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  Manufacturing Insights   |   Febuary, 2007
Document Searches Should NOT Defy Lean Operations
by Thomas R. Cutler

The average information worker spends more than thirteen hours per week creating documents and nearly seven hours per week organizing documents; an additional four hours per week are spent managing document routing and another ten hours per week searching for information.  All this time searching for documents is negatively impacting the productivity, bottom-line, and lean operations of most North American manufacturers.

According to Ricardo Talbot, Chief Science Officer for Elmo Solutions, “The biggest distinction in effective search tools that create and manage engineering documents is the capability to index, retrieve and display a wide range of CAD and imaging documents from AutoCAD, other Autodesk "flavored" applications, Autodesk Inventor, and SolidWorks.

Calculating return-on-investment for effective PLM/CAD search products are usually based on the safe assumption that the average information worker spends only one hour per week searching for electronic documents.  The labor cost is illustrated below and includes the fully burdened rate, yet is quite conservative. 

It is economically viable to deploy CAD and PLM document retrieval tools because according to Talbot, “Our original intent was to develop and market a full-fledged TDM (Technical Document Management) system with sophisticated document retrieval and viewing features, revision control, approval control, workflow, really the whole enchilada.  However, when we surveyed our potential customers, we discovered that 90% of them would be perfectly happy with a "barebones" TDM solution that would really focus on retrieval and viewing of engineering documents, as long as it was easy to use.”


Talbot suggested, “What those people were actually describing to us was the good old search engine, Intranet-style, with advanced engineering-specific viewing capabilities were already in place in many cases.  So it was decided that our approach to TDM would take the form of a solution that would satisfy the needs of 90% of the market, at an average initial cost that would be typically about 50 times less than full-featured TDM system.”

A typical high-end TDM system implementation can cost as much as $6,000 per user; the new “barebones” technology implementation is closer to $120 per user.


The Challenge of Metadata Capture


Although CAD documents (especially AutoCAD drawings) are usually metadata-rich, the way metadata is structured in those documents may vary considerably from one environment to the other (actually, it may even vary form one user to the other in any given environment).  A typical run-of-the-mill Parts List or schedule in an Autodesk AutoCAD-based application: Architectural Desktop, AutoCAD/Mechanical and Autodesk Mechanical Desktop will represent them as dedicated objects of their own, while in "vanilla" AutoCAD, they may be represented as AutoCAD tables, blocks with attributes (a given part is actually often spanned over more than one AutoCAD block), or even as bits and bites of AutoCAD Text or MText entities.  It gets even more challenging when looking at the Bills of Materials issue, since there is no such thing, per se, as a BoM structure in AutoCAD.

Talbot elected to develop a collection of applications, based on a common foundation API (Applications Programming Interface) to find, extract, and properly structure metadata to make it more usable, and help people leverage their past, present, and future investment in the creation of technical and engineering documents.

Based in San Jose, California, SignaSys, Inc. is a broadcast and news media systems integration and consulting firm. It has sixty employees, of which about twenty work on pre-project design and feasibility studies.  On a daily basis, those knowledge workers produce and maintain engineering documents in of a variety of formats, namely AutoCAD, Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as eMail documents stored in Microsoft Exchange public stores.  The ability to efficiently retrieve documents using both keyword-based and structured searches is crucial to sales personnel, since it would allow them to quickly identify previously created documents that can serve as basis for new projects, thus dramatically reducing pre-project design costs.  The SignaSys IT department used the new low cost search solution and discovered an efficient and reliable technology that yielded a quick return on investment with a minimal cost of ownership.

Jeff Mohler, SignaSys' IT Engineer noted that the new search product, “Helped us reduce dramatically the costs associated with document redundancy, as well as document searching.  We were also very impressed with the high quality of the technical support we received from the Elmo Solutions people.  For us, that sells the product."

Lack of Search Tools = Anti-Lean

Companies that do not have effective search tools waste money on:

  • Time spent looking for documents
  • Time spent re-creating documents not found
  • Time spent organizing documents
  • Investing in high-end TDM systems that are not utilized to their full capability because they are
    • Too complicated to use
    • Too expensive to maintain
  • Loss of opportunity due to not having the right documents available at a business-critical moment

With humility, Talbot, who is often called Mr. T, humbly suggested, “I'm just a software engineer with big ears who heard people complaining about how they could not get the most out of their past and present investment in the creation and maintenance of CAD data, and who put together simple, yet powerful ways to serve them.”

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide – Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of twenty seven hundred journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is also the author of the Manufacturers’ Public Relations and Media Guide. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually; he can be contacted at

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