PLM & Engineering Rules

Document or file management means different things to different people.

For example, if you work in human resources you would likely want a single location for all of your files.  Those files could be company policies, resumes, offer letters, etc.  You would need strict access controls so that the information doesn’t get into the wrong hands.

When looking for a solution, you could get away with a repository like a protected directory on a server that can be accessed company wide.  You could use a repository in the cloud like Dropbox.  You could purchase software like Sharepoint and install it on a server at your site.  You have a lot of inexpensive options.

If your company is a manufacturing company, your document/file management needs must follow some strict engineering rules that don’t exist within basic repository options.

Some basic engineering rules…

With any Engineering Vault there is one basic rule that must be followed – If you are going to work on a file, you must get it from the Vault.  Do not start from a file on your desktop; there is no assurance that it is a file that hasn’t been changed by you or someone else.

Engineering repositories have been called vaults for years.  The word vault has a connotation associated with it.  Think of a room reserved for valuables similar to a bank vault.  Just like a vault in a bank, there are some strict rules in place to gain access.  I was speaking with the engineering manager of a company in Oregon and asked to see their vault.  We actually went inside what used to be a bank vault.  This vault was full of filing cabinets with all of their company’s engineering information.

Access controls – Specific people get access to specific information.  Depending on who they are, there is some information for which they can have access and some information that they can’t.  Their ability to read/write depends on the status of the file and their userid/password.

Check in/Check out – This ensures that only one person works on a file at a time.  When a file is checked out, it is locked so that no one else can access it.  They can look at a copy, but they cannot check it out.  When multiple people work on the same file at the same time it is extremely difficult to merge the resulting files into one that is correct.  These files will be passed back and forth until all of the players agree that it is now correct which will greatly increase the engineering hours on this job.

Versioning – When an engineer works on a file, most often they will want to start with the latest released file.  PLM [Product Lifecycle Management] software will provide the engineer with the latest released by default.  If they want an earlier version, they will have to specify it.  This rule makes sure that users always start with the latest version of a document.

Overwriting files – PLM software does not allow files to be overwritten.  There are many reasons for not overwriting files.  ISO audits require you have a design history so that you can show how a design progressed to its current state.  You may be required to maintain your products for many years which means you will need to be able to retrieve old documentation.  Your new design may not be as good as an older one, so you might want to roll back the design.

Deleting files – PLM software does not allow files to be deleted.  Similar to the argument above, no files should be deleted for the same reasons.  Most PLM offerings will allow you to ‘archive’ files, but you cannot delete them.

When a company is looking to manage engineering files, it is best to look amongst solutions that follow engineering rules.

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