January 24, 2005
Conisio 6 - PLM Document Management Software Integrated Within Windows Explorer
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| by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Conisio 6 - PLM Document Management Software Integrated Within Windows Explorer
GCS Scandinavia has launched Version 6 of Conisio software, the first and only commercial engineering document management system entirely integrated within Windows Explorer. The system supports any application running on a Windows-based computer including CAD and all Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project, and Outlook. Users perform all functions with Conisio either through Windows Explorer or one of its other integrations. As a result, Conisio has no proprietary interface to learn, making operation simple and the software one of the easiest ways for a company to implement product data management (PDM) and related product lifecycle management (PLM) initiatives.
Conisio quickly displays product-related information from selected files directly to the user's desktop and includes a document view capability to display over 280 file formats such as Microsoft Office documents, CAD drawings, models, images and more. In this way, users can view, manipulate, comment on, and utilize information from these applications with absolutely no training in the software and no need to have the actual software running or installed on their computer.
The overall cost to implement Conisio is substantially lower than traditional document management and PLM systems. Conisio software license fees are generally half those of most competitors. Moreover, costs for support services such as training and system configuration that comprise a considerable portion of traditional system expenses are significantly less with Conisio because the software is so easy to install and use. As a result, Conisio's total cost of ownership is only a small fraction of what would otherwise be spent on competitive systems.
"Conisio's overall low cost of ownership and relatively simple operation based on a tight Window's integration removes two huge barriers for companies wanting to implement PLM: the high cost of traditional systems and the disruption they cause in the organization for extensive training and changing procedures to fit the requirements of the system," explains Kenneth Hallberg, President of GCS. "With Conisio, PLM is now affordable and readily implemented in engineering and across the enterprise for people in manufacturing, quality, testing, marketing, finance, customer support, and other groups that utilize product information. Because it runs within Windows Explorer and other Windows-based
applications, Conisio blends in perfectly with existing processes and programs that all types of users already have residing on their desktops."
The software is tightly integrated with Windows-based CAD packages and supports the latest version of SolidWorks, Inventor, AutoCAD, SolidEdge and MicroStation. Conisio is one of the first PLM systems to support new versions of CAD applications when brought to market and was supporting SolidWorks 2005 and Inventor 9, for example, within a week after release. Integration with the latest SolidWorks E-drawings software allows users to fully preview parts and drawings in the Explorer interface.
In addition to the standard CAD files, Conisio also manages and displays associated metadata such as version or revision levels and document history as well as the hierarchical relationships between components, drawings and 3D models. A Conisio BOM Manager running inside SolidWorks automatically generates bill-of-material data and can export the listing in formats compatible with most ERP systems. Conisio also has features that permit users to readily look up parts and corresponding data from any ERP system while designing, thus facilitating collaboration between engineering and manufacturing.
Documents are stored in a file vault and metadata in a SQL database. Information is accessed via the familiar Windows File Browser. The file and folder structure seen by users is actually a map of information residing in the Conisio vault. Files being worked on are cached locally to reduce network lag. Files are retrieved from and stored in the vault though a secure check-in/check-out system that controls versions and revisions while preventing more than one person at a time from modifying a particular file. From within any application, the user can open and save any files directly from the vault without having to go through any intermediate operations or file transfers. A new file vault
replication feature enables multiple users at different locations (even those widely dispersed around the world) to quickly access documents and information stored in the system.
When a file is selected from within the browser, a tabbed Window displays information associated with the file. A file data card shows part name, description, author, revision level, etc. A view tab lets users see the file, either a static or dynamic view depending on the viewing application installed. A versions tab provides the capability to see various versions of the file. A bill of materials tab allows users to view part lists without having to load the CAD assembly file into the 3D modeling system.
Bundled with Conisio's data management tools is powerful workflow technology that digitally captures and monitors a company's processes and procedures. A straightforward right-click menu lets users define how documents and related information proceed through the various product-related processes including design review, engineering change orders, or quote approval. The resulting flow diagram shows the status of the particular project, the paths files need to complete the process, and responsible individuals in the process along with their access rights (read, modify, approve, etc.). Automatic notifications are triggered at appropriate stage gates. In this way, the Workflow Manager prompts
individual workers on actions required and shows their role in the overall process while giving managers an overview of project status and where bottlenecks might be developing.
"Coupled with Conisio's file management capabilities, the Workflow Manager enables companies to more effectively implement PLM as well as related initiatives such as concurrent engineering and collaborative product development," says Hallberg. "In this respect, the true value of Conisio is that it gives ready access to the approaches needed for a growing number of companies to remain competitive in today's challenging economy."
Conisio is developed and supported by GCS Scandinavia AB (
), a Swedish-based software provider. First released in 1999, Conisio has been enhanced with additional capabilities and is used for document management by companies around the world including Electrolux Marine Division, IKEA Retail Equipment, Toshiba, W.L. Gore and F.L. Schmidt. To achieve seamless integration between Conisio and world-class software, GCS has long-term partnerships with leading software companies such as Microsoft, SolidWorks and Autodesk.
Conisio is one of a growing number of general purpose and engineering-oriented software products that exploit the features and capabilities of the Windows operating system. Conisio 6 is proof that Windows Explorer provides an opportunity to do just that. CoCreate is another engineering-oriented company with products that let the Windows OS do a lot of the functional "heavy lifting."
Although products of this nature can be challenging, since the interface of Conisio is integrated into Windows Explorer, there is an inherent familiarity and comfort level with the product from the outset, thereby (probably) providing a short learning curve. It seems quite capable right out of the box, but can also be customized through its API. Since Conisio is based on Microsoft's SQL Server, it is scalable to accommodate businesses of many sizes.
Probably the most unique aspect of Conisio is its level of integration with all Windows software. Without having to modify or adapt any existing Windows software, Conisio automatically and transparently integrates with it. This is significant because when a new version of any Windows software is installed you don't have to wait for a new version of Conisio, because Conisio is already compatible with it. Pretty neat stuff.
The preview modes of Conisio are interesting because the metadata preview can display descriptive information about a file and the document preview can handle over 280 different file formats, such as Microsoft Office documents, CAD parts and assemblies, and images, without having to have the actual software applications that created them installed. The major CAD file formats supported by Conisio include Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, and DWG 2005. The CAD version management capabilities found in Conisio 6 include Lock, Get and Unlock, that let you access and work with files (with appropriate assigned access rights) directly from a specific CAD application. This is similar to
file vaulting technologies offered by some vendors, but goes a step further with the number of file types it can handle, as well as its search capabilities.
Conisio 6, including Microsoft SQL is priced at $1400 per license. There are no additional server costs, and Conisio uses a floating/concurrent license model.
While currently, Conisio has by far its greatest number of users in Scandinavia and Europe, look for it to gain popularity on this side of the Atlantic as companies wrestle with innovative and relatively inexpensive ways to manage an ever-growing number of files and file formats.
Jeffrey Rowe is the editor and publisher of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached here or 408.850.9230.
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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.