Cloud Based
Engineering Document Control
We are so Close!!
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Please review this article for the basic concept.
The Embedded Title Block! A PLM Solution!

That was the first time I conceived of a simple cloud based engineering document control system plus the embedded title block. Onshape was released and it completely fit the concept I described. I quickly wrote this article.
The Ultimate Engineering Document Control System

Onshape is a marginal CAD system and is not viable for your engineering. The problem is the lack of a locally saved file format, thereby, locking you into their CAD solution and cloud storage. Very short sighted of them. A subscription is bad enough.

But Onshape offers an incredible basis for engineering document control system. As I describe in the above article this could eliminate the complex PLM that has caused so much trouble, pain, confusion and is incredibly complex and costly.

The Death of PLM

I don't understand how document control fell under PLM. When it was introduced, even though CAD was available the documentation was delivered as printed documentation. The problem with the PLM guru's is that they look at information as digital. Engineering is driven by documents. It is not PDM (Product Data Management) it is Part Document Management. Can you see the different mind set? It is sad that the PLM guru did not even look at the past document control system and tried and failed to recreate the wheel. The expert in engineering documentation was the drafting group, who was obviously not consulted.

Engineering Documentation - A Primer for the PLM Guru!

I will tell you that you cannot effectively use the native CAD file as the released engineering document.

We first have to define engineering documentation.

I have realized lately with the Elimination of the Draftsman there is now no engineering documentation training available. In the past the young engineer, not trained in drafting in college, was tossed into the drafting group for a year to learn the language of engineering documentation in the larger companies. Yes, that was the drawing pre-3D CAD.

Engineering’s only purpose is the delivery of concise, complete
and unambiguous documentation to manufacturing.

1. The Drawing - Delivered as a PDF.

There are two forms of the drawing. Manually drawn or from an electronic drafting package. These documents are made up of non-associated orthographic  projected views. Today, these are delivered as a PDF. Why do I reference manual drawings? Boeing is still sending these to the suppliers. It is funny in a MBE world that Boeing would overlook such a blatant violation of the model being the authority.

Also there is other information that can not be based on 3D, such as different charts, floor plans, schematics, etc and can be only presented as a drawing.

Note: I didn't call it the 2D drawing. This really bugs me, what other kind of drawings are there? Stop using that idiotic term!!!

2. The 3D Model - Delivered as a native or neutral 3D file format.

Today this is the replacement for the drawing. We now design in 3D, I started this in 1982 and it was in the realm of the draftsman mostly through to the end of the century due to still delivering, what Boeing draftsman fondly called the flat file, as a print. Companies soon realized that the engineer could do the design directly in 3D and there was no need for the draftsman. Sadly, they did not plan for this transition which demands a thorough knowledge of engineering documentation.

3. The AID (Associated Information Document) delivered as a PDF.

In 1988 surfacing was made widely available on the PC and the model was done in surfacing providing CNC with 2 and 3 axis information this move the model beyond only used to create the flat file. Now the 3D model was being delivered to the suppliers. While the 3D model completely defines the geometry of part or assembly, it does not include information like material, finish, tolerance, process, parts list, part number, part name, revision history, used on and the list can go on. Sadly, the part number and name are only available in the file name. How nuts is that? I will again reference the Embedded Title Block!

Even though solid modeling was introduced in 1988 with Pro/e it was not widely used until the release of the Parasolid and ACIS solid modeling kernels which spawned a multitude of Solid modeling systems. With this break through the 3D model became even more important.

We now create the reference documentation at the end of the design cycle.

The AID looks very much like the drawing. But that is where the similarities end. This is a much, much easier document to create. It is based on and associated to the 3D model and created in a documentation module of the native CAD software. Any time the model is changed the dimensions in the AID are affected and show the change.

The Death of the Drawing

They can be completely detailed (fully dimensioned) or minimized GD&T definitions. I prefer that they are completely detail since this gives the designer a second check on the part, an easy to review and check format and also have a well defined reference document for inspection.

We archive the AID by releasing them as PDFs. They are bundled with the 3D model which make up the complete released documentation authority. The model should include a engraved or embossed title block with the information of the part. This what I call Murphy proofing the documentation.

