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Synergis Adept Trumps Windows File Management

By Scott Moyse, July 22, 2013

Document Management Using Window File Explorer? You are not alone. One manufacturing company switched to Synergis Adept and is not looking back.

In 1986 when Donald Less was a mechanical engineer with 20 years experience in pressure instrumentation, he founded GP:50 NY in Grand Island, NY, USA. Since then, he developed his company into a world class manufacturing and design center that provides pressure instrumentation for industrial applications in many industries around the world.

One the company’s unique offerings is customization of transducers. Transducers measure changes in pressure, flow rates, levels, temperature, and so on. They are used in oil and gas facilities, water treatment and sewer systems, in the air and under oceans. GP:50 builds transducers to order, with a wide variety of options. For a production company of this scale, it’s impressive for them to pull of this kind of dexterity, showing that they have build on a solid foundation of process and document control.

Despite the success, they nevertheless identified a weak point within their company, and so just over 18 months ago they employed Robert Hepper, Engineering Services Manager, to research, select, and implement an engineering document management system (EDMS). The aim was to streamline their processes, decrease lead times, and reduce rework. Robert and the staff at GP:50 selected Synergis Adept.

I interviewed Rob to learn how GP:50 has got on with the implementation of the EDMS software.

Scott Moyse: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, such as; Where do you come from, what's your background, favorite pastimes and how did you come to be at GP:50?
Rob Hepper: Sure, I’m originally from Buffalo, New York, and now I’m in a suburb of Buffalo. In high school, my favorite subject was drafting - manual drafting with a T-square and all that. I just loved it. From there I went to ITT Technical Institute and got an Associate’s Degree in CAD. At the time, I was bartending and one of my customers was an engineering manager. He offered me an intern position, which I took and it turned into a full time job. So that’s how I got into CAD.

I started at a company called Viatran, which is a competitor; and then I then switched to another competitor. I’ve been here at GP:50 for about a year and a half.

SM: How many drafting & engineering staff do you have?
RH: There are ten of us here now doing drafting and engineering. And we’re hiring another drafter.

SM: What CAD software do you use at GP:50?
RH We use all Autodesk software. We keep our subscription up, so we are already on 2014. While we have the Ultimate and Premium bundles, we mainly use Inventor and AutoCAD. A lot of our drawings are still in 2D as we are in the middle of a transformation to 3D. We’re moving more and more into 3D using Inventor.

SM: Prior to implementing Adept from Synergis, how many people used and accessed the information created by the engineering department?
RH:
Let’s see… I’d say every department: sales, manufacturing. I would say 20-25 people.

SM: What system did you use to manage your documentation prior to purchasing Adept?
RH: Pretty much Windows Explorer (file manager). We had secure drives and it was divided into folders and file names. People would search the servers to find drawings, and if they didn’t have AutoCAD they opened them with DWG Trueview.

SM: Were there any Excel spreadsheets for managing drawings and such like? 
RH: No, it was really just drilling down through folders. They made folders for every type of drawing.

SM: Have you maintained that folder structure for Adept?
RH: Pretty much, I would say we still have same folder structure that we put into Adept’s database. Using Adept’s Library Browser, we can still see the folder structure and drill down to a specific file. Now we search for our files with Adept’s Library card. We just type in whatever information we want in a search field and the file comes up. But the Windows file structure is still there because Adept doesn’t scramble or move the files.

SM: At what point did you realize you needed to implement a system to manage engineering documents?
RH: The firm realized before I came here. That’s why they hired me: to implement a document management system. That was my main goal. This company GP:50 has been around 30+ years and they’ve never had structure. It just kept growing and growing, and so things just kept piling and piling up. They had a system, but it wasn’t efficient.

SM: Did you have document management experience at your previous employer?
RH: Yes, I’ve had about 12-13 years, and I’ve grown and taken on more responsibility. I’ve always done this, organizing, documentation management and drafting, and all that.

