CORPORATE SYSTEMS (2/2008)
head of the department
of technological systems,
The article considers an automated processing system that fully provides information integration at the stages of design and technological preparation, organization of electronic archive and technical document flow, planning and production management.
Traditional production revolves around specific tasks – design, manufacturing, maintenance, as well as subtasks within these tasks.
Before starting to create a product, it is necessary to pay attention to the following factors that largely determine the technological preparation of production:
- the long or short life cycle of the product;
- the need to capture knowledge or reuse it;
- organization of teamwork on the project and interaction;
- interoperability of the systems used.
Depending on how long or short the product life cycle is, what the reliability specifications are, and other conditions, you can determine how important it is for the business to fully commit the project to the technical preparation systems. In some companies, this question may cause serious bewilderment because it is always important to them. Nevertheless, users often spend a lot of money and effort to provide as much information about a product as possible, not because it is necessary for the business, but because the automation system requires it. Is such effort really necessary, or can you do with less and enter only the important amount of information?
Many companies make custom products, sharing an approach to manufacturing products based on the use of a family of parts. In this case, it is advantageous for the company to invest in tools that allow to put more intelligence into the product model. This includes the automated generation of part geometry based on specified parameters, and the automated generation of technical process design based on specified conditions, i.e. a detailed fixation of information.
If enterprise productivity gains can be achieved by modifying previously developed projects, it is of course necessary to develop basic projects in as much detail as possible and to reuse the data already entered.
Data must be used collectively. The experience of implementing information systems shows that providing access to information is only the first step on the road to project management. If you only look at the product model, it won’t tell the whole creation story. Without project management system even structured information is just a big data set which is quite difficult to understand for a specialist who was not involved from the beginning of the project. Therefore, it is not unusual to meet a specialist with a pensive look, spending hours studying a set of information created by his colleague, i.e. we are faced with the paradoxes of information transparency provision.
At the same time, the process of product creation is a sequence of decisions of highly specialized tasks, and each of them may contradict the goals of the further stages of technical preparation. A vivid example of a specialist’s thinking:
“I am responsible for the realization of parts with the limits given to me in terms of strength, weight and dimensions. If difficulties arise, I compensate them by something else, further realization does not bother me, as it is not my problem anymore”. This “something else”, quite innocuous from the designer’s point of view, can have formidable consequences in the later stages of development – for example, it may hinder access during technological processing, or require special tooling.
The right approach to teamwork requires that the information be sufficiently visible to all participants in the project. And if the designer works with one software, the technologist with another, and so on, then the factor of the collective elaboration of the project and the possibility to integrate the software is decisive.
It is impossible to avoid such an important point as interoperability (the ability of an information system to interact with other information systems). The basis of any interoperability specification is the definition of an information transport protocol, regardless of its syntax and semantics.
By this we mean compliance with certain rules or involvement of additional software tools to enable the interoperability of independently developed software modules, subsystems or even functionally complete software systems. Under an ideal integration solution, we understand a platform that provides users with a fairly easily changeable, configurable interface for simultaneous work with many software enterprise tools and their databases (DB). In this case, changes in the data common to these systems are automatically transferred to all DB and do not require manual refinement.
Fig.1. Integration with external applications.
It should also be taken into account that only certain specialists should have access to the information, and only to the information they need to solve their tasks (plus tools for the automation of narrow tasks).
In order to solve the above tasks, the enterprises face the necessity of
- project management and document flow management;
- tools for the designer and technologist;
- tools for change management;
- tools for production data management.
Further in the article we will consider the tasks of building a project management system and maintaining document flow using the automated processing system “APS-Enterprise”, which provides information integration at the stages of design and technological preparation, organization of electronic archive and technical document flow, planning and production management.
APS-ENTERPRISE IN BRIEF
The system is designed to build an integral information model of the product. The information about the product (composition, drawings, manufacturing technologies, tooling, requirements, etc.) collected in one database allows you to quickly obtain current information and create various reports.
“APS-Enterprise” includes different configurations (APS-Document Workflow, APS-Technical Preparation of Production, APS-Production, APS-Stockhouse, APS-Configurator).
The system operates within a single information environment and uses client-server technology to access MS SQL and Oracle databases. Setting workstations and distribution of user access rights are configured taking into account the comprehensive security system.
The open code of the built-in programming language and visual design tools allows ASEM departments at enterprises to modify the APS-Enterprise system independently, tuning it to solve actual tasks in the subject area. Thus, the company tailors the system to their needs, rather than re-engineering their business processes to fit the software.
