With 130 engineers on its staff, Banner Engineering makes a great variety of sensors, automation, and machine safety products.
All those designers crank out hundreds of new products each year, and lately, the company has had trouble keeping track of it all. "I used to joke about guessing how long someone had been here by counting all those roll-away file cabinets," says Rod Jones, engineering systems manager. "We have a lot of mini, homegrown databases."
It's no joke—Banner has 200 databases of labels, alone. And there are 14,000 products listed in its catalog, including configurations.
So on March 11, the company began a five-week implementation of a PDM (product data management) system to keep track of it all. Sounds like an easy fix, but they began shopping for it three years ago.
The first challenge was that Banner uses three types of CAD software for everyday design. Their primary system is PTC's Pro/Engineer, but they also use AutoCAD for quick-and-dirty 2D drawings, and two seats of SolidWorks for fiber-optic development.
Many PDM vendors could handle that diversity, but very few could do it with a simple system, Jones says. "Some vendors had huge toolboxes. But for us, not being in the software business or wanting to spend money for consulting, we wanted a quick set-up so we could be back in production mode."
Another concern was that some PDM products use third party software to supply the viewer, the part of PDM that visualizes CAD models so you can see what you're working on. But in Banner's experience, third-party suppliers frequently lead to delays, when the different suppliers all claim they're not responsible for a certain problem.
And finally, Banner worried if the new PDM system would be able to handle its various legacy systems and last far into the future.
In the end, Banner chose Windchill PDMLink, from PTC (Needham, MA). Their decision was made easier since they already use PTC's PartsLink to create their interactive product catalog.
But even after all that research, the software installation is just the beginning. One of the first challenges is to clean up their multitude of databases. "We had non-technical people entering data in the past, so we had labels in the old ERP system like 'O-ring, small'," recalls Jones. "Our engineers are still laughing about that one: what's next, O-ring, smaller? O-ring, medium?"
A second challenge is Banner's vast storerooms of legacy data, much of it on good old-fashioned, non-electronic paper. The company plans to begin its new PDM database with every file that's already electronic, and continue with an on-demand basis, scanning in paper plans as they're needed.
And of course a final challenge is the organizational change—training all 130 engineers to use the new system. But Jones thinks that process will take care of itself.
"I call it my smile-o-meter, and people are just going to peg the needle when they see they don't have to walk up and leave a message on someone's door. Instead, they can check out the part from the master copy in the database, add comments, and e-mail someone."
For more information about Windchill PDMLink from PTC: Enter 537