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Going Global PUBLIC ACCESS

A Manufacturer Unifies Dispersed International Facilities With Online Collaboration.

[+] Author Notes

This article was prepared by staff writers in collaboration with outside contributors.

Mechanical Engineering 123(02), 60-62 (Feb 01, 2001) (3 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2001-FEB-6

Brooks has implemented a collaborative product data management system in which information is accessed through Web interfaces. The system lets engineers at Brooks’ worldwide facilities collaborate on design projects and exchange information in seconds, providing product information to manufacturing and customer service departments and other areas of the company. Brooks expects eventually to give limited access to customers and suppliers. Using UGS software in product development, Brooks’ global development team can collaborate effectively and expects to increase business by reducing time to market for its flow meters. Role-based access gives several types of users different interfaces-different views of the data-depending on the sorts of information they need to see. With its new system, Brooks can issue engineering changes in seconds. This helps the firm meet customer needs for the technology built into its Quantim flow measurement and control device.

The Brooks instrument division of Emerson Electric Co. used to face the same problem as many other growing and successful manufacturers: Its facilities around the world each had their own manual systems for tracking critical product information documented and exchanged mostly on paper.

When designers at company headquarters in Hatfield, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, wanted to send an engineering change to co-workers at plants in Japan, Hungary, Mexico, or the Netherlands, hard copies were mailed and people waited for days. Delays were compounded when products had to be adapted for regional standards and local markets.

To Tim Scott, vice president of engineering at Brooks, working this way was nuts. "Each facility operated as if it were a separate company," he said. "There was no real collaboration going on, just throwing paper across oceans at each other."

Scott also saw a bigger problem: lost business. Nearly all Brooks flow meters are engineered to specifications that are different for each customer. They need the devices as quickly as possible for replacements and new plants. Time is critical for these users, with people's careers and the future of companies staked on meeting unyielding schedules, milestones, and deadlines. Few orders can be filled with off-the-shelf items. Therefore, every day spent in development increases the risk that customers will take their business elsewhere.

In order to streamline operations and improve response times, Brooks has implemented a collaborative product data management system in which information is accessed through Web interfaces. The system lets engineers at Brooks' worldwide facilities collaborate on design projects and exchange information in seconds, providing product information to manufacturing and customer service departments and other areas of the company. Brooks expects eventually to give limited access to customers and suppliers.

Based on cost savings alone from efficiency improvements, the projected return on investment for the system is 50 percent, on a system costing several hundred thousand dollars. Executives see the greatest value of the technology not so much in terms of saving money, but in increasing business by getting products to market sooner and serving customers faster.

"Flow meters are what we build, but solutions are what we provide" said Joe Vaszily, Brooks' president. "And in today's competitive market, manufacturers must deliver quick response or be left in the dust."

According to Scott, he was already familiar with PDM as a technology for controlling drawings, models, and other files. He chose the iMAN enterprise collaboration PDM system from Unigraphics Solutions of St. Louis. The system provides a framework so that companies can manage product and process information in a single unified database, from design through manufacturing and field support. A Web interface provides a single point of access to information from all sources.

As Scott went over his requirements with Unigraphics Solutions' regional representative, Mike Schwind, a plan began to take shape. What Scott had in mind went far beyond sending engineering drawings and CAD files back and forth between facilities .

"Our goal was a database of product information that included not just design files, but bills of materials, quality procedures, past customer orders and other historical archives, data sheets, instruction manuals, and so forth," he said. "We wanted many different people to have access in areas like customer service, sales, marketing, purchasing, field service, and manufacturing as well as engineering."

Scott knew this was a bold move, taking the company from a manual paperwork hodgepodge to a full-blown collaborative e-commerce initiative.

Schwind assured him that iMAN is scalable, so a company can begin with simple data or document management and evolve into a full-scale collaborative system, adding users and functions later. This lets companies avoid the trauma of throwing PDM at the entire organization all at once.

Scott knew that for Brooks' senior n1anagement to buy into the idea of a collaborative PDM system, he would need to quantify costs and benefits. "I couldn't go in with just warm fuzzy feelings about the technology," Scott said. "I needed hard numbers."

He sat down with Gary Strouse, Brooks' manager of information technology, and the two detern1.ined that the database they had in n1.ind would eventually contain some 65,000 files, including drawings, CAD models, bills of material, quality procedures, customer orders, and assorted product literature.

They estimated that the number of users accessing the system within Brooks would eventually total nearly 250 people in engineering, manufacturing, customer service, sales, marketing, purchasing, and field service. Most users would be at the company's Pennsylvania headquarters where the system would be launched. But others would be brought online at international facilities in Japan, Hungary, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

Strouse figured that most of these users could access iMAN using their current computers. "Since the database is accessed through a Web interface, the user's machine can be a thin client and doesn't have to be running the iMAN software," explained Strouse. "So people can Just use their existing desktop PC’s, or laptops in the case of field personnel at customer sites. All they need is a modem connection to a standard telephone line."

In estimating cost savings, Strouse and Scott determined that the best parameters to quantify would be those resulting in efficiencies from getting information online in a few minutes versus searching manually through paper files and copying documents. They call this the "walk and wait" time. "That adds up to a significant chunk of wasted effort when you think of all the times those 250 people at Brooks have to hunt for, copy, and mail out any of the 65,000 files here," Strouse said.