Fig. 2. Document flow management
ARCHIVE OF ELECTRONIC DOCUMENTS
The first step in organizing project data management is to organize the orderly presentation and storage of data and managed resources.
For this purpose, electronic documents in the APS-Enterprise system are stored in the tree-like structure of the archive folders. Access to the folders of the archive and, respectively, to the electronic documents can be differentiated by the rights of user groups.
Such differentiation is very convenient because user groups are created directly when administering the “APS-Enterprise” system, as a result, the same user can be included in different groups with different access rights to the folders of the archive.
An electronic document is an object in the system. And as a system object, it has an ordered set of properties and methods for working with it, described in the document card. First of all, the card specifies the creator of the document, the date of creation, name and type. The main property of the card, is the storage of attached files in different formats – from simple text files to files created by specialized CAD systems.
Users have the ability to save their data directly from the application in which they work to the electronic archive and get them from the “APS-Enterprise” archive (Fig. 1). This functionality is integrated into the standard save and open dialogs. All means of navigation and search through the documents and folders of the electronic archive are provided.
An electronic document can be attached or linked to another electronic document, in addition, it can be the basis for the creation of another electronic document.
Electronic document flow in the “APS-Enterprise” system provides users with the ability to send electronic documents with attached files by route. All users involved in the project, who need to take part in the working out of this document, receive the electronic document.
The recipient receives a notification in the form of a tooltip with a link to the document. Using this link, you can immediately open the received document, work it out, and send it further on the route.
The great convenience of the system is that at any moment of time it is possible to receive the operational information about what specialist (group of specialists) the document has already been processed, who has it at the moment, how much time was spent on its processing by executors.
The characteristics of electronic document flow are the following:
- the data in an electronic document can have an unlimited number of versions;
- the possibility of attaching files of any format;
- the possibility of keeping a journal of changes in the data of the electronic document is provided;
- the electronic document can be sent by e-mail.
The document flow is organized in such a way that the passage of electronic documents will reflect the administrative organization that exists in the enterprise according to the job descriptions.
In order to send an electronic document to the address, you need to go to the tab “Movement” on the document card, select with the checkbox “Addressee” (or user group) and click “Apply” (Fig.2).
PROJECTS: CREATION AND EXECUTION
So, we have a well-ordered electronic archive, configured electronic document flow, entered user groups (resources), i.e., all the prerequisites for the implementation of the projects and project data management tasks. The rest is very simple: we allocate resources that will be involved in the project, and create a project. A project in APS Enterprise consists of tasks assigned to users, i.e., project stages. You can assign conditions, when the start date of one stage depends on the completion of the other stage, i.e., they are dependent on each other.
A project stage is named and properties are set on the Properties tab (Fig. 3). The stage has a planned start date and a planned end date. In addition to the planned dates, the actual dates are specified – the start date and the end date.
For each step there is a user – the “Responsible” field. Stages can be nested within each other. You can modify the project content at any time. You can delete, add, copy and transfer stages within a project.
Fig. 3. Creating project stages
When the project is launched for execution, the started stages change their status to “In progress”. For the project stages corresponding to electronic documents the electronic document flow mechanism of the APS-Enterprise system is launched. This means that the electronic document can be sent for execution (or development, approval, signing) to the system users.
After the project gets the status of “implementation”, it is possible to monitor the implementation of the documents by the degrees of readiness, to track overdue documents and the process of movement of the document – which executor has it and in what status it is (Fig. 4).
Fig.4. Project launch.
The “percentage of completion” is automatically calculated for the project stage associated with the routing e-document. Also, the “percentage of completion” is calculated for the higher level stages, based on the “percentage of completion” of their attached sub-stages.
The project stage corresponding to a completed document is automatically given the “Completed” status. For project stages, that have sub-projects, the status “Completed” is automatically given after the completion of all attached projects.
In addition, the analytics about how the terms of the project stages changed during the execution and about the effectiveness of the execution of specific tasks and the project as a whole is available (Fig. 5).
Fig.5. Monitoring of the states of the project stages with the indication of the Executors
Thus, project management and electronic archive in the APS-Enterprise system are parts of the unified structured idea of the product manufacturing technology. At that the issues of integration with external applications were solved by means of a specially designed interface, and the routing and approval of documents is performed according to the regulations accepted in the company. The system automatically monitors and notifies the executors of current changes in the project, and the manager is able to distribute tasks to subdivisions and monitor their implementation.