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Published: Sep 20 2021

The Importance of a Dedicated Engineering Document Management System (EDMS)

You would never give your maintenance team just a hammer for all the jobs they need to complete, right? Think about it: to do their job correctly, maintenance technicians need specific tools like a multi-meter, a torque wrench, or a simple Philips screwdriver. And if you only give them a hammer, you’re asking them to fail. Even if you have the most skilled team in the industry.

Well, if you only give them a work order without access to a connected, searchable document management system, you're only giving them a hammer. What’s worse, you’re leaving your team struggling to manually document, submit and initiate changes. And the results can be disastrous, leading to documentation errors, safety issues, skyrocketing work order costs, poor document version control and more.

The worst part? This is exactly the situation that most organizations without a dedicated engineering document management system (EDMS) find themselves in (whether they know it or not). Here are the pitfalls to look out for and how a dedicated EDMS can help.

Why Standard Systems Don’t Work for Engineers

Out-of-the-box document management tools— and even enterprise content management systems (ECMs) — do have a place in industry, as these generic tools can help organizations share and save static documentation such as legal and financial documents, marketing collateral and scanned posts. Even at Accruent, we utilize tools like SharePoint to store and access blogs, social media content and sales decks. For such instances, these tools can facilitate sharing across departments, allow for cloud-based collaboration and more.

That said, these standard tools simply don’t have the advanced functionality required to support the complex business processes and the unique file formats critical to engineering departments and capital project teams. Again, these general ECM tools work best on static, linear documents: documents that are created, edited and stored in a linear fashion. A blog, for example, is written, edited, published then left largely unchanged.

Most technical documentation – like facility documentation, technical manuals, CAD drawings and engineering documents – are neither static nor linear. Instead, this documentation must be regularly updated, approved, redlined, version tracked and controlled. That’s the only way it can reflect the as-built environment and effectively manage change throughout the life of an asset. What’s more, this documentation is generally:

  • Unstructured, meaning that it doesn’t follow a pre-defined data model
  • Not associated with the asset or location that it documents or supports
  • Spread across various systems and departments
  • Needed by many departments at the same time (for example, these documents are often needed in multiple change projects and concurrently needed for daily operations and maintenance)
  • Difficult to access and update due to unavailability, unique file types or constant change
  • Connected to other documentation or files

This makes engineering documentation very difficult to manage, access and utilize— even when there is another robust system, like a CMMS, in play. Getting this right is nearly impossible on a free or company-wide ECM system.

A dedicated purpose-built system, on the other hand, can alleviate many of these concerns.

The Value of a Dedicated Engineering Document Management Solution

Value of purpose built engineering document management system

By streamlining engineering document management, increasing transparency and helping users effectively manage change, a purpose-built engineering document management system can ultimately help organizations ensure compliance, control engineering project costs, improve safety, extend asset life and protect brand reputation.

Here’s how.

1. A Dedicated Solution Will Be Less Complicated and More Effective

As we mentioned, ECMs are not built for dynamic engineering content. Expanding on this issue, these systems don’t support CAD drawing files, they don’t have a CAD authoring integration and they don’t support Building Information Management (BIM) systems. Trying to make them work for this kind of information will likely require:

  • Extensive third-party add-ins
  • Complicated and cumbersome customizations
  • External consulting

And it will still be hard to update your documentation, maintain workflows, collaborate and ensure that your information reflects the built environment. A dedicated EDMS, on the other hand, is purpose-built to allow users to store, maintain and update CAD documentation and BIM models. Specifically, your team can use a dedicated EDMS to:

  • Manage interrelated or interdependent CAD files, BIM models, drawings, schematics and other documentation
  • Store, manage, render and visualize both 2D and 3D CAD content
  • Keep master documentation up to date while effectively managing change
  • Give other departments access to engineering drawings, which can streamline both operations and maintenance
  • Reduce delays caused by high document search times or difficulty accessing large files

