What's a Drawing Management System

As a consultant with Onset Design I've worked with a large number of companies implementing Drawing Management, or Engineering Content Management Systems. Often one of the first questions that comes up is what is a Drawing Management System and why do we need one?

This is a good question. Computers have long had a way of managing files. Windows Explorer, or Finder on macOS. These days with the move to the cloud, other file management options exist, such as Sharepoint or Dropbox. There are many ways of storing, and organizing files, but what makes drawings and other engineering content special?

There are a number of explanations for this, but it really comes down to three major points:

1. CAD and BIM File Formats

Whether it's 2D or 3D models, lidar images, or TIFF scans, engineering files are typically more complex than standard office or PDF documents. DWG files for example can include meta-data attributes and external references to other files. General file management systems do not allow you to work with advanced CAD file features. Also, they generally don't provide an easy way to view such files without installing propriety software on your laptop or phone.

2. Document Control

Engineering changes need to be controlled and tracked to ensure that the changes being made are both accurate, and have the necessary level of approval. Managing in a Windows share makes controlling documents difficult to impossible, depending on the volume of documents being changed. Generic document management systems such as Sharepoint may provide workflow capabilities, but often require significant configuration time and expense to get them tailored to your engineering workflow.

3. Project Collaboration and Transmittals

File management, and generic document management systems typically do not provide a mechanism for project stakeholders to upload, review, markup, and QA changes to drawings and other project documentation. This leads to much of the process being done outside of the system using email, paper, or at worst in somebody's head.

Drawing Management Systems address the above Engineering specific challenges by introducing a set of features beyond what is provided by standard file management or general document management systems.

Key features of Drawing Management Systems

  • Central Repository: A designated central repository to manage all engineering documents to provide a single point of access for users both internal and external to your organization.
  • Security: A fine-grained permission system that allows for groups of users to be granted access to the sub-set of documentation that they need.
  • Document Retrieval: Ease of document retrieval using the search or browse features.
  • Application Integrations: Drawing management systems typically have a range of application integrations with CAD specific file formats, such as DWG, DGN, or RVT. Lunr integrates with a number of such formats, allowing title block and XREF management, native file viewing, automated PDF generation, and more.
  • Controlled Documents / Workflow: Provide a mechanism for managing controlled documents. Changes to controlled documents are often managed by an approval workflow, and should always maintain a full revision history and audit log. This allows you to revert to a given document revision at any point in time and provides traceability and insight into any changes made throughout the document's life-cycle.
  • Secure file Sharing / Transmittals: Drawing management systems also typically provide a method to easily share documents with various stakeholders in a controlled way using transmittals or file shares.
  • Native file Viewing: Whilst not strictly required in a drawing management system, most systems these days will provide a mechanism to preview and markup, a document in the system without the need to run proprietary software on your phone or computer. As an example, DWG files typically require an install of AutoCAD or TrueView. A document viewer allows you to view DWG files in the browser, making the documents accessible to a broader audience.
  • Document Archive: At the end of a document life-cycle, for example, when an asset is decommissioned, there is a requirement to archive related drawings. Archived drawings are typically available to a group of users with a higher degree of permissions but do not appear in drawing searches for general users.
  • Tag / Meta-data Management: Drawing Management systems not only manage files (like windows explorer) but also document meta-data. This functionality is generally referred to as tag management. Tags can be added to drawings to allow for ease of retrieval. For example, by tagging all Electrical Drawings, from building 504 you can easily find this sub-set of files later.

With the ongoing shift to working from home, and flexible working arrangements it's a better time than ever to set up a modern Drawing Management System to manage your Asset and Engineering Content.