Dow’s Ambition for Operational Excellence
Most people have heard the name “Dow.” Dow Chemical Company is a global, diversified company serving many markets. Dow touches many parts of daily life, from automobile and industrial applications to athletic shoes and dish soap.
Dow is a well-respected manufacturer employing around 53,000 employees, including a sizable engineering staff that helps design and operate their production plants.
Dow was recognized for several extraordinary qualities at Frost & Sullivan’s 11th annual Manufacturing Leadership Summit, where it was named “Manufacturer of the Year, Large Enterprise.” At the top of the list was “Operational Excellence Leadership.”
Dow has a large Six Sigma adoption and prides itself on operational excellence. Dow recognizes the efficiency and safety implications of standard operating procedures. “Dow personnel emphasize consistent work process execution across all sites around the world,” explains Gregg Schuler, Product Manager for Data Integration and Engineering Document Management for Dow. “We have a sizable investment in written best practices for process design, project execution and plant operation that provide a significant and sustainable competitive advantage for Dow,” he adds.
Dow’s Strategic View of Engineering Document Management
Engineering document management (EDM) is a critical capability for manufacturers like Dow. As Mr. Schuler explains, “EDM can impact both the operational and the detailed engineering design components of our business.” Given its scale, Dow has to manage a large number of documents across the globe for both new capital projects andĂ‚Â as-built drawings.
EDM is a proven capability that helps companies improve efficiency and control. Dow values document management for more than just project efficiency. Dow places safety as a top priority. It recognizes the significant impact good documentation has on reducing risk and measure when information is a contributing factor in their root cause analysis of issues in the field. Clearly, Dow views EDM as a critical, strategic capability.
Dow’s Engineering Document ManagementĂ‚Â Systems History
Dow was ahead of the curve in the 1980’s with the adoption of document management to store plant and engineering documents. But Dow began to recognize that its document management systems were no longer able to to support its high level of process excellence. “Our document management initiative started because a Six Sigma project identified gaps and problems with our storage of as-built documents,” recalls Mr. Schuler. “We had usability issues, constrained access, and limited ability to collaborate across sites; and inefficiencies because we could not quickly find the right document versions.”
Dow had lost their edge in document management technology over time, partially because Dow includes a number of acquired businesses that had their own systems and legacy data. “We had a large variety of different document management systems at the time, and all of them had some usability or supportability issue,” explains Barbara Migl, CAE Technology Leader for Dow. “Some of the solutions were no longer being supported, and some sites just used file shares.”
Dow’s Engineering Document Management Systems Opportunity and Objectives
Dow has plants all over the world and has major engineering centers in the US, Europe and India. Efficiently sharing work and information across these sites has huge benefits. Dow’s document management systems were not prepared to consistently support Dow’s operations. The status quo did not support Dow’s objective of providing a globally consistent, single point of access to engineering documents which would enable a step change in global document access and drive global collaboration.
Beyond that, Dow Engineering Solutions has a long-term vision to integrate the engineering design and construction work processes and expose the resulting information in an “asset view” versus a “document view.” This approach allows people to find all of the relevant information about a specific piece of equipment by making a single query. Centralizing all plant engineering documents into a single environment with consistent metadata is a key first step in that vision. To improve current operational support and help achieve Dow’s longer-term vision, it was time for Dow to make a change in EDM.
Dow Searches for a Better Document Management System
Originally, Dow planned to select one of their existing solutions and implement it worldwide. But as Ms. Migl explains, “Our investigation of all the systems showed that not one of them was acceptable for retention.” Dow began looking for a new solution and initiated in a rigorous selection process lasting about a year and a half. The company took a very systematic approach driven by a Six Sigma process.
Dow created a team with representatives from all of the major current document management system owners. The team developed a list of 85 critical requirements based on the best features from all the existing systems. Ms. Migl explains the process; “We rated the relative importance of each requirement from absolutely ‘must-have’ to ‘would-like-to-have.’ Then we evaluated each of the tools based on those requirements and we were able to eliminate all but two.” They originally looked at eight vendors, analyzed four at a very detailed level, and then narrowed it down to those two for a proof of concept where they installed the software in a pilot environment.
