Beta LaserMike Measures Needs, Goes with ProductCenter PLM

SofTech’s ProductCenter PLM System Builds Global Collaboration to Accelerate Time-to-Market

When manufacturers worldwide need to measure fine tolerances to cut waste, they turn to Beta LaserMike, headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. When Beta LaserMike realized they needed product lifecycle management (PLM) to optimize their engineers’ productivity and accelerate time-to-market, they turned to SofTech.

“We started out as LaserMike, which is short for laser micrometers,” explains Mike Lambert, MIS System Administrator for the company. “That’s what we do – measure things with lasers.” The company’s unique name was the result of merging with a European company based in High Wycombe, England named Beta. Beta LaserMike has since become the worldwide sales and technology leader in non-contact gauging instruments.

Customers like Lucent, AT&T, 3Com, and Seagate use the company’s “laser mikes” for flaw detection in manufacturing, measuring the diameter of any given product to make sure it meets specification. “Belden, a major wire and cable producer, uses our equipment to cut down on waste in wire wrapping processes,” Lambert says. “If the wire’s sheath only has to be .1 inch and you’re putting on .11, we save you that .01 inch. That adds up to a lot of savings when you’re producing millions of feet of cable every year.”

A Version Control Nightmare:

What Beta LaserMike needed was help with controlling Pro/Engineer® drawings. Automating their document control system would prevent repetitive work and save crucial time on the road to market. “Before we got started with SofTech, everything around here was paper based,” Lambert says. “What controls were in place were very restrictive and time consuming, because if someone walked off with your blueprint no one else could use it that day.”

“With increased CAD use, engineers were losing time and accuracy from duplicate efforts, because they would take the same drawings off network drives, make modifications, and then overwrite each other’s work,” Lambert says. “A change would be submitted, get approved, and suddenly you’ve got the wrong product driving manufacturing. It was nasty, to put it technically.”

The company’s move from 2D to 3D CAD further drove the need to control its product development processes. Now, instead of a single AutoCAD® file, 50 to 500 files might be associated with one large 3D assembly in Pro/Engineer®. “You’re talking about a version control nightmare at that point,” Lambert remarks.

With high turnover so commonplace, capturing knowledge, processes and data also became very important. Engineers would leave and take important knowledge with them, resulting in serious ramp-up and training issues with new people.

Working Together Across the Ocean:

Now, Beta LaserMike has all of their engineering knowledge stored and managed with ProductCenter™ PLM, SofTech’s product lifecycle management (PLM) solution. “It’s helped mold the engineering atmosphere and the whole organization,” Lambert says. “By going to one system, engineers here in Dayton are able to see what our engineers in England are doing, and they can see what we’re doing.”Since ProductCenter makes it possible to share files across the world, they’ve begun developing some products in common. An engineer in England can work on a part, check it in, and then a counterpart in the U.S. can take over.

According to Lambert, Beta LaserMike chose ProductCenter primarily for its integration to Pro/Engineer, its revision control, and the Workflow component that the company uses to automate business processes regulated by ISO requirements.

The company captures all information that relates to a product inside of ProductCenter. The still-growing list includes product specifications, test plans, quality data, manufacturing process sheets, technical documentation, and even marketing documents and meeting notes.
ProductCenter streamlines communication among all departments and locations. Instead of blueprints or unprotected CAD drawings on a network, viewables of the drawings are always available from ProductCenter in Adobe® Acrobat® PDF format.

Beta LaserMike has also developed a custom Web interface with SofTech’s ProductCenter Perl Toolkit, which simply allows users to locate and view product information.
A person on the production floor, for example, can enter a drawing number and bring up a Web page listing every associated document. In this way, manufacturing is always assured of having the most current information, helping to reduce scrap and rework, and providing additional cost savings for the company.

“This gave us the ability to share information with other departments, like marketing,” he continues. “When someone has a question, it’s all right there in ProductCenter – they don’t have to interrupt engineering all the time. So engineers are now a lot less burdened with things like purchasing or manufacturing process concerns. That’s great, since the ultimate goal is to have engineers designing 99% of the time, because that’s what they should be doing.” He says the engineers are happier now, and hence more productive.
ProductCenter has given Beta LaserMike value in a many other ways. “It’s improved our quality and time to manufacture, especially for custom work we do for just one customer,” Lambert explains. “It’s helped us build a catalog of designs or subassemblies that can be reused. So, you decrease your prices to the customer, increase your quality and increase your margin because you’ve already done the work. That’s been a big boost.”

A Good Partnership:

Lambert says that SofTech has been very helpful to him. “I’ve got a good relationship with their service and support people – I’ve never presented a problem to SofTech that didn’t get answered or was spun away into a cloud of nothingness. Service and support has been excellent. They do a good job.”

For the future, Beta LaserMike’s MIS department wants to archive older product information from filing cabinets and floppy disks. “I want to capture a lot of our old drawings and in-house software,” Lambert says. “If we lose our old firmware, how do we provide service for this old equipment we still support?”

He also wants to store more vendor part information in ProductCenter. “As we do more research and development, we capture a lot of information about vendor technology and parts that we use in manufacturing,” Lambert explains. He wants to preserve that information so people don’t keep reinventing the wheel when they build new micrometers.

“We’re also talking about giving our customers the capability to log in to get information,” Lambert says. “It would be nice to be able to develop custom products hand-in-hand with customers electronically so that we wouldn’t have to travel so much. The customer could just log in and we’d say, ‘Here it is. Is this what you were thinking?’ ”

“Overall, ProductCenter allows our people to get a better grip on what our products are and where they are in the process of getting them to market,” Mike Lambert says. “It has brought us closer together and made us much more efficient.”

ProductCenter @ BetaLM

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