The advantage of the AID as a PDF along with the 3D model takes the documentation out of the native CAD system and in a functional Cloud Based Document Control and removes the dependency on the infotech PLM guru and the CAD vendor.

4. The PMI delivered as a native CAD file.

The PMI (Product Manufacturing Information) is the basis of MBE (Model Based Enterprise) and is somewhat of a Band-Aid to solve the PDM problem of having PLM control the data management: Having one document. But that was lost long ago with these documents referencing other documents required to define and inspect the part.




This is a very expensive process requiring a seat of the native software or an approved viewer. These are still being sent to the suppliers as an email. It is quite shocking. I mean, what could go wrong? You have lost control of the information.

Free PMI Importer?

The cloud based engineering document control would completely solve this problem. Each company would set up the system to have the native PMI available in an approved format. You would have a record of when and who accessed the file. The supplier would download the native file and run it through the required validation program if you are not using the native CAD system's CNC. They would always have access to the latest part/assembly revisions.

Compare and Validation Programs? Band-Aids for Self Inflicted Wounds!

Today, engineering documentation looks very much like a moving target instead of something set in stone.

Cloud Based Engineering Document Control

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So what have I found to to make me write this new article. I have been introduced to GrabCAD's free Workbench. While it is not as robust as Onshape it would take little to make it the optimum cloud based engineering document control system.

Before we jump into GC Workbench let's take a look at how Onshape handles the documentation. Onshape is a bit superior because there are no folders. Onshape is what only can be called a documentation bucket. You can load any file format such as word, excel, images, etc and it is noted on the tabs on the bottom. You can have the 3D native file and/or the part in a variety of neutral formats.

The 3D model

The AID as a PDF

Let's now take a look at GC Workbench. Yes, I said "FREE".

GrabCAD Workbench

CAD collaboration tool that works the way engineers do

This is a view of the PC based program. Yes it has the documentation stored locally and on the cloud completely synchronized. This is a feature that I could have only dreamed of. As for now, it really is for the smaller companies with limited sized projects. How much documentation could be managed would have to be evaluated by each company.

Hey, who is that handsome guy??

When you select Local Folder.

When you select Workbench

You can define those who are allowed access

You can load a file this is a parasolid based assembly that you can rotate.

You can zoom the page

Here is the AID


But what I envision is a bit simpler. All you would have would be a Google like page with a request for part number or name.

Now, of course, this would be customizable.

You have to be a bit careful on what level of documentation you include. Most parts and inseparable assemblies are fine. But you would never include a 3D assembly or sub-assembly. Assemblies should still be an AID as a PDF with a parts list and bubbles or identifiers. We don't really worrying about parts but assemblies as 3D models should be protected and not made available on the cloud based document control system. If a supplier needs a complete 3D assembly then they would have to be handled individually.

But understand the cloud based engineering document controls system is not just for suppliers. This would be very similar to the blue print counters or microfiche machines of the past. It would be available to anyone with a need to view the documentation. Purchasing, marketing, sales, tech pubs, manufacturing, planning, tooling, analysis, materials and even the design engineer would look here first for the latest release. He/she would they have the information to scrutinize and establish a plan before checking the original documentation (documentation includes the 3D model) for modification or to be used in a new design.

The design engineer would review the information then go into the native CAD system to check out the relevant parts or assemblies from the native PDM (Part Document Management) system. Even though you have a 3D model available in the native CAD system it would serve as the drawing storage vault did in the past. I would have a system that would be available only to the engineering design staff. You could limit the availability of the 3D model or any other information.

There you go, a functional standard cloud based document control system completely Murphy Proof. Well, as close to Murphy Proof we can get, we are only human after all.

Cost? Virtually nothing, it would be managed by a small inexpensive admin staff outside of engineering. They could also be the group that would manage the internal native CAD documentation, leaving the design engineers free to do their job of design and documentation.

Also you can have multiple CAD systems with little complications, since the released engineering documentation is outside the native CAD system. You will have a reference in the documentation of the system type and file name. Just think, you are not at the mercy of a specific high-end costly CAD system.

So how do we get there?

The first product that offers this flexibility could actually set the standard. I hope GrabCAD or Onshape realize what they have and develop:

           The Ultimate Cloud Based Document Control System!

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Joe Brouwer