SM: How did you go about looking for a system to suit GP:50. What was the vetting process and what were your primary criteria?
RH: Honestly, it was mostly a lot of Google searching for engineering documentation management programs; reading reviews; watching videos; and so on. I also looked at the programs I used in the past, such as MasterControl, and then we looked at Autodesk Vault. So we had a few in mind and then I found Synergis Software, through a Google search.

We wanted the EDMS solution to be accessible throughout the company; we wanted a good viewer; we wanted to be able to email documents; we wanted people to be able to have options; we wanted options to grow. By looking at everything online, Synergis Adept had it all.

SM: How long did it take to do the initial implementation, and what challenges did you face?
RH: You know, we didn’t have that many challenges. It was very simple, because when they hired me they gave me full reign to do everything. (Even the Synergis Software implementation application engineer said it was probably the easiest implementation he had done.) They knew I had the experience, so they said "go ahead", and nobody got in my way. I didn’t have to run questions by anyone or get anything approved.

So for the implementation, it was just the Synergis Software application engineer and I, one on one. We got it done in four days-really quick. Definitely ahead of schedule; he said that was because it was one on one. A lot of times he works with an entire engineering group and that can become time consuming.

SM: What about getting it implemented with the team beyond the four days, how did that go? Do you have any ongoing challenges or limitations?
RH: You know, it was fine. The only problem we did have was with Synergis’ web client, Adept Explorer. With the full desktop version we had no problems at all. But when it came to installing the web client and getting it out to everyone on the floor, that’s when the problems arose. The problems wasn’t in the implementation, it was just that we had server issues and a text font issue in the web client viewer. The text font issue is still a problem.

SM: So was that a problem with the way the text font was displayed on screen?
RH: What happened was that we use a font in our drawings called "TechnicLite". It was not loaded into the web viewer, so when the viewer opened drawings with the text font in TechnicLite, it transformed the text into the default font. This adjusted the spacing and the lines in the drawings. Oracle [the developers of AutoVue, Adept’s built in viewer] is working on it. It doesn’t happen in the full version of Adept, it’s only an issue with viewer in Adept Explorer.

SM: How many legacy files did you have? I'm interested in how you managed to get all these organized and loaded into Adept.
RH: We have our released drawings all in one folder, with sub folders holding all our documents: approved, completed drawings, machining drawings, outlines - probably 10,000 drawings. I took them from that one folder in Windows, and with the help of the gentleman from Synergis Software brought them into Adept. He showed me how to do it, so I can do it now when I need to.

SM: How did you manage the rollout of the system to the company; what were your primary goals in this respect?
RH: It was pretty simple: I started with myself, then I brought the software to the other two desks in the drafting office. Now three of us got to use Adept. Then we learned how to use it as a group. We kept our drawings in Windows Explorer as well as Adept, so we had two locations of drawings.

Once we really understood the program, we started going out to those who used drawings the most, the machine shop. We put it on their computer and told them, "Here, start looking for drawings with this," and then we went to sales and got them going on Adept, little by little. It took a little time and we are still in that process as we spread it out through the company. Everyone’s getting to learn it.

Our primary goal was security: No drawings could be moved or changed, or anything like that. The next goal was to have everyone become self-sufficient at finding their own documents. Before Adept, many times sales would come back here and ask for a drawing; or if the machine shop needed a drawing, they would look for it in their area, and then come back here. Now everyone has the current revision; it’s all they have access to; there’s no mistaking that, and everyone is self-sufficient in finding the drawings.

SM: How long have you been using Adept now?
RH: About a year now.

SM: Compared to before, how many people now directly access the information created by the engineering department?
RH: The frequency has definitely increased. I think that number will continue to increase.

SM: Do you use Adept to manage non-engineering workflows and documentation?
RH: Not at this point, except for a little bit with approvals. We have an industry approval department here and I work a lot with that department. Our next step is that we’re bringing all our approval documents in here.

SM: What is GP:50’s next area of focus for Adept?
RH: Bringing in more documents; right now it’s mostly all drawings. We want to start bringing in more sales documents, marketing literature, and approval documents. It’s all about adding more documents to our database.