Dow Partners with Synergis Software
As a result of the detailed evaluation process, Dow chose Adept from Synergis Software because it:
- met their detailed criteria
- is fast to install and implement
- is a simple solution that was easy for users to adopt without significant training
- is easy to tailor to unique needs of different sites without requiring custom coding
During the pilot, each vendor was required to load 100,000 existing Dow documents. The competing solution struggled. “It was weeks invested for the alternative versus days in Adept,” shares Mr. Schuler. Adept also proved very easy to use, “I can teach people how to find documents in Adept in 30 minutes,” he added.
Dow initially had some concern about the solution’s ability to handle their large number of drawings and the diversity of their users from all over the world. Ms. Migl, however, says “I will say that so far, Adept appears to be working really well, so that has been a win.” Cost was also a factor, with some systems costing five times more than Adept. The bottom line is that Adept was the low-risk approach for Dow to get documents under control. Dow was on the way to a new, improved EDM solution.
Initial Adoption Wins Supporters
Dow’s initial plan was to use Adept to manage as-built plant documents. But Dow’s Engineering Group needed immediate document management support for a large capital project. The project personnel discovered that meeting customer reporting requirements via their standard Windows file-share storage methods would have been problematic. “They came to us and said, ‘Can you do something to set up a document management repository for our project?’ and in about six weeks from start to finish we had something in place,” recalls Mr. Schuler. Adept proved to be fast to implement and easy to adopt. “I think it was a big surprise to people how quickly we could deploy something to solve their problems, and we did it all ourselves,” he adds.
“Synergis helped kick-start our team with initial configuration and training services, and from there, we did the site specific implementations all ourselves,” notes Mr. Schuler. Having Synergis involved up front accelerated the overall implementation.”
After that initial success, Dow implemented Adept at their largest site, in Freeport, Texas, replacing an existing homegrown tool. Dow implemented the solution, managed the migration, and trained site personnel by themselves. A customer satisfaction survey conducted several months after the implementation showed very positive results. “Adept has done exactly what we expected it to do, and more,” shares Ms. Migl. “It has been extremely well-received by the users.” The initial Adept adoption was a clear win.
Expanding Adept’s Value across Global Dow Sites
Based on early successes, there is a “pull” of demand from other parts of Dow. As other plants began asking for Adept, the Dow team developed a systematic way to determine who will get the system next based on a systematic prioritization based on:
Dow rolls out Adept using templates that include a default design and a security model which is used consistently in all implementations. But Adept also allows Dow to offer its sites some flexibility. “Some sites have very specific work processes that we don’t want to break, so we have to allow some flexibility in our design,” Mr. Schuler says.
The next implementation was another large site, this time in the Netherlands. That site created a design and conducted usability testing remotely from the US and only went onsite to participate in the training and to kick-start the initial migration. Mr. Schuler says this is “a testament to the relative ease of use of the product.”
Extending Adept’s Value into New Departments
Mr. Schuler explains that each new site rollout uncovers additional Adept opportunities. He gets calls from people in various plant roles asking, “Wow, you know my stuff was not in that old system, but can I put it in Adept?” For example, one plant decided to add an additional 300,000 scanned documents that weren’t in the original scope.
Beyond adding documents to the system, plants want to expand access to more departments. For example, Dow has a growing set of customers in the Operations and Maintenance areas. Today they’re finding documents using spreadsheets with links and file shares. “It’s a huge area of potential improvement. We believe there’s tremendous value to expand access to the documents in Adept.” explains Mr. Schuler.
Enjoying the Benefits of Centralized Document Management
Adept is providing important business results for Dow, brought via centrally unified information and more consistent processes. There are groups of engineers all around the world that need document access to do project and operations work in a consistent way across Dow. “Adept empowers our engineers to get the data they need when they need it,” shares Ms. Migl.
Mr. Schuler explains that the benefits of Adept at a high level are reducing costs and accelerating schedules, but the benefits vary by site based on their needs. For example, he says that if you ask Freeport, Texas users about the value, they might say they can check out a document in only seconds now versus minutes before, or that they can find things much quicker. “It’s the culmination of those hundreds of small improvements that can make everybody’s day a little bit easier,” Mr. Schuler offers.
Achieving Benefits beyond Expectations
The Adept project was originally justified more as an imperative to ensure continued, uninterrupted, efficient access to the millions of documents that represent how Dow’s plants are built. But they always felt there was a lot of upside opportunity. For example Ms. Migl shares that “Adept has value in increasing the speed of projects. That can be extremely significant. Time to market is critical for market-facing businesses.”
