Document Management in Windchill

Windchill is a great system for control of not only CAD and drawings, but also technical documents. However, the out-of-the-box solution for document reviews are limited and often requires additional manual procedures in e.g. Excel to manage and drive the document reviews. Learn in this article, how to use Windchill more efficiently for Document Management.
Estimated reading time: 7 min

Background

Engineering Changes or new developments are often complex and thus involves multiple parts with related documentation. It is not uncommon to be in the 100+.

At the same time, business requirements are increasing to reduce lead times, improve traceability and reduce Time to Market.

There are a lot of good reasons for using Windchill for the Document management. However, there are also some challenges to be overcome.

The Process Workflow

The challenges

The standard approach for document management, suggested by PTC, is to utilise the ECN or the Promotion Request mechanisms to govern the details – including the review of documentation.

However, the ECR/ECN in many companies is only used as a “carrier” of the change/new design in order to manage and bundle the many elements relating to it.
In most cases, the governance of the ECN does not extend down to document level. Consequently, it pushes the detailed governance of documents changes and quality assurance into disconnected checklists in Excel.

On complex changes/new designs, comprising of hundreds of documents that need to undergo Review. The approach of picky backing on the ECN as the driving mechanism reaches its limitations when applied in practice.

Why?

In order to continuously maintain traceability and granular governance, the Implementation Plan must reflect all affected documents. However, in reality the scope of affected documents in many cases is not entirely known when the Implementation Plan is defined.

A fundamental pre-requisite for the above is to, at all times, be in full control of the complete, digital definition of the product. Only if all elements/documents defining the product are identifiable, a comprehensive list of affected items can be defined.

Most companies do not maintain this level of detail as part of their Product Data Management.

In addition to that, the demand for micro-managing ahead does not line-up with competences, company culture and the increasing need for agility.

Not uncommonly, organisations mitigate this situation by bulking Review activities in large chunks. Thus it creates a few overall Review tasks in the Implementation Plan comprising of multiple documents to be processed. This keeps the Implementation Plan manageable. But in order to track and drive progress the detailed handling of reviews are done in external ‘subsystems’ like Excel sheets etc.

 

 

 

Figure 1: Review Activities administrated offline in e.g. Excel – kept aligned and governed manually

Governing the change and quality assurance of documents in sub-systems disconnected from Windchill does not only create extensive manual work, but also creates issues like:
  • Reduced quality or increased loop-back on changed documents since the Review is handled “manually” in a less structured and governed manner.
  • Bottlenecks, since Review tasks being released in bulks to the organization
  • Lack of transparency and progress as the document review tasks are handled manually outside the system and hence “invincible” on ECN level
  • Overloading key resources on ECN level as discussions that could have been resolved on lower levels – had they been addressed there in the first place
  • Lack of traceability and compliance in terms of sharing and reviewing/approving

Another issue Besides handling the above, the challenges with the Windchill user interface resides – especially in relation to non-regular users. As the highly specialised tool Windchill is, its user interface is not optimised for the occasional user and the licensing costs also represent a barrier for the reach beyond daily users.

As the Review & Approval of documents tend to involve numerous non-engineering resources from within and outside the organisation, the ability to integrate these user groups into the workflows of the Review & Approval is vital. It should also be ensured that tasks are handled inside a controlled environment – especially when interacting with external resources.

The solution

A better approach is to segregate the overall change orchestration (ECN) from the document reviews that are to take place in relation to the individual documents.

Undoubtably, the reviews must be conducted as part of the ECN’s implementation plan. The activities on the ECN level should focus on:

  • the integrity of the proposed change/new design and
  • the completeness of the elements it comprises of.

Details relating to the individual document should be pushed to a lower level. Subsequently, it should be handled as part of maturing the documents themself.

Technically, this will require a Review & Approval setup that is closely related to document lifecycle as well as independent of a possible ECN that implements it. The document might be part of an ECN – either as Affected/Resulting Object. However, the quality assurance is to be handled outside the Implementation Plan of the ECN.

This approach has some obvious advantages:
  • Clear focus – ECN is about orchestrating a change as a total; document Review & Approval is about getting the individual document right
  • Standardisation and simplification of the ECN Implementation plan as it is not impacted by the number of documents being processed, neither by documents added/removed from the change scope
  • Granular transparency enables detailed progress monitoring and focus on critical path an aggregated ECN level
  • Uniform process – applicable for all types of documents regardless of an affiliation with an ECN or not
  • Increased compliance with agreed policies due to Review & Approval being workflow managed rather than handled “manually”
  • Resources to be utilized more specific – subject matter experts review the document details; generalists ensure integrity on ECN level
  • Frontloading of document quality assurance – making documents available to peers prior the ECN being approved, hence supporting concurrent working rather than successive.

Implementing the above proposal, requires the Review & Approval workflow mechanism to be embedded into the life cycle of a document, thus making it an integral part hereof.

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: Seamless integration of Review activities and Document Life cycle – coupling to ECN via Resulting Objects

The User Interface

The challenges

Besides handling the above, the challenges with the Windchill user interface resides – especially in relation to non-regular users. Windchill is an expert system with a lot of specialised functionality. For the occasional user this makes it difficult to manage. Furthermore the licensing costs also represent a barrier for the reach beyond daily users.

As the Review & Approval of documents tend to involve numerous non-engineering resources from within and outside the organisation, the ability to integrate these user groups into the workflows of the Review & Approval is vital. It should also be ensured that tasks are handled inside a controlled environment – especially when interacting with external resources.

The solution

Implementing the Document Management as ThingWorx Navigate app is a natural opportunity. The expert users can use Windchill for their document management. Other users can use a dedicated and intuitive ThinkWorx Nagivate app for uploading and reviewing documents. Windchill itself will still hold the business logic and the licencing costs will be reduced.

Conclusion

Windchill has a lot of good functionality for Document Management. The document management can be improved by implementing workflows on document level. Furthermore, by introducing intuitive ThingWord Navigate apps to allow less frequent users to participate in the process.

BoostPLM has developed both Windchill workflows and ThingWorx Nagivate Apps. We have done so to let our customers benefit the most from managing documents in Windchill.

If you would like to hear more about our approach, feel free to contact us.

 

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About the Author

Erik Løber

Erik Løber

Erik has a holistic view and understanding of business value chains based on hands-on experience from Shop Floor as well as from R&D and executive level. He has since 2005 developed and implemented LEAN New Product Introduction (NPI) processes to reduce time-to-market. He has led the development of detailed IT solutions to support the NPI and to bridge the gap between R&D and operations. Erik has competences in Strategic Innovation Management, Product Life-cycle Management (PLM), process and system design and detailed information structures. Mail: Erik.Lober@BoostPLM.com Tel: +4522235655

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