Top 10 Engineering Document and Data Management Challenges

Engineering Drawing

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • You have more spreadsheets in your engineering design projects than you can keep track of, especially when the revisions start rolling in.
  • Your projects require cooperation and collaboration across different teams who have different cultures and may be located in different countries.
  • You aren’t 100% confident that the documents you’re working with are the most recent versions.

Document and data management for engineering projects is no small task. Seemingly small errors (like someone deleting a row in a spreadsheet) can lead to big problems down the line.

Here are 10 engineering document and data management challenges — and one solution for them all.

1. Finding the right documents

Digital storage is an amazing thing. We can create countless documents without wasting any paper. We can revise them, save them, and share them with a click of a button. But there’s also a downside in the form of many, many places where documents can be stored — on personal computers, work computers, corporate servers, and mobile devices. Did you download the latest version of that file or is it still in your inbox?

A 2013 study found that it takes up to eight searches to find the right document, gobbling up between 5 and 25 minutes each time. For an engineering project, which can involve hundreds of spreadsheets and other documents, finding the one you want can be the biggest challenge of all.

2. Version control

One consequence of storing documents in different places is that it’s all too easy to end up with more than one version of the truth. A small mistake in version control can translate into hours dedicated to redoing work and re-updating files. In the worst case scenario, faulty version control can mean sending the wrong documents to the client, which not only creates more work for everyone, but can damage your professional reputation.

3. Change management

Engineering change management — the process of managing revisions and approvals — has a bad reputation. A common complaint is that it’s cumbersome, inefficient, and error-prone. Meanwhile, the ability to deal with change is a key factor in the success of any project.

Change management requires the ability to scope projects, determine feasibility, identify potential problems, manage workflows, communicate with stakeholders, and more. This process is too important to be left to chance.

4. Scalability and flexibility

For organizations that don’t use a centralized database software, the de facto database program is often Microsoft Excel. That may be sufficient for a small project, but it can quickly become overwhelming. One of our customers told us about a project that involved 290 spreadsheets that contained somewhere close to 8,000 wires. One spreadsheet alone had 1,000 instruments and 169 columns for data entry!

As well as scalability, today’s complex engineering process require a high degree of flexibility. For example, your clients may use different automation systems or tag their devices according to different systems. The various teams working on your project may have different engineering cultures. You may need to add custom fields or attributes to your models. Your document and data management systems need to be able to adapt to these diverse demands.

5. Multi-user collaboration

Another issue engineers often encounter with Excel is that multiple people can’t edit the same spreadsheet at the same time. You can create a shared workbook on a network server and give multiple people access, but conflicts arise if more than one person works on the file at the same time. And if someone deletes a row, they could potentially create problems for everyone else…and for any formulas that rely on that data.

This problem isn’t limited to Excel. Many phases of an engineering project require cooperation across teams and disciplines. Powerful communication and collaboration systems are needed to manage this level of complexity.

6. Multiple databases

Managing multiple databases can be as challenging as managing multiple users, particularly because these databases often need to talk to each other.

Some systems use different databases for wiring, instrumentation, P&ID, and so on. But since the final schematics still require integration among these databases, what happens if the information within them doesn’t line up?

7. Backup and security

Your engineering information may be proprietary — to you or to your clients. So, while you may have multiple users working across multiple systems, you need to make sure your data and documents are safe. This means backing them up in case your local servers crash, as well as ensuring that both the primary data and the backups are secure from loss or theft.

8. Management across the project lifecycle

The document and data management process doesn’t begin with design and end with execution. Prior to any data being entered and diagrams being drawn, there’s estimating, feasibility studies, and front-end engineering. Following commissioning and startup, there are often still maintenance projects.

These different stages of the project lifecycle require different approaches to organization and communication. But they all still depend on accurate documentation and data management.

9. Compliance with various standards

Standards ensure that everyone working on a project speaks the same language. This is especially important for engineering drawings and documentation, where safety is often on the line.

Several bodies issue standards for engineering projects. Here are some of key engineering documentation standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO):

  • 01.080.30: Graphical symbols for use on mechanical engineering and construction drawings, diagrams, plans, maps and in relevant technical product documentation
  • 01.100: Technical drawings
  • 01.110: Technical product documentation
  • 35.240.10: Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • ISO/TC 10/SC 6: Mechanical engineering documentation
  • ISO 24517-1:2008: Document management — Engineering document format using PDF — Part 1: Use of PDF 1.6 (PDF/E-1)
  • IEC 81346-1:2009: Industrial systems, installations and equipment and industrial products — Structuring principles and reference designations — Part 1: Basic rules

10. Reinventing the wheel

Finally, after you’ve completed a project successfully, what happens to all of your databases and documentation? Do you reuse your resources, or do you find yourself building a new database for every project? The ability to duplicate projects can save you a massive amount of time and energy, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.

A single solution for all 10 challenges

So, now you know the top 10 engineering document and data management challenges. What’s the solution?

The solution is to stop thinking about engineering documents, data, and diagrams as separate items and instead view them as pieces of a trans-disciplinary, collaborative process that requires cooperation and communication across many different people, teams, and systems. Once you adopt this new mindset, you can then concentrate on finding the right tools to streamline your engineering processes.

Engineering Base is the only database-driven platform built to support the entire lifecycle of engineering projects. View the brochure to learn more.

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