at the center of consideration. This goes to show that it is really no longer enough to have your maintenance technicians install a spare part for your customer, get the signature on the service document, and go on their merry way. Providing good and efficient service means being able to digitally control and document the process with all of its documents from start to finish.

So, what are the advantages of integrated product data storage in the engineering sector?

The most important goal is to digitalize processes. Whether it’s in development, order processing, contract management, or customer service. Integrated product data storage provides companies with faster access to information. And they no longer have to re-enter the same data over and over again. What’s more, they can avoid invalid or outdated data, eliminating production errors or kinks in their workflows. The simplification of less popular routine task that do little to add value is yet another benefit I see. Let’s circle back to our customer 2G Energy. Their maintenance engineers know exactly which plant they are dealing with when working on a fault report. They can access every single document associated with the plant in question. Ordinarily, they will have the right spare part ready for their on-site visit, which reduces the cost involved. And of course this improvement in customer service will make the customer happy – naturally, if a power plant fails you want it up and running again as soon as possible.

What are PROCAD’s solutions to ensure seamless data storage?

Our product portfolio includes PRO.FILE, a product and document lifecycle management solution for the management of all data and documents throughout the product lifecycle, PRO.CEED, an add-on for the management and automation of seamless PLM and digitalization processes, and PROOM, a collaboration solution for the secure exchange of data in development projects both inside and outside the company.

What are the particular strengths of the PROCAD solution?

The challenges posed by digitalization are not primarily overcome by means of technology or software. PROCAD has worked with more than 600 companies coming from the engineering industry, the capital goods industry, and the utilities sector to implement these types of solutions. It is safe to say that PROCAD has the experience it takes. One the strengths of our solutions lies in the fact that they allow our customers to adapt their systems without any outside help. This is achieved through configuration on the side of the customer rather than through extensive programming efforts. And when it comes to digitalization or Industry 4.0, this is exactly what everyone is looking for – flexibility and with it the ability to keep adapting to changing circumstances.


Figure 1:
Integrating PLM and DMS: Maintenance engineers can see right away where a specific machine component is used and where repairs were carried out.