SM: Are you storing the Inventor parts & assemblies in Adept yet?
RH: We are toying with that. While we have Inventor drawings in Adept, with the assemblies and parts we are trying to figure out how the relationships work.

SM: So once you get that nailed down, will you start leveraging the Bill of Materials in Inventor via Adept?
RH: Yes

SM: What is the single largest workflow change Adept has created in your day to day work?
RH: It’s going to be our ECM [Engineering Change Management] process. Previously, there was an odd ECM process via Microsoft Access, but bringing everything into Adept has made it so much easier: Creating new drawings; creating ECMs with Adept’s auto numbering system. We can easily see where everything is. So it’s changed our whole ECM process for the better. Everyone is very clear on what changes are being made, and when they are being made.

SM: In your opinion, what are Adept’s weaknesses?
RH: You know what I can honestly say that I haven’t found very many weaknesses in the full version used in here. But we’ve had some problems with the viewer in Adept Explorer, as I mentioned earlier. The other one is with Java and making sure that everyone is keeping their Java updated on their computers.

SM: If you were in charge of development for Adept, what would your top three new features be in the next release?
RH: That’s a tough question. I’m very happy with the full version. New features - I do wish there was a larger thumbnail view, it’s still the same size as the one in Windows.

SM: Do you take part in beta testing for Synergis? I ask because all software has bugs and I'm wondering how you feel the process is handled when you approach Synergis with a problem.
RH: Their customer service has been fantastic. We haven’t taken part in any beta testing, I know they are working diligently on the problem we have, with Oracle. Synergis has done everything they could and they are working with me every day; they really wanted to fix this, as it bothers them. It’s really an Oracle problem, but Synergis worked diligently to get this fixed. They have great customer service and answer our questions immediately.

SM: Why did you select Adept instead of Autodesk Vault Professional?
RH: I wasn’t very familiar with Vault, I’ve never used Vault, other than to look at it. I have a cousin who works for Autodesk, and so I talked to him a little bit about Vault. What I liked about Adept was the web client versions, which I didn’t see in Vault. It seemed like everyone needed a full copy of Vault just to view documents.

SM: Oracle AutoVue seems impressive. How do you leverage it within GP:50?
RH: It is impressive; the full version of the viewer is easy to use. I like the printing tools, the email, the mark-ups, and drawing comparisons - there’s so much it does. There’s more than we need at this point. It’s great that it can redline the differences between versions.

SM: What's the single biggest challenge with custom designs, and how does Adept help you with that?
RH: Adept helps to make sure we are not creating duplicate parts. We work with a lot of industry standards in our field, and so the pressure ports are all based on standards. But sometimes a customer comes to us with an odd pressure port, say, with a 1/8 MPT female connector. I want to know if we have done that before, so that I’m not wasting my time creating new drawings when we already have them.

What I do is use is the full search text in Adept. It searches the text within the files. I enter the full name, such as "1/8 MPT female connector," because it’s not going to be in our drawing number. It may be in the title, or in an outline calling that. So then we find that we did this ten years ago and we already have all the drawings.

SM: If you could start again with the implementation of Adept, would you do anything differently?
RH: I would have organized the documents here a little better first. I would have had more documents ready to be brought in, so that we could start with all the documents in the database. We still have so many files here that are not done yet. It’s just been a slow process in trying to find the time to do it, along with organizing our revisions. I wish I would have done that in the beginning.

SM: What percentage of your orders is custom designed?
RH: I would say about 70%, because we’re basically a custom transducer house. It’s very odd to get many standard orders.

SM: Generally, how much of your template design is modified for these custom orders?
RH: Most transducers have a simple make up: a pressure port, a sensor, electronics, an housing, and then an electrical connector. Customers can change all of these options. So we do have standard drawings for these components, and then the customer changes the options and combinations. If the drawings don’t exist for those components, we create them.

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About the Author

Scott Moyse is the design manager for SMI Group, a super yacht interiors company in New Zealand. His background is in motorsport engineering and CNC programming. Scott has been using various Autodesk software for 9 years, most recently he has been implementing Vault Pro. More...

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