Is Windchill Document Management only for Engineering?

Windchill is a powerfull PLM tool for administrating CAD-models and Bill of Materials. Using Windchill for Document Management provides additional benefits.
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Why is Document Management still important?

Technically, DMS is the ability to store, retrieve and version control documents – but it’s also an enabler for collaboration, knowledge sharing and information retention, change management etc.

Document Management remains a foundational capability in every organisation. New digital ambitions like Model Based Definition (MBD) and paperless manufacturing will reduce the number of traditional documents, but by far substitute all of them. Much knowledge remains captured in traditional documents as the most suitable and flexible means of storing and exchanging it.

Why is Document Management in Windchill a good idea?

Windchill contains, among many functionalities, a solid Document Management solution. Any type of documents is represented by means of standardised Document Data Objects and hence tie seamless into the Windchill ecosystem – providing rich capabilities and administrational automation.

Especially when working with complex, configurable products, keeping track and order of related documentation is challenging. Market demands for documentation compliance in any and all configuration scenarios, push for a tighter integration of configurable bill of materials (BoM) and related documentation. When executed properly, a detailed product configuration generates not only a specific product instance but also the configurations specific documentation package. Agility and reliability of this process is a direct competitive advantage.

Since Windchill is evolving to become the integrating pivot point for defining both product and process, keeping all related data and documents inside the same ecosystem holds a lot of potential.

Windchill is the environment where changes to the product and process are planned and executed. The performance of Engineering Change Management (ECM) is though only as good as the ability to identify the relevant objects to change in time.
Naturally the change of parts and assemblies is in the center of attention for the Engineers, but adapting related documentation is equally important. Having all related documentation referring to the eBoM, mBoM and Process Plans, enables effective coupling between Product and Process Engineering in the event of changing either one of them.

Finally, Windchill’s ability to enforce Indexing of document content and metadata, makes keyword-search into the documents themselves possible (“Google Search”).

Example of having all relevant documents available at your fingertips

Imagine changing above bracket to another alloy type – you need to revisit the considerations that went into the definition of the original solution, maybe update calculations and simulations, verify it again and update all related documentation as well as the specifications that others use for producing/purchasing it.

Having all documents at hand is a tremendous benefit – both efficiency wise, but also quality wise as you might miss out some important details, if you are not aware of a relevant document. Another important point is, that all documents listed above will exist in numerous versions. Managing which combination of document versions is valid for the specific part version is imperative when attempting to change a part.

Documentation relating to Production, Quality Management, Health & Safety or Purchase are equally important for introducing the part to the value chain as the drawing itself.

We want all relevant documents to be related to a part and managed along with it – regardless their organisational origin or characteristic. Managing all documents in Windchill enables this coupling efficiently.

Making Windchill Document Management apply broader

The utilisation of Windchill as a Document Management System is often limited to the domain of Product Engineering – most likely due to Engineering being the main users and custodian of the system. Nevertheless, using Windchill as the common Document Management setup for many more organisational entities and document types is worth considering.

For some types of documents, the argument to also utilise Windchill is easily made (as shown in above example), for others the alternative of having a coexisting document management system for just those types of documents doesn’t really resonate. Why not bring all of them into Windchill?

Deeper – include other types of Engineering documentation

Many important documents that relate to the engineering of a product or a process, newer make it into a formal Document Management System.

Too often, only the artefacts that needs passing on to downstream (like drawings or specifications) or that legislations are requiring to be under formal control, are managed in a Document Management System.

But many documents that potentially could benefit from being governed by Document Management exist as well. Examples hereof could be calculations, analysis, concept studies, evaluation considerations & results, design descriptions of systems etc. Frequently engineer’s store and manage these kinds of documents on local drives or department folders as they consider them “their” documents and not subject to sharing across the organisation.

Unfortunately, the valuable knowledge, learnings and IPR captured in these documents remain outside formal governance and hence no assistance is provided to manage versions, states, duplicates etc.
To make matters worse, we often see pdf copies of the final version of a document being uploaded to Windchill and the original document residing on the local drive for further editing outside any formal change management or version control.

Once the editor of a document leaves, the understanding of that document’s existence, context and validity disappears as well.

Wider – include documents from outside Engineering that are relevant to the product

Although originating from within Engineering as a means of managing Engineering Data, Windchill can of course hold documents form any origin. As long as a relevant relation to the product is present, bringing the document into the Windchill Document Management regime makes a lot of sense.

Documents relating to the Production or purchase of a part e.g. Purchase Specification or Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) are linked directly to the parts definition. This also applies to Quality Management of a part (FMEA, Control Plan, Test Specification, Measurement Instructions etc.) or the Service of it. If the part is to change in the future, all of these documents must be revisited.

As a rule of thumb, all documents (throughout the entire product life cycle) which need to be re-assessed and possibly changed due to revising a part, should be referenced by the part structure. This would enable the Engineer in charge of planning the change, to evaluate the impact and derived workload of any planned change. Since the work needs to be done regardless of whether it is known when initiating the change or not, the efficiency of a change is greatly improved if all impacted documents are identified to begin with. Some changes might even be discarded when understanding the impact and change effort that awaits downstream.


Despite the many advantages that management of documents in Windchill provides, a mention of the current deficits also is at its place.

For documentation Office 365 is a de facto standard, but modern, collaborative functionality like simultaneous editing and browser based editing is not currently provided by Windchill. Nor is the update and references to other media like visualisations used inside the documents.

The main obstacle to the broader adaption of Windchill as non-Engineering Document Management System is though the User Interface and licensing model.

The vast amount of functionality and possibilities within the Windchill client is not appropriate for the occasional user and not supportive to a wide adaption of the system.

With ThingWorx Navigate, the ease of user interaction with Windchill functionality has improved a lot, and more is likely to come. Advanced interaction with tasks and workflows for Review & Approval of documents is currently not supported outside the Windchill client. This represents, in our point of view, a major obstacle and is hence a focus area of BoostPLM.

Pre-requisites for expanding the use of Windchill Document Management

  • An increased awareness and encouragement to bring many more documents under formal Document Management control. This challenge lies at Management, who need to address this topic and stimulate/push this agenda as well as lay out ambitions and roadmaps for the development of the area.
  • Foundational document classification structures and governance mechanisms must be in place before developing Document Management. A stable foundation is the key pre-requisite for continuous and efficient development of the area.
  • A role-based user interface that is tailored to the needs and especially competences of the users. Windchill is not the right solution for the non-daily user. ThingWorx Navigate provides a partial solution to this – more to come, we expect. BoostPLM is also currently working on a ThingWorx Navigate based User Interface for a Windchill Review & Approval workflow.

Conclusion and Perspective

  • Combined with a role-based user interface, Windchill has the capability to act as a universal Document Management system way beyond Engineering. Most users wouldn’t even know that it is Windchill that is the underlying system.
  • The strength of Windchill as a Document Management system lies in the fact that all technical aspects of a product already are managed in Windchill and the inclusion of all related documents further strengthens the holistic definition and digital thread.
  • Engineering Change Management greatly benefits from being able to identify all relevant documents in the planning phase of a change and adding them to the affected objects list from the beginning.
  • Defining a Review & Approval workflow to be utilised by any document, allows for any desired non-engineering documents to be formally quality assured as well – governed and managed by a comprehensive setup.

And just a final thought: if you take the time to write information in a document , it is probably important. So why not manage it in the best possible way?

About the Author

Peter à Porta

Peter à Porta

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