He estimated that every month the company handles about 1,000 drawing requests, with each one taking an average of six hours to fill. This type of time delay slows down many critical processes, including assembling and routing the 100 or so engineering change notices generated at Brooks every month. Also, customer service representatives handling dozens of calls every day take hours getting back to people phoning in for information on orders, specifications, performance data, and the like.

Strouse conjectured that, realistically, PDM would allow access to drawings in five minutes or less, letting people access documents quickly online. That would shorten the overall engineering change notification cycle time by half, and reduce the time that customers had to wait for information to just a few minutes.

"These time reductions and process efficiencies translated directly into cost savings," said Strouse. "Overall, our figures indicated an excellent projected return on investment of 50 percent on the $600,000 total expenditure for the complete system."

Scott received funding for the project and was ready to begin early in 1998.

Using UGS software in product development, Brooks' global development team can collaborate effectively and expects to increase business by reducing time to market for its flow meters.

Grahic Jump LocationUsing UGS software in product development, Brooks' global development team can collaborate effectively and expects to increase business by reducing time to market for its flow meters.

To kick off the project, Scott and Strouse got together with Unigraphics Solutions' services manager, Fram Polad, and others in a series of development meetings. The meetings are intensive working sessions to determine the requirements for the new system and expedite its implementation. This keeps the vendor on his toes, makes sure the user company is involved at every step of the implementation process, and ensures that the project stays on target.

"One of Brooks' primary requirements was a system that would be easy to use for a wide range of people who weren't interested in the inner workings of the technology," Polad said. "They didn't want to learn PDM. They just wanted to manage their data and collaborate on projects. So our approach was to develop role-based access to the system through the Web portal."

Role-based access gives various types of users different interfaces-different views of the data-depending on the sorts of information they need to see. Engineers and customer service reps had many types of search criteria available for drilling down through numerous layers of product information. In contrast, shop floor workers and marketing specialists were presented with simplified screens and limited options in retrieving drawings and documents based on straightforward input of information, such as document numbers or part names that are typed in.

Another key requirement for Brooks was to have simple and straightforward ways of entering drawings, documents, models, and other data files into the system. Unigraphics Solutions developed a bulk import capability, which was to become critical for feeding in years of legacy paperwork. At the same time, Brooks also wanted on demand import features that would allow users to readily come up to the system with a single drawing and quickly index it into the system.

Early last year, a prototype system was in place, enough to allow UGS to fine-tune the interface and database while Brooks tested the capabilities. After three months, the system was running in a production mode. Since then, the company has reported impressive time efficiency improvements that have exceeded original expectations.

"Our goal in being able to retrieve information on the system was five minutes," Scott said. "But response times are now averaging 25 seconds or less. This virtually' instantaneous capability makes a tremendous difference in the way we can operate."

Scott noted that being able to issue engineering changes in seconds instead of days lets the company operate more flexibly in meeting customer needs and market demands. Costs have been reduced significantly by workers accessing documents online and printing them out on the spot, instead of searching through files manually and running to the copy room. Moreover, customer service representatives can now answer phone queries while callers are still on the line, something unheard of under the previous process.

According to Scott, "The far-reaching consequences of the system for our global operation is that our many different facilities around the world can now operate as a single, unified company."

The new system has proven to be not only faster, but also has resulted in fewer errors, since users extract the information they need directly from a common database instead of looking at drawings and recreating data.

Collaborative capabilities of the system are particularly useful in what Scott describes as co-design projects, where engineers in different facilities work on developing the same base equipment that is then adapted to meet local standards and regional market requirements.

One of the unexpected benefits resulting from implementation of PDM technology throughout the enterprise is that it provides a framework for consistency of information and processes, according to Scott. "Everyone is forced to reach a consensus on what data is stored and how we handle it across the entire company," he said. "In this respect, PDM is an excellent facilitator for standardization."

According to Vaszily, the president, collaborative PDM is a strategic technology for Brooks that will enable the company to strengthen its already dominant position in the flow meter business. "The system doesn't just store data and drawings, it protects our intellectual assets by capturing and safeguarding the concepts, ideas, and knowledge of the people at Brooks," he said. "And it enables the teamwork necessary for us to continue developing innovative, quality products."

Globalization is a critical element of Brooks' strategic plan, Vaszily said. "Our customers are requiring worldwide support and service as they implement their own worldwide marketing and operations initiatives. The ease of exchanging information among our global facilities is essential to maintaining close customer interaction, providing timely and cost-effective support, and maximizing the utilization of our resources," he said.

"PDM makes effective global collaboration possible for Brooks," said Vaszily. "We have many talented resources and strategic assets around the world, and the PDM technology unifies these assets and allows us to maximize their capabilities. In that respect, collaborative PDM is critical for us to reach Our corporate goals and business objectives in the con1.ing years."

With its new system, Brooks can issue engineering changes in seconds. This helps the firm meet customer needs for the technology built into its Quantim flow measurement and control device.

Grahic Jump LocationWith its new system, Brooks can issue engineering changes in seconds. This helps the firm meet customer needs for the technology built into its Quantim flow measurement and control device.

Copyright © 2001 by ASME
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