2. The Right Tool Will Also Streamline Operations and Maintenance

The right tool won’t just help with design and construction – it will also streamline the handover process and help operations and maintenance during an asset’s operational lifecycle. By allowing users to have centralized access to critical asset and facility data, a dedicated EDMS can provide key data and documentation needed to streamline:

  • Facilities management
  • Operations
  • Maintenance
  • Asset refurbishment or extension
  • Asset de-commissioning

3. A Purpose-Built Solution Will Allow for Concurrent Engineering

Engineering content is often under change in more than one project at a time, leading to the need for “concurrent engineering.” For example, a multi-year plant expansion may require the modification of hundreds of documents and drawings, but other, short-term projects need to modify a subset of documents and drawings to reflect as-built changes to the operational environment. Generic content management tools cannot manage these workflow overlaps or interrelations.

Without concurrent engineering, the alternatives are to risk not reflecting project information back into as-built content or to serially stage projects, leading to benefit delays. With a purpose-built tool like Meridian, on the other hand:

  • Many workflows can run concurrently while making sure that users are only accessing the most up-to-date documentation
  • Rules can be applied to establish connections between project workflow and the documents inside of a project
  • Workflows can be controlled to ensure that document changes are effectively executed and approved

4. The Right Tool Will Bust Interdepartmental Silos

Unfortunately, the information used by engineering and maintenance teams is usually siloed, as these teams often use separate systems and (often manual) processes. This can lead to many problems, including:

  • Inability to handover information from Engineering to Maintenance
  • Outdated or erroneous information used in Maintenance projects
  • Significant safety concerns and OSHA violations
  • Extensive search times
  • Delays in reviews and approvals

These, in turn, can snowball into broader efficiency and communication issues. It can also make it hard to ensure that your operations and maintenance departments are working with up-to-date technical asset information.

By storing all asset-related data, providing workflow controls and integrating with critical maintenance tools like a CMMS, the right EDMS can resolve these concerns and provide a centralized, up-to-date single source of truth. This can not only eliminate confusion and rework but also maximize safety, efficiency and interdepartmental collaboration.

5. An EDMS Can Help Eliminate Emergency Breakdowns and High Downtime

Downtime is a killer for any organization. Though it’s hard to quantify the exact number, estimates show that downtime can cost factories anywhere from 5%-20% of their productivity, and high downtime can negatively impact budget, processes, production...the list goes on.

Having centralized systems powered by comprehensive documentation and analytics can help lower downtime by allowing your team to:

  • Locate up-to-date, accurate documents and drawings
  • Update and access information via mobile device
  • Reduce human error OI
  • Anticipate breakdowns before they happen
  • Reduce maintenance time and labor costs

6. Dedicated Tools Allow for Automation of Important Processes

Manual processes can be killers of productivity and accuracy, especially for large organizations with many document sources, departments, assets and concurrent engineering processes. The right tool will provide business-critical automations, including:

  • Workflow automation: Many document-centric processes, like engineering change, can often rely on manual tools like email, spreadsheet updates, or pen and paper. The right tool will automate the flow of work based on pre-configured rules. This can not only eliminate errors but also maximize efficiency.
  • Data flow automation: There is often a significant amount of metadata within CAD drawings, 3D models, etc. The right tool will help users extract this data and use it in a centralized repository.
  • Transmittal automation: Transmittal can be very time-consuming, and there can be many errors as document controllers look for the right document versions and related information. By automating this process, the right EDMS can not only streamline collaboration but also improve workflows and overall document management processes.

Final Thoughts

Engineering teams that opt for free or out-of-the-box document management tools are making huge sacrifices when it comes to efficiency, change management, workflow processes and document version control (and that’s just scratching the surface).

This can cost money, negatively impact efficiency, compromise safety and even lead to staffing issues and a major skills gap as tenured employees retire—taking their tribal knowledge with them – and new hires look elsewhere for jobs that offer more efficient and modern technologies. Don’t let this happen to your organization. Implement a purpose-built EDMS.

Meridian engineering document management system

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