Fibertek Sets Its Sights with ProductCenter® PLM

SofTech’s ProductCenter PLM Integrates Development and Manufacturing Operations, Automates Business Processes

About Fibertek, Inc.:

Founded in 1983, Fibertek, Inc. of Herndon, Virginia is a leading developer and producer of advanced solid-state lasers and highly sophisticated electro-optical sensor systems for military and aerospace applications. Fibertek takes great pride in the devices and systems it designs, builds and tests.  Its pioneering work in electro-optics systems has allowed Fibertek to become a globally-recognized industry leader.

Challenges of an Expanding Business:

Since its inception, Research and Development (R & D) has been a key business area at Fibertek. In 2005, Fibertek expanded its business model to encompass low volume custom manufacturing of its sensor systems for its customers. Prior to that, Fibertek had managed its product data and change management through paper processes and electronic files.  The Engineering team was managing product design CAD files either by using a file folder system on a shared network drive with access permissions or at times by saving information onto local hard drives. There was limited control and organization of the data.

The shift from not only product design and development, but also to low volume manufacturing, prompted Fibertek to identify several business challenges that a PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) solution could help the company solve, including:

  • Centralized control of product data
  • Automation of product design and development processes
  • Integration with MCAD and ECAD tools
  • More closely integrated development and manufacturing operations

As the transition from predominately R & D to manufacturer needed to occur in less than a year, Fibertek required a PLM solution that could deploy quickly and be the foundation to solve its evolving business challenges

A Smooth Transition: Integrating Development & Manufacturing Operations:

Fibertek began searching for a PLM solution that would provide all of the PLM functionality necessary to meet the demands of its ever-changing business.

After several product demonstrations and evaluations from various PLM vendors were completed, SofTech’s ProductCenter® PLM solution was chosen. In addition to its low cost of ownership, ProductCenter has a host of features that attracted Fibertek including a direct integration to its CAD product, workflow process automation, and Bill of Materials (BOM) management capabilities.

ProductCenter immediately helped smooth the transition of integrating Fibertek’s development and manufacturing operations. With ProductCenter’s ability to deploy quickly and the assistance of SofTech’s Customer Support team, Fibertek was well on its way with the ProductCenter implementation within a matter of weeks.

“A product is nothing without a knowledgeable and responsive customer support team. The ProductCenter team at SofTech is second to none and has helped make our success with ProductCenter what it is today and will be in the future,” states Bridget Koloseus, CM/QA Manager at Fibertek.

Increased Productivity, Streamlined Processes:

ProductCenter is being used throughout Fibertek and provides access to critical information in a very timely manner.  The Engineering, Quality and Finance departments as well as Fibertek’s Management team all rely on ProductCenter to deliver the right information when it is needed. Purchasing also accesses ProductCenter to pull PDF files of drawings generated by the Configuration Management team and in turn sends the viewable drawings to Fibertek’s suppliers for order fulfillment.

“With its ability to control and provide accurate access to product data quickly, ProductCenter has significantly improved our data management processes. We have achieved increased productivity, improved data integrity and streamlined product design and development processes using ProductCenter,” adds Bridget Koloseus.

Impressive Configuration Control & BOM Management:

ProductCenter manages Fibertek’s product data including its mechanical CAD files, electrical CAD files such as Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) and parts data for its laser systems. ProductCenter is utilized as a centralized vault to store all quality records, supplier evaluations and all build documentation, which includes assemblies and subassemblies that are scanned in as records. Additionally, ProductCenter has automated Fibertek’s Engineering Change Notification (ECN) process and is also managing its Bill of Materials (BOM). There are approximately 35,000 parts and 2,500 BOMs being managed in ProductCenter today.

“ProductCenter’s direct CAD integration and its ability to perform BOM export and import operations has been a significant benefit to our business processes. ProductCenter is utilized for engineering change processing and controls all of our ‘real information’ in that everything has to match ProductCenter, especially our engineering BOMs,” explains Bridget Koloseus. “When customers come in to review records of manufacturing builds or our processes that we have implemented, they are very impressed with our configuration control and BOM management.”

Early Visibility into Product Development Process:

Less Re-design, Fewer Change Orders, More Re-use:

When asked to compare before and after ProductCenter was implemented Bridget Koloseus explains, “When a contract was won before ProductCenter there were times when similar, but not identical parts were being used. If an issue was identified with a specific part it was difficult to evaluate if other programs or products could be affected.  Since the ProductCenter implementation, there are fewer re-designs and fewer change orders. We are able to be more proactive in finding and fixing issues early on in the product development process.”

Fibertek expects to expand on ProductCenter’s process automation capabilities. “We recognize that if we build it correctly, then we can use it in other areas as well. Re-use plays a significant role in saving the company time and money,” adds Bridget Koloseus.

Focused on Further Improving Business Practices:

With the assistance of SofTech’s ProductCenter team, Fibertek is planning to utilize ProductCenter in a number of different ways to further improve its business practices.  “SofTech is continually moving in a good direction with ProductCenter by adding new features that we can benefit from today or in the near future to further increase our efficiency,” states Bridget Koloseus.

The Future of ProductCenter at Fibertek:

In 2011 Fibertek was selected by NASA to design and manufacture four spaceflight lasers for the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS). The lasers Fibertek develops will be used on the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) Observatory mission scheduled to launch in 2016.  ICESat-2 is the second generation of the Earth Observing System following the ICESat launch in 2003.  “By controlling all of the documentation for our product design and development efforts, ProductCenter will be instrumental in Fibertek’s success with the recent contract award for NASA’s ICESat-2 program,” states Bridget Koloseus.

ProductCenter also plays an important role in supporting Fibertek’s documentation compliance initiatives. Fibertek will expand on its process automation initiatives to include employee training requirements such as ISO 9000 training, working with polymerics and soldering training through ProductCenter workflow.

In the future, with many more restrictions and additional testing required on certified parts, Mil Spec parts, and especially electronic parts, ProductCenter will be used to automate the manual steps that Fibertek’s engineers are currently performing.

Additionally, ProductCenter will enhance Fibertek’s current management of its product testing processes. For every program or development project Fibertek obtains, an acceptance test is performed to ensure that all of the specifications are met. The acceptance test managed in ProductCenter will ensure that the equipment used is calibrated and completed within a certain timeframe. If there is an issue and the equipment needs to be recalibrated and repaired then ProductCenter’s reporting capabilities will provide early visibility, enabling Fibertek to understand what other programs the equipment had been or will be used for in order to eliminate delays or errors in the product development process.

“To stay competitive, Fibertek has evolved and must continue to evolve as a company to be more creative and efficient. We know ProductCenter will continue to be there to support the new challenges that we will face,” adds Bridget Koloseus.

ProductCenter @ Fibertek

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