But when data management gets out of hand - chaotic file systems cause errors and deadlines drift - engineering can feel a lot more like administration.
This step-by-step guide will help you get back to engineering.
Table of contents
As a product moves through its lifecycle, from concept to manufacture, it amasses an ocean of data along the way: part numbers, descriptions, drawings, material sheets, supplier/vendor information with multiple version on each iteration.
Engineering Data Management (EDM) is the practice of consciously creating a systematic framework for taming the data-ocean that goes into building just about anything.
Map every stage the product will go through.
If you’re going to organise your engineering data, you’ll have to capture it first. Identify each step the product goes through on its journey from idea to reality. Everything from initial concept to the moment it reaches the factory floor.
Identify who’s in charge of every step.
Assign a point of contact for each stage of the lifecycle. Whether it’s the department head, or a team leader, the important thing is that there is one person who takes responsibility for capturing the data in their area. This way you won’t have to chase five different people for one document.
Collect all the information you can.
You can anticipate what data you’ll need in the future, but you won’t be able to accurately predict it. Capture every single data point you can at each step: the documents, drawings and component information, brand name, part number, description. Even the metadata is crucial: who created it, when, what it is, why it exists, when it was last modified. You never know when you’ll need it.
Create a standard way of labelling files.
Allowing everyone to name files in their own individual way is a recipe for confusion. Establishing a common standard makes it easy to establish what the file is, what it’s for, and how current it is.
Keep everything in a single, secure location.
When everyone’s working from their own local drive it’s easy to miss an update from someone else. Keeping everything in one place helps avoid duplicated work and creates a convenient, single source of truth.
Educate everyone on data management.
The success of engineering data management depends entirely on everybody in the organisation following the same guidelines. Maintain a set of standards for everybody to follow and make sure that everyone has access to this document for easy reference.
Use data management processes to work together better.
Having all your data in one place, with a standardised structure, makes it easier for people to work together across teams. With your data centralised and organised, any questions can be put to the person best placed to answer them rather than whoever’s closest. Just ensure your guidelines include only one individual working on a document at a time, and your system sends alerts whenever a file is updated.
The amount of data produced in the course of engineering just one product is astounding. Multiplied over an organisation that designs new products every day it could be gigantic. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools on the market to automate engineering data management.
They package everything in an attractive, intuitive UI (User Interface); construct the centralised database for storage and searching; organise, track and manage data changes; enable the re-use of data; employ advanced visual management techniques; essentially, take all the tedium away from humans.
Done manually, engineering data management could well drain as much time as it saves. When it’s automated, you’d be amazed at how much smoother product development goes.
Engineering data management can be surprisingly powerful. Yes, it can ease the monthly reporting process. But more than that, well organised, centralised files can give a palpable boost to productivity, efficiency and collaboration.
Less time digging through files. More time engineering.
That goes ten-fold when it’s applied as part of a wider Product Lifecycle Management system.