The original scope for Adept was to replace the functionality of the various plant document management systems across the Dow enterprise. Beyond replicating what the old systems did, Mr. Schuler explains that Adept is changing the way Dow does business because of its flexibility to handle a variety of document management scenarios. For example, one plant was working with an engineering firm and realized they could greatly improve process efficiency if their partner added just a few more items of metadata to each document. Adept’s flexibility made it possible to easily extend the metadata at minimal cost.
Adept Enhances Internal and External Collaboration
Adept has also improved collaboration across sites. For example, a plant in Terneuzen, the Netherlands, works with remotely located engineers in India. Previously, “collaboration” meant manually zipping up sets of documents and copying those zips back and forth across different file shares. Now, the remote engineers in India access the documents directly in Adept, adding tremendous efficiency. Mr. Schuler explains, “The engineers can checkĂ‚Â out documents themselves. It’s much faster and less overhead to do it directly within Adept.”
Dow also uses Adept’s built-in replication functionality, which caches copies of frequently accessed documents local to the users, but automatically synchronizes the copies behind the scenes. Dow has replication servers in India and in Europe, while the main document repository is in the U.S. Such replication cuts document access times for remote locations by up to 80%.
Together, these capabilities enable near-real-time collaboration, which, in turn, can bring global expertise quickly to any of Dow’s sites.
Dow Targeting Additional Value from Adept
The value that Dow can achieve from Adept is far from tapped out. The Dow team believes that there is much more to come in the future. There are currently more groups in Dow looking for help based on Adept’s prior success. The newest internal customers are the Capital Project engineers and the Purchasing Department that manage the capital project space for receiving, reviewing and returning supplier documents.
Dow also has a plant that is planning to put all of their vendor documents into Adept. Vendors send documents including equipment manuals, replacement parts lists, lubrication schedules, and many others to Dow. Many people need ready access to this information. Currently, however, people wait until the final documents are delivered before manually putting them into a folder to avoid having to replace them when they change. Dow sees an opportunity to eliminate much of that process by putting the documents into Adept as the vendor sends them. “It will reduce the amount of effort, speed up the access to the documents, and reduce the hours spent manipulating these pieces of data,” says Mr. Schuler.
Another example where Adept can provide additional value was uncovered by a project-focused Six Sigma effort that discovered that managing supplier documents – the process of getting a document in, marking it up, approving it, or rejecting it and sending it back to the vendor – was a challenge. Dow wanted to track metrics such as how long it took for approvals to manage the process. Based on some testing on Adept, Dow discovered that they can do this with using out-of-the-box Adept functionality.
Dow is a purposeful company that focuses on safety and operational excellence. It recognizes the value brought by EDM, and by having their information in a single, globally accessible system. Its Six Sigma process identified the need to replace existing document management solutions.
Dow adopted Synergis Adept after a rigorous selection process and it has proven to be a valuable solution. Early implementations were very successful, and since that time, Dow’s Adept adoption has expanded to new sites, new plants, and new departments, and many more documents and document types have been added to Adept, beyond the original scope. “Adept met our functional requirements, was easy to configure/maintain, and the cost was right,” shared Mr. Schuler. “Adept has been predictable, reliable, and well- accepted,” adds Ms. Migl. “The tool is beautiful, simple, and elegant. It does not do anything more than it needs to do. That makes it very easy to implement and very easy for people to understand. It is also very easy to roll out.”
Dow has had great success with Synergis and its Adept solution, allowing the company to centralize its plant engineering documents into a single environment with consistent metadata as a key first step in its integrated engineering vision. Dow’s success provides an example for others to improve their own efficiency, reduce costs, lower risk, and speed time to market. Most companies don’t have the scale and complexity issues that Dow does, but it should give other companies comfort to know that the Adept solution at Dow easily scaled to meet the diverse needs of a very large user base, managing millions of documents across a global enterprise. And most companies can appreciate the unmatched simplicity and ease of adoption Adept offers in an enterprise EDM solution.
Synergis has also proven to be very easy to work with as a company, according to Mr. Schuler. “I would rate Synergis’ level of personalized support, response speed and content quality as superior; a clear step above other software companies with which I’ve worked.”