With CAD data management as the starting point, Collaborative PLM represents the stage before complete digitalization in technical-industrial environments (in the evolution of PLM in the enterprise). Collaborative here means that PLM processes extend beyond company walls. In today’s connected world, businesses need to think across company and system lines as this will enable them to coordinate their processes across the entire product lifecycle and to do so in a way that is connected both internally and externally. Governed by the Collaborative PLM solution, partners, customers, and suppliers are tightly integrated into a company’s workflows. The important thing here is to apply the same rules that control the internal PLM processes to the collaboration with third parties.
With PROOM, PROCAD has developed a Collaborative PLM document exchange platform that is specifically tailored to the needs of manufacturing companies. Virtual Project Rooms enable companies to assign and manage user authorization, giving them complete control over who can see, modify or exchange what. Activity logs are maintained for each project room to ensure thorough audit trails. The document exchange itself only takes a few clicks. All changes to the documents are automatically synchronized.
Contents for Collaborative PLM
7.1 Confidential DocumentsSecurity and process control wrapped into one
Manufacturing and engineering companies today often rely on distributed and highly specialized teams. This also means that the confidential documents associated with these development processes are edited by many different partners that operate outside one’s own corporate boundaries. For this very reason, product lifecycle management (PLM solution) must be looked as an integrated solution – which is the very nature of Collaborative PLM. This calls for professional data exchange tools at every point of interface. For the longest time, email and FTP have been the most widely used means of data transfer, but their disadvantages are apparent: email is not secure and poorly suited for confidential documents. With FTP transfer, you lose control over your file versions, have insufficient activity logging, and are limited to uploads and downloads. Businesses, however, frequently deal with very large files that they need to share. At the same time, they need to be able to manage documents, establish document control, ensure proper versioning, assign permissions, and set up individual project rooms.
Data sharing platforms such as Dropbox were originally intended for private use only but have started to offer enterprise versions as well and even though these are better able to accommodate confidential information by providing different virtual data rooms for dedicated users groups, they are still a long way from meeting the specific needs of manufacturing and engineering companies.
Confidential documents need multi-layered security that covers both the transfer of the data and the logging of changes to files but the main disadvantage of the most commonly used data sharing platform certainly lies in the fact that they are not integrated with a company’s existing collaborative PLM environment, creating a disconnect between the systems. They do not offer a seamless process experience when exchanging and collaborating on design plans, CAD drawings, change orders, RFPs, and other technical documents.
Image: PROOM – secure document exchange for CAD data and technical documents
7.2 Virtual Project RoomsDocument exchange platform for transparent collaboration
Virtual data rooms provide a controlled way for manufacturing and engineering companies to access files. A virtual data room is a digital platform for the fast and secure exchange of information that boosts the efficiency of information exchange between different project contributors. These types of platforms are particularly suited for use in communication heavy processes, for example, between design departments and external (development) partners. These types of development partnerships are all about collaboration, confidentiality, and integration with existing systems. The current rise in technical complexity also increases the demands placed on the exchange of information. External partners, customers, and suppliers working in the context of the “extended workbench” need reliability and consistency to ensure seamless collaboration across various systems. This is where document exchange platforms for professional users come in by connecting the processes between internal and external contributors. They provide virtual data rooms that make it easy and transparent to exchange files across different systems and companies.
Manufacturing and engineering companies in particular have established structures, workflows, and approval processes that can be ideally modelled using virtual project rooms. Project room managers can leverage a sophisticated access authorization concept to granularly control which project member can do what with which document and when. Built in monitoring features and dedicated user rights assignment capabilities provide complete audit trails of all activities. CAD data or technical specifications can be synchronized using the project room to ensure that designers and development partners always work from the most recent file versions and because the data is never stored locally, for example in the inbox of an employee, these virtual project rooms allow project teams to work independently even when other contributors are absent or lagging behind. The availability of a sync feature also provides the option to modify files while offline.
The virtual project rooms in PROOM let project contributors focus on the content rather than on the administration. Projects can be completed faster and more successfully and compliance guidelines are met.
7.3 Collaboration Across Distributed LocationsCoordination and data replication across distributed locations
Enterprise Transaction Orientated Replication (ETOR) (as used by PRO.FILE) allows companies to collaborate across distributed locations that rely on the same PDM/PLM system. This provides users in globally dispersed teams with a scalable collaborative PLM solution.
Given today’s business realities, it is no longer just large enterprises but also small and mid-sized companies in the manufacturing and automotive industries that design and develop their products at globally distributed locations. The objective here is to provide a means to coordinate and synchronize these collaboration efforts across globally dispersed teams and to give everyone involved instant access to the latest data.
ETOR does exactly this by replicating the development data. This means that the data is made available locally at each location and that there is no need to connect to a central server to open, read, display, edit or store CAD data. Built on a modern database architecture, it also upholds the guiding principle of product lifecycle management (PDM/PLM system) and has every user work from the same data.
A powerful database allows every location to work from its own data repository and, on top of that, keeps local copies of all CAD models and other development documents. This means that they are always accessed, displayed and saved on site while the local server works in the background to transfer the data to all other locations. This gives them more autonomy by allowing them to continue to work even in the event that their connection with the central PLM server breaks down. Once the connection is re-established the data is automatically synchronized between the central server and the remote locations.
By replicating the data across their distributed locations, companies make it much easier for their globally dispersed teams to engage in meaningful development collaboration. This requires that any local changes are continuously and reliably synchronized to the central database. If this is the case, distributed teams can continue their work even when they are disconnected from the central server without compromising the data integrity of the overall system. They can exchange entire assemblies with a single click – securely, accurately, and without change conflicts.
7.4 PLM Order ProcessesSeamless processes and efficient order processing
A collaborative PLM solution should be able to accurately map workflows that cross organizational boundaries. Designers can create product folders for each product in the PDM/PLM system that are organized in keeping with the structure found in the CAD system, for example in AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks. These are then populated with drawings, Bills of Materials, technical documents, calculations, etc. A PLM order process is then commonly triggered by an incoming order. The project manager creates the new order in the ERP system and assigns it a unique identifier, which is then automatically transferred to the PDM/PLM solution along with the order’s metadata (customer, product type and number). Here, an order folder is created using this identifier. The designer receives the specifications for the order, copies the project structure from the product folder to the order folder and starts to bring it to life.
This means that the product folder is used to consistently document the latest status of the drawings, while the order folder serves to show what has actually been built. Once the order has been completely assembled, the drawings are forwarded to the production department. A folder in the PDM/PLM system tracks the production status of the product. This way, a company can track which version of which drawing was sent to the customer or the production and when. It is able to document every single step in the order process from incoming order to the design phase and production.
This proves how invaluable a PDM/PLM system’s role as a Product Data Backbone really is, as it delivers end-to-end visibility, creates archives of tasks and document versions at any given time during the order process. Companies achieve maximum efficiency in their order fulfillment and on time delivery of their finished products. Through all of this, it does not make any difference whether this involves national or international contributors or whether they are working in local or globally dispersed teams.