Space Age Electronics is a family-owned company that has been designing and manufacturing products for the fire protection and life-safety industry for more than 50 years. Over the years it has developed business processes that allow it to build quality components within specified budgets, taking advantage of its depth of experience and market knowledge.
Part of the companyâs culture is to be receptive to change. Being flexible is part of the training given to new employees: Like integrating a customer service person into the shipping department to build efficiencies, or implementing new technologies — whether itâs automated equipment or flatbed plotter or 3D printer. Changing things up keeps people excited.
This sense of embracing change is also a company ethic in engineering. Space Age has created a deep team of multi-discipline experts who move fluidly from customer support to design to manufacturing. The companyâs director of technology, Ryan Mongeau, came to the position after having spent years solving IT issues and working as a design engineer for the company.
Growth Prompts Review of Documentation Management
Business growth and diversification in recent years caused the company to take a close look at how it manages its rapidly growing engineering database. Space Age realizes it is a flexible organization when it comes to engineering and manufacturing design. The company uses SolidWorks for product design and manufacturing documentation and AutoCAD for electrical wiring layouts. Customers send engineering graphics in a wide variety of formats, all of which must be read and shared in-house.
But when it came to how Space Age managed its fast-growing engineering documentation, it was stuck in a time warp. There was often a need to refer to previous work, but it was too time consuming to find the right information. There were times when needed electronic documents and CAD files would be difficult to find. âBecause we have become so diversified, we do quite a bit of application-specific solutions that are just one-offs, with a ton of design and engineering and manufacturing that needs to be documented and easily accessible to both manufacturing and customer support,â says Mongeau.
They had no system in place for logging information, tracking part numbers and sales orders. âWe needed a way to tie everything together in one easy, simple way.â
Making the Change to a New System
The only way to get unstuck was to make the change to an automated system to manage engineering documentation. âWe needed to figure out a really good way to lock down everything and keep people out of the stuff that theyâre not supposed to be into. People were using basic Windows file shares and folders as their only management tool so they could move files around; do whatever they want; and thereâs really no traceability of exactly whatâs happened,â says Mongeau.
Mongeau and an ad-hoc committee started looking for a solution to manage engineering documentation that would work with SolidWorks and AutoCAD, and provide a full search-based user experience, bypassing the need for team members to manually look for supporting documentation or important records.
From an initial search, the choices were quickly narrowed down to two options. After demonstrations and discussions with representatives of each solution, Space Age went with Synergis Adept from Synergis Software. âBecause Adept is so flexible, we still have control over all our data,â says Mongeau. âWe can easily integrate it with all the systems we have.â
Files are âlocked downâ when they are checked into Adept. The metadata from the part and assemblies is extracted to a data card, and a dashboard displays the parent/child relationships. Adeptâs Built in Viewer makes it easy to markup files even without a seat of SOLIDWORKS.
Up and Running Quickly
Space Age was up and running quickly with their new Adept product data management system. It didnât take long for employees to become familiar with the software. âEverybody in the company uses Adept one way or another,â says Mongeau. âWhether it be pulling up a vacation request form or viewing a drawing on the shop floor.â They have created automated workflows for such events as issuing a corrective action. âWe are very fortunate that as far as our culture here, we are very receptive to change.â
The new web client in Adept 2017 extended the benefits of a centralized product data management system to the shop floor. âFor users who arenât in engineering, all of our shop floor drawings, CNC programs, and everything else are accessible anywhere through the Adept web client,â says Mongeau.
The Adept web extended the benefit of a centralized product data
managment system to the shop floor.
Space Age also took advantage of SQL triggers and updates to connect Adept to the companyâs existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. âWe tie it into our ERP so as we create part numbers and put our drawing files and everything to Adept, the information flows automatically. Once itâs keyed into the ERP, itâs automatically updated in Adept: itâs a two-way interchange,â says Mongeau.
âOur next step is to start looking into the API [application programming interface] and find some other ways to link files together automatically,â says Mongeau. âWe keep coming up with more ideas and things we can put in, ways we can link together and different workflows we can add.â
Documentation On Demand with PublishWave
Space Age is using the PublishWave add-on for Adept for the automated creation of PDF files from engineering data.
âWhen a designer creates a SOLIDWORKS drawing or AutoCAD file, PublishWave automatically creates a PDF of it and checks it in to Adept. We also use PublishWave in the manufacturing facility: People take setup sheets and CNC code files and just drag it into a watched network folder and PublishWave automatically checks the files into Adept.â
Better Ways to Leverage Adept
It was an eye-opener when Space Age realized it could use Adept to consolidate its part-numbering process. Before Adept, the company was using part level numbers from various prints and CNC drawings; several numbers were representing different representations of the same data. âWith the metadata [of assigned part numbers] we can publish a common level part number and link all of the similar pieces of information together,â says Mongeau. The common part number then became the unifying element for information searches, no matter where on the network the data was located. Before Adept, each network storage area had to be searched manually, with engineers combing through various files looking for the right piece of data. âAs we go more paperless, being able to keep our records in there and have a quick and easy way for people to type in whatever record they needs, is a neat evolution that we didnât think about ahead of time.â
Organizing engineering data by part numbers also had the benefit of controlling access to data. Security experts say the first defense against having valuable information in the wrong hands is to limit internal access. Mongeau and his team were able to limit access by manufacturing operation so that only the people who really need the information would see it when performing an Adept keyword search.
Another way Adept improves network security for Space Age is by controlling how documents are accessed and where they reside on company servers. Employees can no longer âgo through and delete or move things by accident,â notes Mongeau. If disaster recovery needs to happen again, IT managers will not have to comb through every file and folder to find missing files or backups; Adept will have maintained copies and backups automatically.
New Workflows Improve Engineering Processes
Space Age has created an ISO-compliant Engineering Change Request (ECR) workflow into its Adept installation. As engineering changes something, the ECR automatically circulates, contacting all affected and gathering reviews and sign-offs. Before Adept, someone would markup a printed copy of a CNC program and send it to manufacturing. âBecause it was a physical paper handoff, we didnât have a really good way to track it,â notes Mongeau.
With the new workflow managed by Adept, when a fabricated part is changed, manufacturing will be notified if the CNC code is being pulled up for reuse, so new code can be written that is compliant with the change in specification or design. Adept also manages version history, which allows engineers to see how the product has evolved. âWe can see previous versions versus new versions, which is huge for us, especially for the CNC world. And it makes it much easier to manage minute changes that are easy to miss. This was a big deal for us.â
Mongeau sees many more opportunities to grow with Adept. âWe keep expanding,â says Mongeau. âYou kind of have this idea when youâre going into it of all these things you want Adept to do for you . . .but then once the dust has settled and everybody is trained and they understand, itâs business as usual again. But then we kind of have these light bulbs. âWhat if we started putting work order in the system;â âHow can we use the API?â âHow do we see Bill of Material changes in SolidWorks?â We have a long list of different ways that we want to keep expanding Adept.â