Switching Gears

Lifecycle vendors offer tips for handling engineering revs.

To stay nimble, manufacturing companies want to be able to modify their products quickly if partner specifications or customer demand changes.

Getting a change order from the sales or customer service division to the engineering group and then to the shop floor usually presents a software integration challenge. The size of parts is modified, the color or style evolves, the source of components changes—and somehow that information needs to get to the folks who operate the machines that make the products.

A raft of PLM (product lifecycle management) software makers have rolled out products designed to bridge the information gaps with applications that clear a path for ECOs (engineering change orders).

For example, Omnify Software Inc., which develops PLM software for midsize electrical and mechanical OEMs, this week will launch Version 2.5 of its namesake PLM suite. Among new features in the upgrade is an enhanced user permissions engine that enables manufacturers to define function availability for each user in the design process.

A new workflow engine in Omnify 2.5 alerts users when engineering changes are made and other actions are taken, said officials at the Wilmington, Mass., company.

Copley Controls Corp., a maker of magnetic resonance imaging power supplies, has about 10 ECOs a week. Each has to be approved by a half-dozen departments, said Gregg Mitchell, engineering design automation tools engineer at the Canton, Mass., company. Copley deployed Omnify about six months ago.

"The workflow before [we deployed Omnify] was all paper. We had somebody personally take it around to all the departments—quality, manufacturing, engineering, CAD, component engineering and a supervisor," Mitchell said. "This process would take approximately a week. With Omnify, it takes a day or two."

Copley Controls has even set up the system so that if one of the parties that needs to sign off on an ECO does not respond within a set time, that persons boss is notified, Mitchell said.

Plenty of other PLM software companies are adding or enhancing their ECO management capabilities. SAP AG last month integrated its MySAP PLM solution with Catia Version 5, the product engineering software marketed by IBM. Officials at SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, said this will enable manufacturers to link design, production and business processes and enhance collaboration between engineers and manufacturing.

Separately, Electronic Data Systems Corp., of Plano, Texas, unveiled last month Lifecycle Sourcing, a product that combines the companys TeamCenter PLM software with its A.T. Kearney Inc. units eBreviate supply chain management software. The result, officials said, will be better visibility into how engineering changes will affect supply chain costs.

Framework Technologies Corp., of Burlington, Mass., is taking a slightly different tack. It released last month three new modules—ActiveCharter, ActiveResource and Portfolio Planning—that are designed to help companies speed the process of figuring out what projects and what engineering changes make sense financially. The software essentially provides a dashboard for project management and analysis.

In Matrix10, the PLM software upgrade introduced in May, developer MatrixOne Inc. enhanced its Supplier Central design collaboration application with an improved process for submitting and reviewing engineering change requests, said company officials, in Westford, Mass. The new Product Central application allows users to precisely define products, features and configurations based on customer requirements.

Copleys Mitchell has become a believer in PLM software. He previously made an effort to build an ECO management capability in the materials resource planning software that the company uses but found it was too difficult.

"With Omnify, when we change a rev, it is [presented] right up there [on the screen]," Mitchell said. "We make less changes as a result [of using the ECO management software because] most descriptions and bills of material are correct out of the box."