Eaton Hydraulic Goes Paperless

Addressed a broad range of PLM issues with particular focus on out-of-the-box functionality

When the Hydraulics Division of Eaton Corporation decided to replace its tedious ten-day, inaccurate process of managing and distributing thousands of CAD files around the company, it found a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution that reduced the wait for design and engineering files from ten to zero days and improved productivity by freeing up an additional 56 hours per week.

Eaton Corporation’s Hydraulics Division manufactures light, medium and heavy-duty hydrostatic transmissions, wheel motors, steering units, gear pumps and other hydraulic products for use in farm and construction machinery. The Division’s engineers were having trouble transferring information quickly from their main site at Eden Prairie, MN, to remote sites, three in North America and one in Scotland.

Until two years ago, a completed drawing would have to be transferred to microfilm, the microfilm would be filed in the microfilm library at Eden Prairie and then duplicates would be made and sent out to be filed at remote sites. This process took up to ten days and had an unacceptable error rate — one of the most orderly remote libraries had an error rate of 6% due to incorrectly filed microfilms, microfilms not being there at all or microfilms that had the wrong revision level.

Several years ago, Eaton engineers and designers decided they needed a change: a reliable, affordable PLM software product that could store and retrieve upwards of 70,000 imaged documents, eventually making the microfilm system obsolete. Pat Meyer, Design Team Leader at the Hydraulics Division, said there was a vision of having current drawings available at everyone’s desktop so that no one would have to get up from his or her desk or run the possibility of using obsolete or incorrect drawings.

Finding such a product was not easy. A year’s test of a system that proved inadequate limited Eaton’s engineers and designers to using only their PCs, not their UNIX workstations, because using the workstations meant enduring 15 minutes of seek time. For fear of losing documents, engineers and designers made backup after backup of new files and hoarded hard copies in their desks. The old microfilm method seemed to be winning out over any software solution until Meyer attended a Kalthoff conference and saw SofTech’s PLM solution.

Meyer saw the Softech PLM solution and several competitive products at the conference, and follow-up research convinced him and the rest of the team that this product was the right way to go. It addressed a broad range of PLM issues with particular focus on out-of-the-box functionality and the unique ability to integrate tightly with best-in-class design tools such as PTC’s Pro/Engineer®. Meyer also appreciated SofTech’s scalable and phased product implementation approach.

Meyer came away from the conference with the names of twenty products but eliminated seventeen of them upon discovering that they couldn’t integrate with Pro/Engineer. The selection team, composed of Meyer, the Engineering Services Manager, two members of the Design Team, and three people from Information Technologies, quickly got to work evaluating the remaining three products. Eaton’s Engineering Research Center also sent two people to assess users’ needs. From salespeople representing the remaining three products, the selection team got names of six reference accounts and “just started calling.”

When we called the references, we found that SofTech’s customers were the only ones who consistently had the product up and running, managing their data,” Meyer explained. “Users from the other companies would often say, ‘We like what we’re using, but we’ve had it 18 months and we’re still implementing it.”

We didn’t want to have to spend that kind of time,” Meyer added. Eaton ultimately, chose SofTech’s PLM solution primarily because it could be implemented quickly, with little customization and short startup times for new users. They also felt certain that users would receive competent support from TPSI (Technical Publishing Solutions, Inc.), the local reseller “just down the street” in Edina. “They seemed extremely knowledgeable at the on-site demonstration,” Meyer said. “They not only knew how to use all the industry acronyms; they also knew what they meant!”

Eaton Hydraulics conducted a 60-day pilot study of SofTech’s PLM solution, which passed with flying colors, and by Thanksgiving 30 engineers and designers were using it routinely. Its scalable, phased approach to implementation has since enabled Eaton to add new users in other departments, and its intuitive interface eases the transition for those new users: the initial 30 testers have expanded to 130 permanent users at Eden Prairie and some outlying sites with the number growing each week. Meanwhile, the system’s out-of-the-box usability has minimized time spent on customization.

Time Savings:

As envisioned, Eaton’s engineers and designers now have desktop access to the correct versions all the drawings they need whether they are working on PCs or UNIX workstations.
Meanwhile, designers can locate and reuse CAD geometry more quickly than in the past. All users benefit from the new organization of data, which permits searches against any attribute. What used to take 10 days and 9 steps has been whittled down to 3 hours and two steps because users can instantly access new designs on-line. Additionally, file retrieval for ECO work has been reduced by a factor of 17, which translates to 56 hours per week. The final benefit, Meyer says, is that users have confidence in their PLM system. No one fearfully hoards drawings anymore or takes up disk space with dozens of backups.

Eaton intends to get all Eaton Hydraulics plants on-line with SofTech’s PLM system so that the old microfilm system can be scrapped once and for all. In the more distant future, Eaton wants ProductCenter to govern release management and to aid in the execution of ECOs. Eventually, Meyer wants users to be able to search anywhere in the product data and be able to find service manuals, process sheets, tool information and material specifications.

He also would like a seamless interface with the business system. The goal, says Meyer, is “to dramatically reduce time spent looking for accurate information.”

Since the implementation of SofTech’s PLM, the ten-day wait for microfilm copies has been reduced to online, same day delivery. The errors due to incorrectly filed microfilms, microfilm cards not reaching the remote sites and microfilms with the wrong revision level have been virtually eliminated. It has enabled Eaton to be well on the road toward meeting the goal of instant access to accurate information by the people who need it.

ProductCenter @ Eaton

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