Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Taming the File Flood

27 Apr, 2006

Avionics manufacturer uses PLM to tap into the vast resources of its own company files, saving millions

CMC Electronics has a long history of working on big projects for big customers. A producer of commercial and military avionics products, the company serves some very large manufacturers, such as Boeing, and government agencies, including the U.S. Marines and Army.

When the company found itself adopting ever more technological tools in the 1990s, particularly CAD systems, big projects for big clients generated a lot of files to keep organized. As the company grew, so did the number of files. In need of a filing system that could keep up with the demanding pace, CMC Electronics began looking for a PLM (product lifecycle management) system.

Paper to Pixels
The old system was simple: lists of files and file structures jotted down on paper. "Typically, the files were just spread all over the place with multiple copies everywhere," says Mark Hamilton-Piercy, the company's IT engineering manager. "This caused us all kinds of problems. The time it took just to find drawings, to make sure you had the right ones, and be sure you were not redoing work by picking the incorrect files was costing us a lot of money."

The company used Pro/ENGINEER, Mentor Graphics, CADKEY, AutoCAD and other CAD systems in their offices. The affiliation with its main CAD system, Pro/ENGINEER, led the company to SofTech back in 1994. SofTech's ProductCenter PLM software integrated easily with Pro/ENGINEER.

First CMC Electronic's Engineering Configuration department began to store and manage all its core drawings and engineering documentation in ProductCenter. Then the company linked all its technical manuals for its product lines to the design documents.

"Deploying ProductCenter not only resolved the problems of where the correct released design data was within the engineering community, but it also allowed other areas to access the same data in a very timely manner," Hamilton-Piercy says. "For example, the manufacturing group could now download the correct data files to feed their surface-mount pick-and-place machines as soon as the ECAD [electronic computer-aided design] data was released. This task alone contributed to substantial savings in production tooling time."

CMC Electronics can easily track which documents are needed.

Taking It to the Next Level
Now CMC Electronic has taken its PLM software to the next level by creating a custom online viewing EDOV (electronic document online viewing) system, which is based on ProductCenter and developed with the ProductCenter WebLink Toolkit. It was designed internally to replace the company's old system that consisted of creating 35mm aperture cards of the released drawings and then distributing the sets of cards at strategic positions around the organizations for users to access and print copies.

"The creation of PDF images of the documents and using ProductCenter to manage the data structure and utilizing the WebLink API to create a find/view/print application was the basis of the ROI justification of deploying Product Center," says Hamilton-Piercy. "This initial requirement was far exceeded within a short time as easy and timely access to data allowed many areas of the organization to streamline their various processes."

Using ProductCenter's WebLink Toolkit, CMC Electronics employees can now find, view and print drawings online.

CMC Electronics calculates that the company saves more than $313,000 per year just in reduced time that employees spend searching for drawings and information. In the several years since the organization has adopted ProductCenter, those savings have accumulated into millions of dollars.

The company benefits in other ways as well. Hamilton-Piercy credits the PLM system with the organization's ability to respond quickly to customer requests, such as inquiries about documentation packages. Not to mention the faster time to market for the company's products, which has helped CMC Electronics pursue new business and remain competitive, he says.

By gaining control of its files, CMC Electronics has gained more efficiency, which enables the company to take advantage of its internal resources, Hamilton-Piercy says. "It's a no-brainer now because it's all in Product Center, under control."